NewsNation defends ‘insensitive’ oxygen countdown clock aired during Titanic sub disaster

The race to reach the passengers within the 96-hour window appears to have been futile as it emerged that secret US Navy underwater microphones detected the sub’s implosion not long after it lost contact on Sunday

Rachel Sharp
Friday 23 June 2023 13:48 BST
James Cameron likens Titan submersible tragedy to Titanic

NewsNation has defended its coverage of the Titanic sub disaster after being branded “insensitive” for displaying a ticking countdown clock to the moment the vessel could have run out of oxygen.

OceanGate ExpeditionsTitan sub was equipped with enough oxygen to last the five men on board for four days – 96 hours – from the moment it set off on an expedition to view the Titanic shipwreck on Sunday morning.

This meant that – if the five explorers were still alive – rescue teams had until around 8am ET (1pm UK time) on Thursday to find the sub before their chances of survival ran out.

Follow the latest updates on the missing Titanic submarine here

Hours after the clock struck zero, hopes vanished altogether as the US Coast Guard confirmed that debris from the Titan had been discovered on the sea floor and that the five men had already died as a result of a “catastrophic implosion”.

US defence sources – and Titanic film director James Cameron – have since revealed that the Navy picked up the sound of the implosion not long after the sub lost contact 105 minutes into its journey.

NewsNation featured an oxygen countdown clock in the righthand corner of its Titanic sub coverage

Before this tragic discovery was made, the five-day search and rescue operation honed in on the narrowing 96-hour window of time and whether the passengers could be reached in time.

In its coverage, NewsNation displayed a counter on screen ticking down the seconds to the 96-hour oxygen cut-off deadline – prompting a backlash from social media users.

“Is this new years eve? what’s with the countdown?” one person tweeted.

“Nice classy countdown to death, you ghouls,” tweeted someone else.

“@NewsNation this morning I was #disgusted to see a #Countdown on the screen of when the #titanic #submersible runs out of air.. this is not a game! Those are people’s lives! Loved ones! You are counting down until people’s possible deaths! Absolutely #sick! #titanicsubmarine,” wrote another person.

“You did a great thing bringing significant coverage to the situation to raise awareness about the immediate need for resources. That said, the ‘death clock’ does not respect the gravity of the situation. Remember, this is about human lives, not a countdown. Be better,” another person chimed in.

One person simply tweeted: “They think it’s a superbowl event.”

The Titan submersible vanished on Sunday morning and was later found to have imploded

Despite the pushback, NewsNation stood by its decision to showcase an oxygen countdown clock on its show.

“The oxygen levels on the Titan submersible have always been an essential and important part of this story,” a NewsNation spokesperson told HuffPost.

“Multiple media outlets have published or aired stories tracking the remaining oxygen on the Titan as the search continued.

“In fact, it would be irresponsible not to include this information in the story of the rescue effort.”

Ultimately, the race to reach the passengers within the 96-hour window appears to have been futile as it emerged that secret US Navy underwater microphones detected the sub’s implosion not long after it lost contact with its mother ship the Polar Prince.

Multiple reports revealed that the acoustic detection system – typically used to monitor enemy submarines – heard an implosion on Sunday close to the site where the debris was located on Thursday, roughly 500m from the Titanic shipwreck.

“The U.S. Navy conducted an analysis of acoustic data and detected an anomaly consistent with an implosion or explosion in the general vicinity of where the Titan submersible was operating when communications were lost,” a senior official told The Wall Street Journal in a statement.

US Coast Guard confirms the deaths of five passengers

“While not definitive, this information was immediately shared with the Incident Commander to assist with the ongoing search and rescue mission.”

While the Navy passed the information to the US Coast Guard – which was leading the search – the information was not released to the public during the operation and only came to light after the grim discovery was made.

Titanic director Mr Cameron said on Thursday that he too had known the fate of the five inside the sub just hours into the rescue efforts.

“We got confirmation within an hour that there had been a loud bang at the same time that the sub comms were lost,” he said.

“A loud bang on the hydrophone. Loss of transponder. Loss of comms. I knew what happened. The sub imploded.”

On Thursday, a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) found five major pieces of debris from the Titan on the sea bed around 500m from the bow of the Titanic shipwreck.

Coast Guard Rear Admiral John Mauger confirmed at a press conference that the discovery was consistent with a “catastrophic implosion” of the sub.

“In consultation with experts in the unified command, the debris is consistent with the catastrophic loss of the pressure chamber,” he said. “Upon this determination, we immediately notified the families.”

The five victims of the sub disaster

OceanGate CEO and founder Stockton Rush, British billionaire explorer Hamish Harding, renowned French diver Paul-Henri Nargeolet and Pakistani businessman Shahzada Dawood and his 19-year-old son Suleman Dawood died on the doomed venture.

OceanGate paid tribute to the five victims in a statement.

“These men were true explorers who shared a distinct spirit of adventure, and a deep passion for exploring and protecting the world’s oceans. Our hearts are with these five souls and every member of their families during this tragic time,” the company said.

“We grieve the loss of life and joy they brought to everyone they knew.”

Now, as the ROVs continue to search the debris field, questions are mounting about what went wrong and whether the tragedy could have been avoided.

Since the submersible first went missing, it has emerged that whistleblowers and explorers raised concerns about the safety of the sub prior to the disastrous voyage.

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