The voyage data recorder for the ill-fated ro/ro containership El Faro has yielded 26 hours worth of information, outlining the ship’s final hours before it sank in Hurricane Joaquin on Oct. 1, killing all 33 aboard.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, the recording began at about 5:37 a.m., Sept. 30, 2015 – approximately eight hours after TOTE Services El Faro departed Jacksonville, Fla. The ship was then roughly 150 nautical miles southeast of the city. The bridge audio from the morning of Oct. 1, captured the master and crew discussing their actions regarding flooding and the vessel’s list. The vessel’s loss of propulsion was mentioned on the bridge audio about 6:13 a.m.

Also captured was the master speaking on the telephone, notifying shoreside personnel of the vessel’s critical situation, and preparing to abandon ship if necessary. The master ordered abandon ship and sounded the alarm at about 7:30 a.m. on Oct. 1. The recording ended about 10 minutes later when the El Faro was about 39 nautical miles northeast of Crooked Island, Bahamas.

El Faro voyage data recorder stored in fresh water after recovery on the USNS Apache

El Faro voyage data recorder stored in fresh water after recovery on the USNS Apache. NTSB photo

Although the VDR was in good condition, the NTSB said that the quality of the recording was degraded because of high levels of background noise. As a consequence, the agency said it was difficult to determine the content of every discussion, a problem sometimes helped by audio filtering. The NTSB further cautioned that the timeline presented by the VDR was preliminary and subject to change.

From here, the NTSB will continue examining and producing a transcript of the recording — federal law prohibits public release of the audio. Given the length of the recording and quality issues, the agency said transcript development would be “a time consuming process” and did not provide an estimate for completion.

Photos/video: El Faro data recorder recovery

The NTSB recovered the recorder Aug. 8 from more than 15,000’ of water near the Bahamas. It was returned to the agency’s Washington, D.C., laboratory on Aug. 12 and the data module was successfully downloaded on Aug. 15. Families of the El Faro’s crew were briefed Wednesday about the contents of the recording, officials said.