The voyage data recorder from the sunken cargo ship El Faro was located around 1 a.m. Tuesday, 15,000’ feet down and 41 miles northeast of the Bahamas, and the next step is to figure out how to retrieve it, the National Transportation Safety Board said.
The 274’x52’x19’ research vessel Atlantis was over the area of the Oct. 1 sinking that killed all 33 crew members when the autonomous underwater vehicle Sentry transmitted imagery of the ship’s mast, which includes the VDR that investigators hope still has recordings of voices on the bridge and navigational data from the ship’s last hours.
An investigative team is comprised of specialists from the National Transportation Safety Board, the U.S. Coast Guard, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and El Faro operator TOTE Services positively identified the VDR.
“Finding an object about the size of a basketball almost three miles under the surface of the sea is a remarkable achievement,” said NTSB Chairman Christopher A. Hart in announcing the find.
A search last fall by the 226’x42’x15’ Navy fleet tug Apache located the wreck and debris field, but not the top of the El Faro’s house including the mast and VDR. The 790’ ro/ro containership sank during Hurricane Joaquin while enroute from Jacksonville, Fla., to San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The second mission is carried by the Atlantis, which is owned by the U.S. Navy and operated by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. It sailed from Charleston, S.C. April 18, and is expected to stay over the accident site through April 30.
The team will continue the photo- and video-documentation of the sunken ship and debris field before returning to Woods Hole, Mass., on May 5. As part of the mission, the Inner Space Center at the University of Rhode Island assisted investigators in Washington by establishing a telepresence in the NTSB lab to view underwater imagery in real time and to collaborate with the team on the Atlantis.
A Coast Guard marine accident investigation board heard testimony this winter from TOTE officials, former El Faro crew members, technical experts and others during sessions in Jacksonville this winter. The board is expected to reconvene in May.