Investigators: Recovering El Faro Recorder To Be a Challenge 

CCB MEDIA PHOTO: The research vessel Atlantis, at the docks in Woods Hole, after returning from the El Faro mission.

CCB MEDIA PHOTO: The research vessel Atlantis, at the docks in Woods Hole, after returning from the El Faro mission.

WOODS HOLE – Federal investigators say recovering the voyage data recorder from the sunken cargo ship El Faro will be a challenge.

Members of the National Transportation Safety Board returned Thursday to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution from a mission to the wreck site at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, 40 miles off the Bahamas.

The recorder was located on April 26 in 15,000 feet of water on a beam attached to a mast, but crews were unable to recover it.

NTSB Acting Director of Marine Safety Brian Curtis said they photographed the area, and the recorder, which is built to withstand the water pressure, appears to be in good shape.

Curtis said they had two main goals, “to take additional photography of the El Faro and secondly, more importantly, was to try and locate the voice data recorder from the information we gathered from our trip out there in October, November.”

The freighter sank last fall during Hurricane Joaquin on its way from Jacksonville, Florida to Puerto Rico.

All 33 crew members aboard the ship were killed including Massachusetts Maritime Academy graduates Keith Griffin, 33, and Jeffrey Mathias, 44.

The search team worked from the research vessel Atlantis, which is owned by the US Navy and operated by WHOI.

“We know where it is, but it’s still a tall challenge. That voyage data recorder is in the middle of the ocean under 15,000-plus feet of water. So that will be a challenge, even though we know where it is, to get back out there,” said Curtis.


CCB MEDIA PHOTO: The Sentry submersible that located the voyage data recorder in the wreck of the El Faro.

Now that the recorder has been located, the WHOI team is using detailed photographs from Sentry, the submersible used in the mission, to make photo mosaics of the location to plan the eventual recovery of the recorder.

The team of investigators and scientists aboard Atlantis collaborated with investigators and determined that given the recorder’s proximity to the mast and other obstructions, recovery of the recorder cannot be accomplished with the equipment currently available on the ship.

“The partnership that we had with NTSB was incredibly productive. It was really the result of a team effort and I know we learned a lot about how to use our technology for this kind of purpose,” said Andy Bowen, Director of the National Deep Submergence Facility and Principal Engineer with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Although there is not yet a timeframe for the launch of the data recorder retrieval effort, investigators are hopeful that the logistics can be coordinated so that the mission can be completed in the next several months.

It’s still unclear what equipment will be used in the next mission.


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