WHOI Plays Major Role in Locating El Faro Data Recorder



WOODS HOLE – The data recorder of the sunken El Faro cargo ship was located last week using technology made on Cape Cod.

The recorder was located last week at a depth of 15,000 feet by the autonomous underwater vehicle Sentry, which was designed and built by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

“This is a really great example of where technology that we developed for one application, in our case the ocean science community, can help in another domain, in another area that we never even imagined when we built these vehicles,” said WHOI associate scientist James Kinsey.

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 wreckage was later found near the Bahamas.

The recorder was originally attached to the vessel’s mast, which was found on the seafloor several hundred meters from wreckage of the ship’s hull.

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

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

“I think there’s hope that NTSB will be able to take the data that we’ve helped them collect with the Sentry AUV and they can gain some insight into what happened to the El Faro and hopefully that provides some solace to the families of the lives lost,” said Kinsey.

The team also continues to conduct extensive and detailed surveys of the shipwreck, to aid investigators who will determine exactly why and how the ship sank.

But it was determined this week that it will not be possible to recover the recorder during the current mission.

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.

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.

The current mission will continue to gather imagery of the El Faro hull and debris field.

Atlantis is expected to depart the site on Saturday and arrive in Woods Hole next Thursday.

By JUSTIN SAUNDERS, CapeCod.com Newscenter

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