WHOI to Assist in Latest Search of El Faro Wreckage

PHOTO COURTESY: National Transportation Safety Board. New Photo of the El Faro freighter that sank in a hurricane.

PHOTO COURTESY: National Transportation Safety Board. New Photo of the El Faro freighter that sank in a hurricane.

WOODS HOLE – Federal investigators say they’re launching a second search of the wreckage of a freighter that sank Oct. 1 near the Bahamas.

A search area of 13.5 square miles will be photo- and video-documented by Sentry, an autonomous underwater vehicle operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Sentry can work at depths of nearly 20,000 feet and can be equipped with a wide array of sonar, camera and other sensors.

The National Transportation Safety Board said the two-week expedition is expected to begin in April. Investigators hope to locate the data recorder or “black box” and develop a more extensive and detailed survey of the shipwreck.

The 790-foot freighter El Faro sank after losing engine power and getting caught in a Category 4 hurricane from Jacksonville to San Juan, Puerto Rico. Thirty-three mariners were aboard.

Massachusetts Maritime Academy graduates Keith Griffin, 33, and Jeffrey Mathias, 44, were among the crew.

Griffin was a native of Winthrop and graduated from the Academy in 2005. Mathias was from Kingston and graduated in 1996.

The ship was found in 15,000 feet of water, its top two bridge decks detached. Crews located one of the missing decks about a half-mile from the main part of the ship.

“The voyage data recorder may hold vital information about the challenges encountered by the crew in trying to save the ship,” said NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart. “Getting that information could be very helpful to our investigation.”

The 790-foot ship was located in about 15,000 feet of water near the Bahamas on October 31. Over the next few weeks the ship and the debris field were documented with a video camera mounted on a remotely operated vehicle.

Video revealed that the navigation bridge structure and the deck below it had separated from the ship. The missing structure included the mast and its base where the VDR was mounted.

Neither the mast nor the VDR was found in the vicinity of the navigation bridge structure. The initial search mission was completed on November 15.

After reviewing the data and video from the initial search, investigators shared findings with NTSB senior leadership who determined that a return mission to EL FARO was warranted.

SENTRY was developed with funding from the National Science Foundation and designed and built at WHOI. It is operated through the National Deep Submergence Facility (NDSF), a center funded by the National Science Foundation, the Office of Naval Research, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and managed by WHOI.

By MATT PITTA, CapeCod.com News Director. Material from The Associated Press was used in this report

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