Second search mission to sunken El Faro seeks to locate missing voyage data recorder
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said it will initiate a second search expedition to the wreckage of sunken El Faro in an effort to gather further evidence in its investigation of the loss of the containership, which sank in the Atlantic during Hurricane Joaquin on October 1, 2015.
A key objective of the mission, which is expected to begin in April and last about two weeks, is to locate the voyage data recorder (VDR) and to provide investigators with a more extensive and detailed survey of the shipwreck, NTSB said, adding the exact launch date will be announced later.
“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 A. Hart. “Getting that information could be very helpful to our investigation.”
Search crews located the 790-foot ship in about 15,000 feet of water near the Bahamas on October 31, and over the next few weeks the ship and the debris field were documented with a video camera mounted on a remotely operated vehicle (ROV).
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, though 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.
A search area of approximately 35 square kilometers will be photo- and video-documented by Sentry, an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) that will be launched from the research vessel Atlantis, which is owned by the U.S. Navy and operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). Sentry is capable of working at depths of nearly 20,000 feet and can be equipped with a wide array of equipment, including sonar, camera and other sensors.
A VDR of the type that was mounted on El Faro is capable of recording conversations and sounds on the navigation bridge, which could provide investigators with important evidence as they seek to understand the sequence of events that led to the sinking. In addition, investigators hope to obtain high quality images of the bridge, debris field and hull.
If the VDR is located, another mission using a remotely operated vehicle capable of recovering the recorder will be initiated.