NTSB News Release: 12-13-16

 El Faro Voyage Data Recorder Transcript, Factual Reports, Added to NTSB Docket

WASHINGTON — The transcript from the El Faro’s voyage data recorder bridge audio was one of five factual reports added Tuesday to the NTSB’s El Faro investigation docket as part of the agency’s ongoing investigation into the maritime tragedy.

Entered into the docket were factual reports from the Electronic Data Group, Meteorology Group, Survival Factors Group, Engineering Group and the Voyage Data Recorder Audio Transcript Group.

NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart was joined by the agency’s Director of the Office of Research and Engineering, James Ritter, and Brian Curtis, Director of the Office of Marine Safety, in a press briefing in which they described the documents within the docket and provided highlights of the information contained within the docket.

The Engineering Group Factual Report contains information about the El Faro’s machinery system, a description and history of the vessel, maintenance histories for the plant, survey and inspection information, the vessel’s safety management system, and information about the training and experience of the El Faro’s engineering staff.

The Survival Factors Group Factual Report contains information about the U.S. Coast Guard’s search efforts, the El Faro’s survival equipment, crew preparedness, lifeboat standards and regulations, and information about distress transmissions.

The Electronic Data Group Factual Report provides a system overview and discussion of data recovered from the El Faro’s voyage data recorder and other onboard electronic systems.  The ship’s voyage data recorder captured 26 hours of data in 11 parameters leading up to the sinking of the vessel.  The 11 parameters were:

  • Bridge Audio
  • Date
  • Time
  • VDR power supply status
  • Position and other GPS data
  • Heading
  • Course
  • Speed
  • Rate of Turn
  • Wind data
  • Automatic Identification System data

The Meteorology Group Factual Report provides information about what meteorological information was available to the El Faro’s crew.

The Voyage Data Recorder Audio Transcript Group Factual Report contains the transcript of the discernable and relevant bridge audio captured by the VDR.  Members of the group included the NTSB, the U.S. Coast Guard and Tote Services – the owner of the El Faro.

The NTSB considers the information captured in the VDR’s bridge audio recording critical to determining the events leading up to the loss of the El Faro.  The bridge audio was characterized as “poor quality” and contains high levels of background noise; however, this is not considered unusual.  There were six microphones positioned throughout the El Faro’s bridge.  Extensive digital audio filtering was necessary to enhance the audio.  The entire 26-hour recording was reviewed many times, with some statements reviewed more than 100 times by the VDR audio transcript group to ensure they understood what was being said in the recording.  About 10 hours of audio was determined to be relevant to the investigation and therefore transcribed by the VDR audio transcript group.  The transcript required more than 1,100 work hours to complete.  The transcript report is more than 500 pages and is the longest transcript ever produced by the NTSB.

This graphic depicts the locations of the <i>El Faro</i> Oct. 1, 2015, relative to the locations of Hurricane Joaquin.
This graphic, released by the NTSB Dec. 13, 2016, depicts the locations of the El Faro Oct. 1, 2015, relative to the locations of Hurricane Joaquin.  The El Faro sank Oct. 1, 2015, and all 33 crewmembers perished in the accident.  The NTSB added five factual reports Dec. 13, 2016, to the docket for the investigation of the sinking of the El Faro, including the transcript of the El Faro’s voyage data recorder.  (NTSB graphic)

The following is a summary of the characterization of the bridge audio transcript.

The bridge audio recording began about 5:37 a.m., Sept. 30, 2015, roughly eight hours after the El Faro departed Jacksonville, Florida.

The first recorded conversation about the forecasted weather was captured the morning of Sept. 30, between the captain and chief mate, who agreed on a course diversion they believed would keep them sufficiently clear of the eye of Hurricane Joaquin.  There were multiple conversations regarding weather and route planning throughout the day and evening of Sept. 30.

The captain departed the bridge at about 8 p.m. Sept. 30, and returned at about 4:10 a.m. Oct 1.  At about 4:37 a.m. the chief mate received a phone call from the chief engineer regarding the vessel’s list and engine oil levels.  This appears to be the first recorded conversation about these issues.  The information was related to the captain.  The alternate chief engineer is heard stating at about 5:12 a.m. that he’s never seen the ship with such a list.

At about 5:43 a.m. the captain takes a phone call and indicates there is a problem in the number three hold of the ship and sends the chief mate to investigate.  They discuss suspected flooding over UHF radio, which appears to be the first recorded conversation about a flooding condition on the ship .

The captain indicates at about 6:13 a.m. that the ship lost propulsion.  Numerous conversations are heard throughout the remainder of the recording about the ship’s flooding condition, attempts to rectify the ship’s list and attempts to regain propulsion.

The second mate began formatting a GMDSS distress message at about 6:32 a.m. as directed by the captain.  At 7:07 a.m. the captain notified Tote Service’s designated shoreside representative of the critical situation and that he was preparing to send an electronic distress signal.  The captain instructed the second mate to send the distress message at about 7:13 a.m.  The captain gave the command to sound the ship’s general alarm at about 7:27 a.m. and about two minutes later the second mate exclaimed there were containers in the water and the captain gave the command to sound the abandon ship alarm.  About four minutes later the captain relayed over the UHF radio to put the life rafts in the water.

The bridge audio recording ended at about 7:40 a.m. Oct. 1, 2015, with the captain and one of the helmsmen still present on the bridge.

The full bridge audio transcript and other factual reports are available online in the docket at http://go.usa.gov/x8p9j

The public docket contains only factual information collected by NTSB investigators. The public docket does not provide analysis, findings, recommendations or probable cause determinations, and as such, no conclusions about how or why an accident occurred should be drawn from the docket. Providing the docket affords the public the opportunity to see what information has been gathered about the accident. Any analysis, findings, recommendations, or probable cause determinations related to the accident will be issued by the NTSB at a later date.

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NTSB News Release: 8-24-16

26 Hours of Information Recovered from El Faro Voyage Data Recorder

WASHINGTON — The National Transportation Safety Board announced Wednesday the convening of a voyage data recorder group, Monday, to develop a detailed transcript of the sounds and discernible words captured on the El Faro’s bridge audio, following the audition of the ship’s VDR.

The voyage data recorder from the El Faro, a US flagged cargo ship that sank during Hurricane Joaquin in October 2015, was successfully recovered from the ocean floor Aug. 8, 2016, and transported to the NTSB’s laboratory here Aug. 12.  Information from the El Faro’s VDR was successfully recovered Aug. 15.

About 26 hours of information was recovered from the VDR, including bridge audio, navigational data, onboard radar images and wind data.  Investigators examined the VDR, found it to be in good condition, and downloaded its memory module data in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommended procedures.

Numerous events leading up to the loss of the El Faro are heard on the VDR’s audio, recorded from microphones on the ship’s bridge.  The quality of audio contains high levels of background noise.  There are times during the recording when the content of crew discussion is difficult to determine, at other times the content can be determined using advanced audio filtering.

The recording began about 5:37 a.m., Sept. 30, 2015 – about 8 hours after the El Faro departed Jacksonville, Florida, with the ship about 150 nautical miles southeast of the city.  The bridge audio from the morning of Oct. 1, captured the master and crew discussing their actions regarding flooding and the vessel’s list.  The vessel’s loss of propulsion was mentioned on the bridge audio about 6:13 a.m.  Also captured was the master speaking on the telephone, notifying shoreside personnel of the vessel’s critical situation.  He also informed them he was going to send out an emergency distress signal.  The master sounded the abandon ship alarm about 7:30 a.m., Oct. 1, 2015.  The recording ended about 10 minutes later when the El Faro was about 39 nautical miles northeast of Crooked Island, Bahamas.  These times are preliminary and subject to change and final validation by the voyage data recorder group.

The VDR group, comprised of technical experts, will continue reviewing the entire recording, including crew discussions regarding the weather situation and the operation and condition of the ship.

Families of the El Faro’s crew were briefed about the results of the audition Wednesday prior to the NTSB’s public release of the characterization of the audition.

It remains unknown how long it will take to develop the final transcript of the El Faro’s VDR.  The length of the recording and high levels of background noise will make transcript development a time consuming process. An update will be provided when warranted.

NTSB News Release: 8-12-16

NTSB Releases Imagery of El Faro Voyage Data Recorder Recovery

The National Transportation Safety Board Friday released video and photos of the retrieval and preliminary inspection of El Faro’s voyage data recorder.

The voyage data recorder from El Faro, a US flagged cargo ship that sank during Hurricane Joaquin in October 2015, was successfully recovered from the ocean floor late Monday evening.

The recovery of the capsule caps a 10-month-long, multi-agency effort to retrieve the recorder, which was designed to record navigational data and communications between crewmembers on the ship’s bridge. Investigators hope the recorder will reveal information about the final hours of El Faro’s voyage and the circumstances leading up to the sinking.

The third mission to the El Faro began Aug. 5, 2016, and the vessel arrived on scene August 8, and later that same evening the El Faro’s voyage data recorder was safely brought aboard the USNS Apache by the Navy’s CURV-21 remotely operated vehicle, operated by Phoenix International.

The VDR was placed in fresh water to help prevent corrosion of the electronic components. U.S. Coast Guard and NTSB personnel decided to disassemble and visually examine the VDR while at sea to gain a better understanding of the condition of the memory unit and to identify what steps are needed to recover the data. All of the components of the El Faro’s VDR were transported to the NTSB’s laboratory in Washington, DC, Aug. 12, 2016.

The examination of the data that may be contained on the El Faro’s data recorder is set to begin Monday, Aug. 15, 2016. The examination, called an audition, will happen in two rounds. The initial round only includes the NTSB Office of Marine Safety Acting Director, the NTSB Research and Engineering Director, the NTSB’s Investigator in Charge, and the U.S. Coast Guard’s Chief of Investigations and Casualty Analysis. This audition is of the raw audio without any clean up or filtering and helps to determine the future scope of work.

From the first audition, the NTSB Research and Engineering team will produce a general characterization of the data that details the number of hours, quality of data, quality of audio, presence of GPS, radar, and any other data captured.

The NTSB’s next step is to convene the VDR investigative group. Much like the other groups within the investigation, this group may consist of a member of each of the parties – NTSB, U.S. Coast Guard, American Bureau of Shipping and TOTE Services. These parties are requested to participate as subject matter experts because they can provide expertise in analyzing the VDR information and creating a transcript.

The NTSB forbids lawyers, company executives, or media representatives from participating as members of the VDR investigative group. Group members must sign a strict non-disclosure agreement that prohibits them from releasing any information from the audition to their organizations or to anyone outside of the VDR group. Because the VDR audition happens within the NTSB investigation party process, it is not considered a public disclosure.

The NTSB is prohibited by federal law from publicly releasing any audio captured from a VDR. Even within the agency, and the team working on the investigation, there are strict limitations on who is able to listen to the audio.

The VDR group will work together to create a transcript of any audio recovered from the VDR. The transcript will be used to inform the future activities related to the El Faro investigation, and any part of the transcript that is considered relevant to the investigation will be released in the public docket. The NTSB will not publically release the audio at any time.

To view or download video of Friday’s media briefing go to: https://youtu.be/_U4Uq5fYXzw

To view or download photos of the VDR recovery go to:  https://www.flickr.com/photos/ntsb/

To view or download video of the VDR recovery go to:

https://youtu.be/juA8RdYS8-k

NTSB News Release: 8-9-16

 Recorder from Cargo Ship El Faro Recovered

 

August 9, 2016 – The voyage data recorder from El Faro, a US flagged cargo ship that sank during Hurricane Joaquin in October 2015, was successfully recovered from the ocean floor late Monday evening.

The recovery of the capsule caps a 10-month-long effort to retrieve the recorder, which was designed to record navigational data and communications between crewmembers on the ship’s bridge. Investigators hope the recorder will reveal information about the final hours of El Faro’s voyage and the circumstances leading up to the sinking.

“The recovery of the recorder has the potential to give our investigators greater insight into the incredible challenges that the El Faro crew faced,” said NTSB Chairman Christopher A. Hart, “but it’s just one component of a very complex investigation. There is still a great deal of work to be done in order to understand how the many factors converged that led to the sinking and the tragic loss of 33 lives. I want to thank the dedicated professionals in the many organizations — especially the U.S. Navy, the Coast Guard, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, the National Science Foundation and the University of Rhode Island — who worked with NTSB investigators and support staff over three missions in 10 months to make this successful recovery possible,” said Hart.

Photo caption: El Faro voyage data recorder in fresh water on the USNS Apache

(Photo caption: El Faro voyage data recorder in fresh water on the USNS Apache)

 

Military Sealift Command’s fleet ocean tug USNS Apache departed Virginia Beach, Virginia, Friday with personnel from the NTSB, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Navy and Phoenix International aboard. After arriving at the accident location on Monday morning, technicians maneuvered CURV-21, a deep ocean remotely operated underwater vehicle, down about 15,000 feet to the sea floor where the wreckage of El Faro rests.

Specialized tools were used to extricate the VDR capsule from the mast structure to which it was attached. The capsule was recovered to the deck of the ocean tug at about 10:30 pm Monday evening.

The voyage data recorder will be examined while at sea by NTSB investigators aboard the USNS Apache, to assess the condition of the device and to ensure proper preservation for readout and further examination ashore. The VDR will be transported to the NTSB’s laboratory here after the Apache returns from sea on or about Aug. 12, 2016. Once at the NTSB’s lab a team of specialists will audition the recording. It is not yet known how long it may take to review the data and audio information that may be captured on El Faro‘s VDR. While the minimum design requirement for VDRs of this type is for 12 hours of recording, it may contain additional information — the review of which is a thorough and time consuming undertaking. NTSB will provide updates as investigators learn more about the condition and contents of the El Faro‘s VDR.

While investigators examine the VDR, additional photo- and video-documentation of the El Faro wreckage and debris field will be completed today concluding NTSB’s activities at the site. No further missions to the accident site are planned unless warranted as the investigation continues.

Additional information about this investigation is available on the NTSB’s El Faro webpage.

NTSB News Release: 8-4-16

NTSB Launches Mission to Retrieve El Faro Voyage Data Recorder

The NTSB’s third mission to the wreckage of the El Faro is scheduled to launch Friday from Virginia Beach, Virginia.

The mission’s primary objective is to retrieve the sunken cargo ship’s voyage data recorder.

The Military Sealift Command’s fleet ocean tug USNS Apache is expected to arrive at the accident site around August 9. Along with the NTSB, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Navy, and Phoenix International are joining the recovery effort, using CURV-21, a deep ocean remotely operated underwater vehicle to retrieve the VDR and conduct additional wreckage documentation.

“We’re hopeful that the information contained in the voyage data recorder will provide insights into the circumstances of the ship’s sinking,” said Brian Curtis, Acting Director of the NTSB Office of Marine Safety.

The El Faro, a U.S. flagged cargo ship, sank during Hurricane Joaquin Oct. 1, 2015. In October and November of 2015, the NTSB conducted an initial search mission to locate the vessel and conduct an initial survey of the debris field. The data collected during that mission was used by investigators to plot “high probability” search zones for the second mission in April, which resulted in the location of the mast and VDR. The wreckage is in approximately 15,000 feet of water, about 41 miles (36 nautical miles) northeast of Crooked Islands, Bahamas.

USNS Apache is expected to arrive at Mayport, Florida, between August 16 and August 20, following completion of the mission.

The cost for this mission is expected to be $500,000, bringing the total for the three missions to approximately $3 million.

NTSB media relations will issue updates as circumstances warrant.

 

NTSB News Release: 6-6-16

NTSB to Launch Mission to Recover Voyage Data Recorder

WASHINGTON — The National Transportation Safety Board will launch a mission to recover a voyage data recorder that was located on April 26 in about 15,000 feet of water near the Bahamas.

The voyage data recorder is from the cargo ship El Faro, a U.S. flagged cargo ship that sank during Hurricane Joaquin Oct. 1, 2015. The El Faro wreckage was positively identified on Nov. 1, 2015, during the NTSB’s initial mission to locate the wreckage.

Video gained from remotely operated underwater vehicles during the initial search revealed the El Faro’s navigation bridge structure and the deck below it had separated from the hull. The missing bridge structure included the mast and its base to which the voyage data recorder was mounted.

The navigation bridge was found Nov. 11, but searchers were not able to locate the mast or the VDR.

The NTSB announced Feb. 11, 2016, that it would launch a second search mission to locate the VDR and document the wreckage and debris field.

That effort succeeded in locating the VDR and completing video- and photo-documentation of the accident site. Shortly after the VDR was located, the NTSB announced that another mission to recover the VDR would be launched.

After investigators collaborated in May with scientists and deep water recovery experts, to determine how the VDR could be recovered given its proximity to nearby obstacles, the NTSB contracted with the U.S. Navy Supervisor of Salvage to assist in the recovery effort.

The naval resources participating in the recovery effort include the USNS Apache and CURV-21, a remotely operated underwater vehicle. CURV-21 is the same equipment used to locate the El Faro wreckage in November.

Investigators from the NTSB and the U.S. Coast Guard, and engineers from the U.S. Navy and Phoenix International, the operator of CURV-21, will be aboard USNS Apache when it departs in early July for the accident site near the Bahamas.

The trip to the accident site is expected to take three to four days, followed by five days on scene to recover the VDR. After the VDR is recovered and USNS Apache returns to shore, the VDR will be brought to the NTSB laboratory here, where investigators will examine the VDR and download and analyze any information it may contain.

A fact sheet on the type of recorder that was on El Faro is available at: http://go.usa.gov/cuKW9

Additional investigative updates will be issued as circumstances warrant.

NTSB’s El Faro accident investigation page: http://go.usa.gov/cuDfV

NTSB News Release: 4-27-16

Another mission needed to recover El Faro’s data recorder

WASHINGTON — The investigative team aboard the research vessel Atlantis who located the El Faro’s voyage data recorder Tuesday has determined it will not be possible to recover the VDR during the current mission.

The team of investigators and scientists aboard Atlantis collaborated with investigators at the National Transportation Safety Board lab in Washington and determined that given the VDR’s proximity to the mast and other obstructions, recovery of the VDR cannot be accomplished with the equipment currently available on the ship.

Video and photographic images revealed that the VDR appears to remain attached to a steel beam connected to the mast structure.

“Now that we have been able to see just how the VDR is oriented relative to the mast structure, it’s clear that we’re going to need specialized deep-water salvage recovery equipment in order to bring it up,” said Brian Curtis, Acting Director of the NTSB Office of Marine Safety. “Extracting a recorder capsule attached to a four-ton mast under 15,000 feet of water presents formidable challenges, but we’re going to do everything that is technically feasible to get that recorder into our lab.”

Although there is not yet a confirmed timeframe for the launch of the VDR 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 until successfully completed. Atlantis is expected to depart the site April 30 and arrive in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, May 5.

In October and November of 2015, the NTSB conducted an initial search mission to locate the sunken vessel and conduct an initial survey of the debris field. The data collected during that mission were used by investigators to plot “high probability” search zones for the current mission. Those data proved reliable and resulted in the location of the mast and VDR in one of the zones.

NTSB public affairs will issue updates as circumstances warrant.

B-roll video of the team working aboard Atlantis on April 26 is available for viewing and download at:https://youtu.be/dabSkODCfYA

Images of the team on the Atlantis, along with other photos related to the El Faro investigation, are available at:https://www.flickr.com/photos/ntsb/sets/72157659149033059

Graphic showing location of VDR relative to the El Faro hull: http://go.usa.gov/cuKXH

VDR fact sheet: http://go.usa.gov/cuKW9

For more information about the NTSB’s investigation of the loss of the El Faro, please visit http://go.usa.gov/cuDfV

NTSB News Release: 4-26-16

 NTSB Locates Sunken Cargo Ship’s Voyage Data Recorder

WASHINGTON — The cargo ship El Faro’s voyage data recorder was located early Tuesday morning in 15,000 feet of water, about 41 miles (36 nautical miles) northeast of Acklins and Crooked Islands, Bahamas, by a team of investigators and scientists using remotely operated undersea search equipment.

The investigative team is comprised of specialists from the National Transportation Safety Board, the U.S. Coast Guard, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Tote Services, the owner and operator of El Faro.

At about 1 a.m. EDT the team aboard the research vessel Atlantis located the El Faro’s mast where the VDR was mounted. After examining numerous images provided by undersea search equipment, the team 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. “It would not have been possible without the information gained during the first survey of the wreckage and the equipment and support provided by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Navy, the University of Rhode Island, and the many other partners involved in this effort.”

The type of VDR mounted on El Faro is capable of recording conversations and sounds on the ship’s navigation bridge, which could provide investigators with important evidence as they seek to understand the sequence of events that led to the sinking.

The 790-foot, U.S.-flagged, cargo ship sank October 1, 2015, during Hurricane Joaquin while sailing from Jacksonville, Florida, to San Juan, Puerto Rico. All 33 crewmembers aboard perished in the accident.

In an earlier mission, investigators identified the vessel and related debris field on the ocean floor but were unable to locate the voyage data recorder. The second mission, in which more advanced sonar and imagery systems were deployed, launched from Charleston, South Carolina April 18. The mission platform is the research vessel Atlantis, which is owned by the U.S. Navy and operated by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

The next step in the ongoing investigation is to determine how the VDR can be retrieved.

The Atlantis will stay at the accident site through April 30 while the team continues the photo- and video-documentation of the sunken ship and debris field before returning to Woods Hole, Massachusetts, 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.

The autonomous underwater vehicle Sentry was developed with funding from the National Science Foundation and designed and built at WHOI. Managed by WHOI, the Sentry is operated through the National Deep Submergence Facility, a center funded by the National Science Foundation, the Office of Naval Research, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and managed by WHOI. The NDSF operates, maintains, and coordinates the use of deep ocean research vehicles in coordination with the University National Oceanographic Laboratory System, an organization of academic institutions and national laboratories involved in marine research.

Information about the research vessel Atlantis is available at http://www.whoi.edu/main/ships/atlantis.

Information about the AUV Sentry is available at http://www.whoi.edu/page.do?pid=38095.

Questions about the search equipment specifications and capabilities can be directed to WHOI Media Relations, (508-289-3340).

The NTSB Office of Public Affairs (202-314-6100) will release all information about the VDR recovery efforts and its investigation into the loss of El Faro.

Video of the VDR on the ocean floor recorded on April 26: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z_tyxF4kLnE

For more information about the NTSB’s investigation of the loss of the El Faro, please visit http://go.usa.gov/cuDfV.

NTSB News Release: 4-18-16

Search Resumes for El Faro Data Recorder

WASHINGTON — The National Transportation Safety Board is set to resume its search April 18, 2016, for the vessel data recorder of the sunken El Faro cargo ship.

The U.S. flagged El Faro sank during Hurricane Joaquin on Oct. 1, 2015. All 33 of the El Faro’s crew perished in the accident.

The mission for the second search is to retrieve the ship’s vessel data recorder and better document the wreckage to help determine exactly why and how the ship sank.

The second search is being conducted in cooperation with the National Science Foundation and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. The research vessel Atlantis is scheduled to depart Charleston, South Carolina, April 18. The vessel is scheduled to search the accident site for 10 days before returning to Woods Hole, Massachusetts, around May 5.

The Atlantis will carry a sophisticated autonomous underwater vehicle, AUV Sentry, to search for the voyage data recorder. The VDR should contain critical information for NTSB and U.S. Coast Guard investigators. Besides basic navigational data, the recorder memory is expected to contain voice data from the El Faro’s navigation bridge in the hours before the ship sank in more than 15,000 feet of water. In addition to the information contained in the VDR, investigators will obtain digital high-resolution imagery of the hull and wreckage of the El Faro.

Last November the NTSB worked with the U.S. Navy aboard the USNS Apache to successfully find the El Faroand conduct surveys of the debris field. The first search revealed that the upper two decks, including the navigation bridge, had separated from the El Faro’s hull and were about a half mile away on the ocean floor. The main mast of the El Faro and the attached VDR were not found during the first search.

Information and imagery about the continued search for the El Faro’s VDR will be made available by the NTSB Office of Public Affairs. Media inquiries should be directed to 202-314-6100. Questions about the search equipment specifications and capabilities should be directed to WHOI Media Relations, (508-289-3340).

Contact: NTSB Public Affairs
490 L’Enfant Plaza, SW
Washington, DC 20594
Peter Knudson
(202) 314-6100
peter.knudson@ntsb.gov

###

NTSB News Release: 2-11-16

NTSB to Launch Second Search Mission to EL FARO

WASHINGTON – The National Transportation Safety Board announced Thursday that it would launch a second expedition to search for evidence in its investigation of the loss of the cargo ship EL FARO, which sank in the Atlantic during a hurricane on October 1, 2015.

A key objective of the upcoming 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. 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.”

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.

A search area of approximately 35 square kilometers (13.5 square miles) 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 can work at depths of nearly 20,000 feet and can be equipped with a wide array of 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.

SENTRY was developed with funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) 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. The NDSF operates, maintains, and coordinates the use of deep ocean research vehicles in coordination with the University National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS), an organization of academic institutions and national laboratories involved in marine research.

Information about the research vessel ATLANTIS is available at http://www.whoi.edu/main/ships/atlantis.  Information about the AUV SENTRY is available at http://www.whoi.edu/page.do?pid=38095. Questions about the search equipment specifications and capabilities can be directed to WHOI Media Relations, (508-289-3340).

The NTSB Office of Public Affairs (202-314-6100) will release all information about the search for the VDR and its investigation into the loss of EL FARO.

Contact: NTSB Public Affairs
490 L’Enfant Plaza, SW
Washington, DC 20594
Peter Knudson
(202) 314-6100
peter.knudson@ntsb.gov