Officials believe El Faro was found on the ocean floor, near the Bahamas. Although they are awaiting video confirmation, the National Transportation Safety Board said sonar imaging revealed a “790-foot cargo ship” which is consistent with the size and shape of the missing vessel.
The SS El Faro set sail from Jacksonville, Florida, on September 30. Although Tropical Storm Joaquin was a consideration — the powerful storm was several hundred miles away. The crew, which included 29 Americans and five citizens of Poland, expected to arrive in Puerto Rico without incident.
By the morning of October 1, Joaquin strengthened to a Category 3 hurricane. Unfortunately, SS El Faro was headed straight into the eye of the storm.
As reported by Reuters, Captain Michael Davidson appeared to deviate from his planned route, in an attempt to avoid the storm’s most destructive path. However, as the hurricane’s track also shifted, the captain steered the ship directly into the path of the powerful storm.
Although he was an experienced captain, it is impossible to know what factors Davidson considered, and how he he arrived at his decision. At some point, it was simply too late to reconsider the route and turn around.
As reported by News 4 Jax, Captain Michael Davidson and his crew knew they were in grave danger. In a final e-mail message to her parents, second mate Danielle Randolph described the dire situation.
“Not sure if you have been following the weather at all but there is a hurricane out here and we are heading straight into it. Category 3 last we checked. Winds are super bad and seas are not great. Love to everyone.”
CNN reports the crew of El Faro found themselves in the midst of 150 mph winds and 30-foot waves.
In his last communication with the Coast Guard, Captain Michael Davidson reported “the ship had lost propulsion and was taking on water, but that the flooding had been contained.” In the recorded message, Davidson explained the ship experienced a “hull breach” and said “a scuttle [was] blown open.”
The vessel’s last known location was approximately 35 miles off the coast of Crooked Island in the Bahamas.
— CNN Breaking News (@cnnbrk) November 1, 2015
During an extensive search of the region, rescue crews recovered the body of one victim and several pieces of debris — which confirmed they were searching the correct location.
The NTSB has now announced the discovery of a cargo ship — which is located on the ocean floor near the Bahamas. Although they are awaiting video confirmation, officials believe it is the missing ship.
The vessel assumed to be El Faro was found largely intact and in an upright position, which will make it easier to identify. NTSB officials hope the position of the ship will also facilitate efforts to recover the bodies of the victims.
As the suspected El Faro wreckage was found at a depth of 15,000 feet below the surface, it would be impossible to recover the entire ship. However, as reported by NPR, a remotely-operated vehicle, called CURV 21, will be used to search for the vessel’s black box.
CURV 21 also has the capability of taking video and still images — which will assist in positive identification.
— CTV News (@CTVNews) November 1, 2015
The initial survey of the the wreckage is expected to begin within the next week, and will take approximately 15 days. NTSB officials said the timeline is dependent on the weather — which could delay the operation.
Although officials believe El Faro has been found, they have only recovered one body. Unfortunately, the remaining 32 crew members are assumed to be dead.
[Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]