The so-called “black box” of the El Faro cargo ship, which sank off the coast of The Bahamas in October, 2015, has been found, giving investigators hope that they may finally be able to determine the final moments of the disaster that claimed 33 lives.
As the Wall Street Journal reports, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), searching the site of the El Faro wreck a few miles off Crooked Island, in the Bahamas, located the “black box” (officially, the voyage data recorder), about 15,000 feet under the surface of the ocean.
JUST IN: NTSB: Sunken El Faro cargo ship’s voyage data recorder has been found in 15,000 feet of water. pic.twitter.com/levNzvw40Z
— NBC Nightly News (@NBCNightlyNews) April 26, 2016
Back in November, 2015, when the wreckage of El Faro was first found, investigators found that the navigation bridge had detached from the rest of the ship. The bridge was found later, but without the black box.
Investigators had suspended their search for the ship’s black box, but after pressure from Florida Senator Bill Nelson, who chairs the Senate committee that oversees the NTSB, the agency resumed the search for the ship on Monday.
They were able to find the black box using a remotely-controlled robotic search device.
In a statement via CNN, NTSB Chairman Christopher A. Hart said that finding the black box was an impressive feat.
“Finding an object about the size of a basketball almost three miles under the surface of the sea is a remarkable achievement.”
Senator Nelson hopes that finding the black box may eventually bring the investigation into the El Faro disaster to a close.
“Thank goodness the NTSB went back a second time to find the missing data recorder. This could be a big break for investigators as they try to understand what caused the El Faro to sink. The information stored on this device could be the key to determining not only what happened, but also what can be done to ensure that it never happens again.”
How much useful data can be gleaned from the black box remains to be seen, since it has, after all, been sitting at the bottom of the ocean for several months.
El Faro was on a voyage from Jacksonville, Florida, to San Juan, Puerto Rico on October 1, 2015, when it ran directly into Hurricane Joaquin.
— Los Angeles Times (@latimes) April 27, 2016
According to a CNN report from the time, the vessel’s owners had a “sound plan” to avoid the Category 4 storm, but the plan failed when the ship’s propulsion system failed. Instead, El Faro sailed right into the heart of the storm.
Captain Mark Fedor, of the U.S. Coast Guard, says that under those conditions, even the most skilled and experienced sailors would be in peril.
“They were disabled right by the eye of Hurricane Joaquin. If they were able to abandon ship and put on their survival suits, they would have been abandoning ship into that Category 4 hurricane. So you’re talking about 140-mile-an-hour winds, 50-foot seas, zero visibility. It’s a very dire situation, a very challenging situation even for the most experienced mariner.”
All 33 of the sailors on board the vessel — 28 Americans and five Polish nationals — went missing and are presumed dead. It was the worst maritime accident involving a U.S. vessel in three decades.
The U.S. Navy research vessel Atlantis, which found the black box, will remain in the area and continue to investigate the wreckage. Meanwhile, according to MSN, the NTSB will hold a second set of hearings into the wreck of El Faro May 16–27.
[Photo by National Transportation Safety Board/AP]