NTSB to Launch El Faro VDR Underwater Search

Photo: Chris German, WHOI

The National Transportation Safety Board announced 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 01, 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, NTSB noted.

“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 31,2015.

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).

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, NTSB wrote.

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