CASTINE, Maine — When the crew list for the cargo ship El Faro was released, Maine Maritime Academy officials recognized a fifth name amongst the dead in the worst U.S. maritime shipping disaster in three decades.
“I regret to share with the Maine Maritime Academy family that another friend, colleague and alumnus, Mitchell Kuflik, Class of 2011, was a member of the El Faro crew,” William J. Brennan, president of the school, said in an email. “The extended Academy community is grieving the loss of another mariner and our thoughts are with his family and loved ones.”
The Hartford Courant reported Thursday that Mitchell Kuflik was a 2007 graduate of Fitch High School in Groton, Connecticut.
“We are heartbroken,” Groton Superintendent Michael H. Graner said Thursday afternoon. He added he spoke to one of Kuflik’s former teachers, who said he was a very smart student who excelled in physics and other sciences.
Graner said Kuflik loved life, was always smiling and had a “great passion for science.”
According to Graner, Kuflik listed owning his own tugboat company as his dream in the yearbook.
Kuflik was living in Brooklyn, New York, according to the crew list released Wednesday by TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico, which operates the El Faro, after the search for survivors was called off.
Michael Davidson of Windham, a 1988 MMA graduate, was captain of the cargo vessel. Other crew members included Danielle Randolph, 34, of Rockland, a 2005 Maine Maritime graduate, the second mate; Michael Holland, 25, of Wilton, a 2012 Maine Maritime graduate; and Dylan Meklin, 23, who graduated from Rockland High School in 2010 and from Maine Maritime in May.
The El Faro left Jacksonville for Puerto Rico on Sept. 29 with a crew of 33. By the next day, the storm Joaquin had developed into a hurricane. A Sept. 29 email Randolph sent to her mother read: “There is a hurricane out here and we are headed straight into it. Category three. Winds are super bad and seas are not great. Love to everyone.”
The last communication between the 790-foot steamship and the mainland was made at 7:20 a.m. Oct. 1, when Davidson reported that the cargo carrier had lost propulsion and was listing by 15 degrees.
Deb Roberts, Holland’s mother, posted on the Making Waves for Mike-Bring the El Faro Crew Home Safely Facebook page that she was heading out to a noontime memorial being held for the entire El Faro crew.
Another MMA graduate, Eric Von Hohenleiten, who graduated in 2013, is employed by TOTE and is aboard the El Faro’s sister ship, the El Yunque, which traveled through the area where the El Faro is believed to have gone down. His Monday post was reposted on the Making Waves page.
“On our way down to Puerto Rico we made a stop at the last known location of the El Faro,” Von Hohenleiten said. “We found debris and an oil slick. We followed the oil to the point of origin, where it was thickest. We saw oil coming up from the depth, and knew we found the final resting place of the ship. We sounded the ship’s horn and had a moment of silence. Hoping the coast guard finds the remain[s] of the crew.”
TOTE has agreed to allow the National Transportation Safety Board, which is leading the investigation into the maritime fatalities, to study the El Yunque, including how it would handle heavy seas without propulsion, Vice Chairman Bella Dinh-Zarr said during yesterday’s joint press conference with the U.S. Coast Guard about the end of the search for survivors.
Dinh-Zarr and more than a dozen other investigators arrived in Jacksonville earlier this week to look into the sinking.
“We will be here as long as it takes,” she said.
The captain of the El Faro spoke with the captain of the El Yunque, which was making its way north to Florida from Puerto Rico along a similar route, the day before suffering mechanical problems in the engine room, losing propulsion and being beset by the hurricane.
Brennan said all mariners know the power of the sea is to be respected.
“That is why we train, that is why we prepare; that is why we are here,” he told his students and attendees at Wednesday’s gathering.
To hear that a fifth graduate is amongst the dead is heartbreaking, the school’s president said.
“Our hearts are heavy,” Brennan said. “The outpouring of fellowship and support of the entire maritime family is felt here in Castine.”