VIRGINIA BEACH, Virginia — The third mission to recover the data recorder from the wreckage of the cargo ship El Faro, which sank near the Bahamas last year, taking 33 lives including four mariners from Maine, proved successful, officials announced Tuesday.
“The voyage data recorder from El Faro, a U.S. flagged cargo ship that sank during Hurricane Joaquin in October 2015, was successfully recovered from the ocean floor late Monday evening,” a news release from the National Transportation Safety Board website states.
“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 crew members on the ship’s bridge,” it states. “Investigators hope the recorder will reveal information about the final hours of El Faro’s voyage and the circumstances leading up to the sinking.”
Lost aboard the El Faro were Capt. Michael Davidson, 53, of Windham, a 1988 graduate of Maine Maritime Academy; Michael Holland, 25, of Wilton, a 2012 graduate of Maine Maritime; Dylan Meklin, 23, of Rockland, a 2015 graduate of Maine Maritime and Danielle Randolph, 34, also of Rockland, a 2004 Maine Maritime grad.
Another crew member, Mitchell Kuflik of Brooklyn, New York, graduated from Maine Maritime in 2011.
The El Faro left Jacksonville for Puerto Rico on Sept. 29, 2015. By the next day, the storm Joaquin had developed into a hurricane. The last communication from the 790-foot steamship was made at 7:20 a.m. Oct. 1, 2015, when Davidson reported that the cargo carrier had lost propulsion and was listing by 15 degrees.
“The recovery of the recorder has the potential to give our investigators greater insight into the incredible challenges that the El Faro crew faced,” Christopher A. Hart, NTSB chairman, said in the release. “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.”
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 on their third attempt to recover the recorder from a depth of about 15,000 feet.
The team arrived at the location Monday, and technicians maneuvered CURV-21, a deep-ocean remotely operated underwater vehicle, to the sea floor, where specialized tools were used to extricate the capsule. They recovered the device, which has a minimum design requirement of 12 hours of recording, at about 10:30 p.m. Monday. NTSB investigators are examining the voyage data recorder aboard the Apache and expect to be back to shore by Friday, Aug. 12.
Additional information about this investigation is available on the NTSB’s El Faro webpage.