The National Transportation Safety Board says a search team has located the El Faro’s missing voyage data recorder in 15,000 feet of water about 41 miles northeast of Acklins and Crooked Islands, Bahamas,
The missing VDR was located Tuesday morning by a team of investigators and scientists with the Woods Hold Oceanographic Institution.
The find is likely going to be a major breakthrough in the investigation into the loss of the American cargo, assuming the VDR can be recovered and data about the ship’s final voyage can be retrieved from the device.
The NTSB said that at about 1 a.m. EDT Tuesday, the team aboard the research vessel Atlantis located the El Faro’s mast where the VDR was mounted, and after examining numerous images provided by undersea search equipment, the team positively identified the VDR.
“Finding an object about the size of a basketball almost three miles under the surface of the sea is a remarkable achievement,” said NTSB Chairman Christopher A. Hart. “It would not have been possible without the information gained during the first survey of the wreckage and the equipment and support provided by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Navy, the University of Rhode Island, and the many other partners involved in this effort.”
The type of VDR mounted on El Faro is capable of recording conversations and sounds on the ship’s navigation bridge, which could provide investigators with key evidence as they seek to understand the sequence of events that led to the sinking.
The 790-foot, U.S.-flagged, cargo ship sank October 1, 2015, during Hurricane Joaquin while sailing from Jacksonville, Florida, to San Juan, Puerto Rico. All 33 crewmembers aboard were killed in the accident.
In an earlier mission, investigators identified the vessel and related debris field on the ocean floor but were unable to locate the voyage data recorder. The second mission, in which more advanced sonar and imagery systems were deployed, launched from Charleston, South Carolina April 18. The mission platform is the research vessel Atlantis, which is owned by the U.S. Navy and operated by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
The next step in the ongoing investigation is to determine how the VDR can be retrieved, the NTSB said.
The Atlantis will stay at the accident site through April 30 while the team continues the photo- and video-documentation of the sunken ship and debris field before returning to Woods Hole, Massachusetts, on May 5.
Here is some video of the VDR found at depth of 15,000 feet: