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  August 15th, 2016 | Written by


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  • NTSB analyzing El Faro data recorder.
  • Recovery of El Faro VDR involved 10-month effort.
  • The examination of the El Faro VDR will take place in two rounds.

Experts at the National Transportation Safety Board are starting today the process of analyzing the content of of El Faro’s voyage data recorder after a preliminary inspection last Friday.

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 a week ago.

The recovery of the capsule caps a 10-month-long, multi-agency effort to retrieve the recorder, which was designed to record navigational data and communications between crewmembers on the ship’s bridge. Investigators hope the recorder will reveal information about the final hours of El Faro’s voyage and the circumstances leading up to the sinking.

The third mission to the El Faro began August 5, and the vessel arrived on scene August 8. Later that same evening the El Faro’s voyage data recorder was safely brought aboard the USNS Apache by the Navy’s CURV-21 remotely operated vehicle, operated by Phoenix International.

The VDR was placed in fresh water to help prevent corrosion of the electronic components. U.S. Coast Guard and NTSB personnel decided to disassemble and visually examine the VDR while at sea to gain a better understanding of the condition of the memory unit and to identify what steps are needed to recover the data. All of the components of the El Faro’s VDR were transported to the NTSB’s laboratory in Washington, D.C., on August 12.

The examination of the data that may be contained on the El Faro’s data recorder is set to begin today. That examination, called an audition, will happen in two rounds. This audition is of the raw audio without any clean up or filtering and helps to determine the future scope of work.

From the first audition, the NTSB Research and Engineering team will produce a general characterization of the data that details the number of hours, quality of data, quality of audio, presence of GPS, radar, and any other data captured.

The NTSB’s next step is to convene the VDR investigative group. The VDR group will work together to create a transcript of any audio recovered from the VDR. The transcript will be used to inform the future activities related to the El Faro investigation, and any part of the transcript that is considered relevant to the investigation will be released in the public docket.

The NTSB is prohibited by federal law from publicly releasing any audio captured from a VDR.