El Faro Voyage Data Recorder: 26 Hours of Information Recovered
The National Transportation Safety Board announced yesterday the convening of a voyage data recorder group to develop a detailed transcript of the sounds and discernible words captured on the El Faro’s bridge audio, following the audition of the ship’s VDR.
The voyage data recorder from the El Faro, a US flagged cargo ship that sank during Hurricane Joaquin in October 2015, was successfully recovered from the ocean floor August 8 and transported to the NTSB’s laboratory in Washington, D.C., on August 12. Information from the El Faro’s VDR was successfully recovered August 15.
About 26 hours of information was recovered from the VDR, including bridge audio, navigational data, onboard radar images, and wind data. Investigators examined the VDR, found it to be in good condition, and downloaded its memory module data.
Numerous events leading up to the loss of the El Faro are heard on the VDR’s audio, recorded from microphones on the ship’s bridge. The quality of audio contains high levels of background noise. There are times during the recording when the content of crew discussion is difficult to determine, at other times the content can be determined using advanced audio filtering.
The recording began about 5:37 AM, September 30, 2015, about eight hours after El Faro departed Jacksonville, Florida, with the ship about 150 nautical miles southeast of the city. The bridge audio from the morning of October 1, captured the master and crew discussing their actions regarding flooding and the vessel’s list. The vessel’s loss of propulsion was mentioned on the bridge audio about 6:13 AM. Also captured was the master speaking on the telephone, notifying shoreside personnel of the vessel’s critical situation. He also informed them he was going to send out an emergency distress signal. The master sounded the abandon ship alarm about 7:30 AM, October 1. The recording ended about 10 minutes later when the El Faro was about 39 nautical miles northeast of Crooked Island, Bahamas.
The VDR group, comprised of technical experts, will continue reviewing the entire recording, including crew discussions regarding the weather situation and the operation and condition of the ship before it sank.
Families of the El Faro’s crew were briefed about the results of the audition Wednesday prior to the NTSB’s public release of the characterization of the audition.
It remains unknown how long it will take to develop the final transcript of the El Faro’s VDR. The length of the recording and high levels of background noise will make transcript development a time consuming process.