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Safety Investigators Say They Can't Find El Faro's Data Recorder

Searchers are seen last month, trying to find the cargo ship El Faro, which disappeared east of the Bahamas during Hurricane Joaquin. Wreckage was located, but not the data recorder, which could have told the story of the ship's final hours.
John Paul Kotara II

The National Transportation Safety Board has completed its search of the wreckage of the El Faro, without finding the ship's voyage data recorder. The 790-foot container ship with 33 crew members aboard sank off the Bahamas on Oct. 1 during Hurricane Joaquin.

Using specialized sonar equipment, the U.S. Navy ship Apache located the El Faro in 15,000 feet of water. Using a remotely operated vehicle, investigators were able to see video of the wreckage. It showed the navigation bridge and the deck below it became separated from the rest of the ship when it sank.

The NTSB says although the Navy team found the navigation bridge, it wasn't able to locate the voyage data recorder. That's a device that records instrument readings, position and radio communications, all of which would have provided investigators with valuable information on the ship's final moments.

The El Faro was en route from Jacksonville to Puerto Rico when it sailed into the path of Hurricane Joaquin, a Category 3 hurricane with 120 mile-per-hour winds. On Oct. 1, in a call to the shipping company's headquarters, the ship's captain reported the El Faro had lost its main propulsion unit, it had a hull breach and it was taking on water. The ship sank shortly afterward. Despite an intensive search, no survivors were found.

In a statement, NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart said, "While it is disappointing that the voyage data recorder was not located, we are hopeful that we'll be able to determine the probable cause of this tragedy and the factors that may have contributed to it."

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As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.
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