Search underway for El Faro’s ‘black box’

Posted at 3:13 PM, Oct 23, 2015
and last updated 2015-10-23 15:13:50-04

(CNN) — The Navy team tasked with locating the El Faro’s voyage data recorder (VDR) will begin its search Saturday, some 24 days after the cargo ship vanished near the Bahamas.

Naval Sea Systems Command spokesman Chris Johnson confirmed that a Navy tug towing some of the same high-tech equipment used in the search for missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 arrived to the search area Friday evening.

The Jacksonville, Florida-based cargo ship disappeared with 33 people — including 28 Americans — on board on October 1.

Locating the El Faro’s VDR — sometimes referred to as a “black box” — is key, since it could offer clues into the crew’s decision-making leading up to its encounter with Hurricane Joaquin, and perhaps reveal how and why it sunk.

Assuming its working properly, searchers will have a week to locate it before its batteries run out.

On Saturday, Johnson said the search team will use a hydrophone to detect the pulsating sound El Faro’s VDR should still be making — the same one that scoured a swath of the Indian Ocean the size of New Mexico for MH370.

By comparison, however, the search for El Faro’s VDR will be confined to an area a fraction of that size — one that’s not even the size of Albuquerque — and that’s why Johnson is feeling confident about finding it.

“If we get out there and can’t find the (VDR), we have other options, and those options might be better anyway,” he said.

One of those options is a sonar vehicle called Orion that is towed underwater as it sends back real-time data. Johnson said the team will move on to the Orion if “they determine they are likely not going to locate the signal.”

The other is the remotely operated vehicle called CURV 21 that Johnson said is loaded with “a suite of video equipment.”

TOTE Services, the company that owns the 40-year-old El Faro, confirmed Thursday that the large pieces of debris that washed ashore in the Bahamas in recent days belonged to the doomed ship — another encouraging sign that they’re in the right area.