Audio transcripts from El Faro reveal chaotic final moments

Posted at 8:05 AM, Dec 14, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-14 08:05:52-05

Audio transcripts of the chaotic final moments aboard the doomed El Faro cargo ship were released Tuesday. They detail hours of conversations up until the moment the ship sank in the middle of the Atlantic in October 2015.

In the early hours of October 1, El Faro’s 33 crew members found themselves stuck in the Atlantic with a Category 4 hurricane bearing down on them.

The crew, which set sail from Jacksonville, Florida, had devised a plan to avoid Hurricane Joaquin, but the ship’s main propulsion failed at sea.

According to transcripts from the ship’s data recorder released by the National Transportation Safety Board, as the situation became increasingly desperate, the captain made the call to abandon ship shortly before 7:30 that morning.

“Alright let’s go ahead and ring it — ring the abandon ship,” the transcript says.

“You gonna leave me?” a crew member asks the captain. “I’m not leavin’ you, let’s go,” the captain says.

A minute later the crewman says, “I’m a goner.”

Shortly after, the audio recording ends.

The transcripts totaled more than 500 pages, the longest transcript produced by the NTSB, the agency said.

Almost 26 hours of audio recordings were recovered from the cargo ship’s data recorder. NTSB investigators spent over a thousand hours examining the recordings.

According to a timeline of audio from the ship’s bridge, the crew discussed “loss of propulsion” and flooding at 6:13 a.m. The captain called back to shore, describing the “vessel’s critical situation,” according to investigators.

When the audio recording ends, the ship was about 39 nautical miles east of Crooked Island, Bahamas, investigators said.

The NTSB released the transcript Tuesday, but not the audio.

The ship’s 28 American crew members and five Polish nationals died.

Finding the data recorder

The release of the transcripts is the latest development in the 15-month investigation into the circumstances of the doomed trip.

Almost a month after the ship was lost, the US Navy found the 800-foot El Faro almost 3 miles below the ocean’s surface.

According to the NTSB, it was found in an upright position with the stern buried in about 30 feet of sediment. The bridge and the deck below, however, had separated and were not with the rest of the vessel.

The Navy used a special submarine, the CURV 21, and sonar, to positively identify the wreckage, the Navy said.

The data recorder itself wasn’t located until April.

“Finding an object about the size of a basketball almost 3 miles under the surface of the sea is a remarkable achievement,” NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart said.

The NTSB retrieved the data recorder in August, after investigators deployed a special remotely operated underwater vehicle 15,000 feet to the bottom of the ocean.


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