KINGSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — 33 crewmembers died on October 1, 2015, when the El Faro cargo freighter sank in the middle of Hurricane Joaquin east of the Bahamas. Tuesday, the fruits of a four-month federal investigation were revealed — a complete transcript from the ship’s voyage data recorder — and it couldn’t have been done without technological help from the University of Rhode Island’s Inner Space Center.What URI provided
After leaving from Jacksonville, Fla., en route to San Juan, Puerto Rico, the ship sailed directly into the eye of the Category 4 storm.
Dwight Coleman, the director of the Inner Space Center, said his department provided what’s known as telepresence technology. Instead of a scuba diver going as much as 15,000 feet, or three miles, down into the sea — that’s how far they had to go to find the El Faro’s data recorder — a swimming robot can take a video camera and more down that deep, and URI can pilot it. The National Transportation Safety Board was in charge of investigating the wreck, and “the telepresence gear that we installed helped them increase efficiency, so they could find what they were looking for faster,” Coleman said.
A pack of NTSB decision-makers could stay at their headquarters in Washington, D.C. while the remotely-operated vehicle did the hard work.Revelations from the transcript
After the recorder was brought up, NTSB crews tackled the audio and other recorded data, and it took them four months to transcribe and determine what happened. There were 26 hours of audio, and only ten of those were actually pertinent to the investigation.
According to the NTSB’s transcript, several times, the El Faro’s captain said there were conflicting weather reports. In fact, the NTSB says information emailed to him was delayed six hours.
The morning of the accident, the ship lost propulsion about 6:15 a.m. About an hour later, the captain ordered the crew to put life rafts in the water.
Ten minutes later, the recording ends, and the ship sank.
“Part of the investigation is to look at what the circumstances were, and what actually happened, and to try to prevent disasters like this from happening in the future,” said Coleman.
The audio recordings also reveal that at one point, the ship was just 22 nautical miles from the center of Hurricane Joaquin.
“This, I think, will bring closure to the families that are really curious and wondering what happened — why they sailed into the eye of this hurricane — and made a series of, probably bad, decisions,” said Coleman.