NTSB Recovers 26 Hours of Data from El Faro’s VDR

About 26 hours of information was recovered from El Faro’s voyage data recorder (VDR), including bridge audio, navigational data, onboard radar images and wind data, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

NTSB said that numerous events leading up to the loss of the US-flagged cargo ship El Faro during Hurricane Joaquin in October 2015 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,” NTBS said, adding that the recording began about 5:37 a.m., Sept. 30, 2015, some 8 hours after the 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 a.m. 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 a.m., October 1, 2015. The recording ended about 10 minutes later when the El Faro was about 39 nautical miles northeast of Crooked Island, Bahamas, according to NTSB.

A voyage data recorder group will now develop a detailed transcript of the sounds and discernible words captured on the El Faro’s bridge audio. It remains unknown how long it will take to develop the final transcript of the El Faro’s VDR, the board said.

The vessel’s VDR was retrieved from the ocean floor on August 8, 2016, and transported to NTSB’s laboratory four days later.