NOVEMBER 1, 2015—The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board reports that a search team on board the U.S. Navy tug USNS Apache has found the wreckage of a ship that they believe to be the El Faro, which went missing on Oct. 1 during Hurricane Joaquin. The vessel was located at a depth of about 15,000 feet in the vicinity of the last known position near the Crooked Islands in the Bahamas.
Sophisticated sonar equipment towed from Apache first detected what are believed to be images of the vessel using Orion, a side-scanning sonar system, at about 1:36 pm ET on October 31 during the fifth of 13 planned search line surveys.
To confirm the finding, specialists on Apache will use CURV 21, a deep ocean remotely operated vehicle, to survey and confirm the identity of the wreckage. This survey could begin as early as today.
The target identified by Orion is consistent with a 790-foot cargo ship, which from sonar images appears to be in an upright position and in one piece.
Shortly after the National Transportation Safety Board opened its investigation into the accident, it contracted with the U.S. Navy to locate the missing ship, document the wreckage and debris field, and if possible, recover the voyage data recorder.
Apache departed Little Creek, Va., on Oct. 19 after being fitted with a suite of state-of-the-art underwater detection equipment. On Oct 23, after arriving at the last known position of El Faro, specialists on Apache placed a towed pinger locator (TPL) into the water and began slowly traversing the area according to a preset search pattern in hopes of picking up sounds of the pinger from El Faro’s Voyage Data Recorder (VDR) more commonly known as a “black box.”
After three days without any indication of a pinger signal, the TPL was withdrawn from the ocean and Orion was put in the water in an attempt to locate El Faro with sonar technology, which creates sonar images from the processing of sound patterns.
If the vessel is confirmed to be El Faro, CURVE-21, outfitted with a video camera will start the documentation of the vessel and the debris field and attempt to locate and recover the voyage data recorder. Those operations are expected to take up to 15 days to complete in ideal conditions but could take longer depending on weather and conditions encountered during the documentation process.
If the ship is the El Faro, investigators will try to retrieve the ship’s black box to piece together the ship’s final moments.