NTSB Releases Outline of El Faro Bridge Audio

The El Faro's VDR (image courtesy NTSB)

By MarEx 2016-08-24 21:39:21

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) announced on Wednesday that it has recovered 26 hours of bridge audio, navigational data, radar images and wind data from the voyage data recorder of the lost con/ro El Faro, which went down during Hurricane Joaquin last October. 

A salvage crew with a remotely operated submersible retrieved the VDR on August 8 and the data content was extracted August 15. 

"Numerous events leading up to the loss of the El Faro are heard on the VDR’s audio, recorded from microphones on the ship’s bridge," the NTSB said. "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."

The VDR data begins about eight hours after the ship's departure from Jacksonville and it runs up to roughly 0740 hours the morning of October 1. 

Bridge audio from her final hours includes:

- discussion between the master and crew regarding flooding and the vessel's list.

- discussion of the loss of propulsion, mentioned in bridge audio at 0613 hours.

- the El Faro's master, Capt. Michael Davidson, discussing the vessel's predicament with shoreside personnel via satphone.

- the sounding of the bell for abandon ship at 0730 hours.

The chronology, and previously disclosed details, suggest the ship was flooding before it lost power, said maritime attorney Rod Sullivan, who represents the family of a deceased crew member and has been closely following the investigation.

The NTSB has convened a group of subject matter experts to analyze the full recording and create a transcript of as much of the audio as possible; the agency expects that background noise and the sheer length of the audio file will make the process time-consuming and it would not predict when it would be completed. 

The NTSB is prohibited by federal law from publicly releasing any audio captured from a VDR. Even within the agency, and the team working on the investigation, there are strict limitations on who is able to listen to the audio.

The NTSB did not name the members of the voyage data recorder group tasked with creating the transcript, but it said earlier this month that it may consist of a member of each of the parties involved – the NTSB, U.S. Coast Guard, American Bureau of Shipping and TOTE Services. 

The Coast Guard plans to convene a third round of hearings into the loss of the El Faro once all the VDR data is available for use.