Transcript could shed light on what happened aboard El Faro before sinking

A video screen grab shows the stern of the sunken ship El Faro.


By DENNIS HOEY | Portland Press Herald, Maine | Published: December 1, 2016

The National Transportation Safety Board will release a 400-page transcript of conversations recorded aboard the El Faro before the cargo ship sank in a hurricane last year.

The transcript, based on audio recordings by the ship’s voyage data recorder, will be made available Dec. 13, said Christopher O’Neil, a spokesman for the federal agency. It could shed light on what happened just before the ship went down with 33 crew members on board. The entire crew died, including five Maine Maritime Academy graduates.

O’Neil said the transcript is one component of the ship’s public docket, which the NTSB wants to release to be as transparent as possible.

He said the public docket contains only factual information collected by NTSB investigators, and does not provide analysis, findings or a determination of what caused the ship to sink, and does not draw any conclusions.

The written transcript is based on sounds and discernible words that were exchanged on the bridge of the El Faro between its captain and crew before the ship sank in Hurricane Joaquin near the Bahamas, said O’Neil.

“The transcript only deals with the audio captured on the VDR,” O’Neil said. “It’s not the full 26 hours, only the parts relevant to the investigation.”

O’Neil said the NTSB is prohibited by federal law from releasing audio recordings. Tote Marine, which owns the voyage data recorder, does have the option of releasing the audio.

The NTSB said the audio recording began about 5:37 a.m. on Sept. 30, 2015, about eight hours after the El Faro left Jacksonville, Florida. The audio from the morning of Oct. 1 captures the captain and his crew discussing their actions regarding flooding and the listing vessel. It also mentions that the vessel has lost propulsion.

Capt. Michael Davidson of Windham sounded the abandon-ship alarm around 7:30 a.m. on Oct. 1. The recording ended 10 minutes later.

The El Faro sank about 39 nautical miles northeast of Crooked Island, Bahamas.

Four other crew members with connections to Maine died that day: Michael Holland of Wilton, Danielle Randolph of Rockland, Dylan Meklin of Rockland, and Mitchell Kuflik of Groton, Connecticut, a 2011 graduate of Maine Maritime Academy.

The NTSB and the Navy recovered the voyage data recorder on Aug. 8 at a depth of 15,000 feet.

“The recovery of the recorder has the potential to give our investigators greater insight into the incredible challenges that the El Faro crew faced,” aid NTSB Chairman Christopher A. Hart in a statement issued in August.

©2016 the Portland Press Herald (Portland, Maine)
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