The search for the critical black box from the doomed ship El Faro will resume in April in the Bahamas, using what researchers call the “blood hound” of deepwater equipment.
On Thursday, the National Transportation Safety Board announced that investigators will return to the area near Crooked Island where the 790-foot ship sank in October, killing the crew of 33, for a two-week search. This time investigators will be aided by the Sentry, a high-tech underwater vehicle capable of operating at depths of 19,000 feet. Developed by engineers at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, the Sentry is fully automated, outfitted with an array of sensors that allow it to “sniff out” whatever scientists have programmed it to find.
NTSB officials said the decision to restart the search was made after supervisors reviewed information collected in November when the ship’s hull was located sitting upright 15,000 feet deep. The bridge was later found about a mile away, but it was missing the voyage data recorder.
Investigators plan to focus their search on a 13.5-square-mile area in hopes of finding the recorder, which could contain important clues, including conversations and sounds from the navigation bridge.
“The voyage data recorder may hold vital information about the challenges encountered by the crew in trying to save the ship,” NTSB Chairman Christopher A. Hart said in a statement. “Getting that information could be very helpful to our investigation.”
Investigators also hope to capture better images of the hull as well as the debris field.
The El Faro sank Oct. 1 after sailing into the path of Hurricane Joaquin despite warnings from the National Hurricane Center that the storm was expected to intensify. The ship was making a weekly run from Jacksonville to Puerto Rico when the captain reported that the 40-year-old ship had lost power, was taking on water and listing at 15 degrees as it neared the storm, which had grown to a fierce Catagory 3.
Next week, the U.S. Coast Guard will begin a 10-day hearing in Jacksonville to look into what happened before the ship set sail on Sept. 29 that may have played a part. It will also delve into what role weather conditions and reports played, and whether it complied with all shipping regulations and past operations including cargo loading.