Recovering the voyage data recorder that was aboard the El Faro when the cargo ship sank last October will take several months, the National Transportation Safety Board said Wednesday.

A recovery crew aboard the research vessel Atlantis located the data recorder Tuesday in about 15,000 feet of water, but retrieving it will require special equipment and a separate voyage.

“Given the (voyage data recorder’s) proximity to the mast and other obstructions, recovery … cannot be accomplished with the equipment currently available on the ship,” the NTSB said.

The 790-foot El Faro was making one of its regular trips between Jacksonville, Florida, and San Juan, Puerto Rico when it lost propulsion as Hurricane Joaquin gained strength off the Bahamas and sank, killing all 33 crew members.

The ship was captained by Michael Davidson, 53, of Windham, and four other crew members also had Maine ties: Dylan Meklin, 23, and Danielle Randolph, 34, of Rockland; Michael Holland, 25, of Wilton; and Mitchell Kuflik, 26, of Brooklyn, New York. All five were graduates of Maine Maritime Academy in Castine.

Most commercial ships are equipped with such data recorders, which function like a commercial airliner’s black box. The model of recorder used by the El Faro, if it is recovered intact, could provide key navigational information about the ship and recordings of radio traffic and conversations on the ship’s bridge.

“Now that we have been able to see just how the VDR is oriented relative to the mast structure, it’s clear that we’re going to need specialized deep-water salvage recovery equipment in order to bring it up,” said Brian Curtis, acting director of the NTSB Office of Marine Safety. “Extracting a recorder capsule attached to a 4-ton mast under 15,000 feet of water presents formidable challenges, but we’re going to do everything that is technically feasible to get that recorder into our lab.”

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

[email protected]


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