Phase Two of Underwater El Faro Search Begins Today
On October 23, the United States Naval Ship Apache arrived at the last known spot of the El Faro, the cargo ship that went missing earlier this month somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean—likely near the Bahamas. The search mission was launched by the National Transportation Safety Board last week on October 19.
33 crew members were on board the vessel when it sunk, 28 of which were American. The incident began when the ship had engine troubles just as Hurricane Joaquin headed towards it. Caught in the raging storm, the ship began taking on water and eventually sunk. All crew is presumed dead and debris has been found near the Bahamas.
First Phase of the Search Comes Up Empty
The Apache previously searched the last known position of the cargo ship with a Towed Pinger Locator (TPL), which can help locate the vessel underwater through its “black box,” or pinger. According to the Navy, the TPL can reach a maximum depth of 20,000 feet. The system is towed behind a vessel very slowly depending on the depth a sunken ship or aircraft is believed to be at. In the case of the El Faro, the vessel is believed to be at a depth of no more than 3 miles.
The total search area is estimated to be 10 nautical miles by 15 nautical miles. So far, the USNS Apache has towed the TPL through five search lines across the designated area in attempts to pick up signals from the El Faro’s black box.
The first phase of the search was completed yesterday, on October 26. So far, there are no results to report. It is unclear whether or not the Towed Pinger Locator will be able to effectively to pick up any signals from the sunken vessel’s pinger locator, as even something as small as the orientation of the ship on the bottom of the ocean floor could affect it. If the ship’s pinger has been damaged or blocked in some way, it may also be impossible to pick up the signal.
Orion Side-Scan Sonar System Brought in for Second Phase
Today, the second phase of the search began with the Orion side-scan sonar system. While the second phase will include the same search area, the new system will hopefully provide new findings for the searchers. This phase will be 14 days long and involve 13 search tracks. The Orion side-scan sonar system won’t look for the pinger, but the actual vessel itself. If it finds it, it can create an image of it to aid investigators in their search for the ship on the sea floor.
For more updates on the El Faro investigation in the coming weeks, be sure to return to our blog.