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Sen. Bill Nelson: Let's Restart Search For El Faro Data Recorder, Regulate Drones

Ryan Benk

Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson wants federal investigators to take another dive into the Atlantic to locate the data recorder for sunken cargo ship El Faro.

Nelson says the recorder could go a long way toward piecing together why the ship sailed directly into a powerful hurricane three months ago.

The National Transportation Safety Board and U.S. Navy found the ill-fated El Faro three miles below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean in November, more than a month after the ship lost power and sank.

With 33 crew members lost, it’s unclear why the ship drifted into the path of category-3 Hurricane Joaquin. That’s why Nelson says it’s crucial the El Faro’s data recorder is retrieved.

“I’ve asked them to go back and try it again, especially if they need the data in order to accurately determine what was the problem and what we can do in the future to avoid those kinds of tragic consequences,” Nelson says.

Federal investigators say they’ve collected enough information already to issue an accurate report, and Nelson says he takes them at their word. But, he says, the more information the better.

Nelson, who’s a ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee, says he’ll consider legislation once that report is released.

Credit Shannon Greene / WJCT
A drone sits on a table in Sen. Nelson's Jacksonville office.

  As part of his role on that committee, Nelson is also asking federal agencies to look into safety risks posed by drones, those little, remote-controlled aircrafts surging that are surging in popularity.

Nelson says it’s just a matter of time before a kid playing with a new birthday present takes down a commercial airliner.

“You saw what seagulls could do to U.S. Airways when Captain Sully Sullenberger had to belly it into the Hudson River coming out of LaGuardia Airport,” he says. “You let the jet get that sucked into the engine then you not only have a disabled engine, you’ve got the potential for fire.”

Nelson sent a letter to the Federal Aviation Administration after a recent report cited 241 near-collisions between pilots and drones.

Nelson says in addition to registering drones, he’d like to require pilots to be licensed.  

He’d also like the aircrafts to be equipped with beacons that would help authorities track them.