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NTSB: Retrieving Data From El Faro's Black Box A Complicated Process

Peter Knudson

Federal investigators are diving 15,300 feet below the Caribbean to try again to retrieve the voyage-data recorder from the sunken El Faro cargo ship.

The device collected course data and recorded voices in the captain’s bridge hours before the ship sank.

National Transportation Safety Board Marine-Safety head Brian Curtis told WJCT the plan is to bring up the device early next month. But he’s not sure whether its data will be intact.

“The capsule is designed for 20,000 feet, it’s in 15,000 feet. So, from that perspective, it’s within design criteria. But we don't know, not just from the atmosphere, but what it may have gone through during the sinking and whatnot,” Curtis said. “But we’re optimistic that the data on it is recoverable, that it is not corrupted. But we quite frankly don't know that until we get it back to the laboratory.”

He said if data is recovered, he expects it will play a prominent role in a soon-to-be scheduled Coast Guard hearing into the sinking — the third hearing since the October sinking.

El Faro was en route to Puerto Rico when it lost power and drifted into the path of Hurricane Joaquin. All 33 crew members died.

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.