BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Federal accident investigators have begun their final meeting to determine the probable cause of the sinking of the cargo ship El Faro, the worst maritime disaster for a U.S.-flagged vessel in decades, resulting in the deaths of 33 mariners.
The El Faro left Jacksonville, Florida, for Puerto Rico carrying a full load of cars at the end of September 2015. A few days later, it sank in a hurricane before coming to rest two miles down. All 33 crew members were killed.
The fully loaded El Faro sank about 34 hours after leaving port, eventually losing propulsion while sailing through Hurricane Joaquin.
At the National Transportation Safety Board’s release of its report on the accident in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, family members of the crew re-lived the loss.
Rochelle Hamm and her husband, Frank, left Baltimore for Florida for his job aboard the ship.
“It’s very hard. I try to prepare myself for this forever, but unfortunately we have to go through it,” Hamm said.
The ship’s voyage data recorder recorded conversations on the bridge, including the first and second mates cautious urging to steer away from the hurricane.
“The input of the other crew members, the captain’s light regard for their suggestions, and how crew members mitigated their speech concerning their concerns,” NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said.
Hamm says that decision “messed it up for everybody as a whole.”
Because hurricane winds were forcing the ship to lean to one side, oil to the engine was disrupted.
“The main engine had stopped and could not be re-started,” NTSB Marine Engineer Brian Young said.
Unable to maneuver, winds and waves pushed the ship onto one side, quickly flooding cargo holds below deck. The captain ordered crew members to abandon ship, but the El Faro’s old-style open lifeboats were unusable in the hurricane.
As for life rafts, NTSB Investigator Jon Furukawa said conditions “made it unlikely the life rafts could be launched manually or boarded by survivors.”
What happened to the El Faro produced findings the NTSB hopes will keep similar disasters from happening:
“I’m praying something good comes out of this,” says Hamm.