Sailor's Last Words: "I'm A Goner"

By Rich Armstrong

A transcript of the audio recordings from the helm of the ill-fated El Faro have been released.

Sunken wreakage of the El Faro

The voyage data recorder from El Faro, a U.S. flagged cargo ship that sank during Hurricane Joaquin in October 2015, was recovered from the ocean floor this past August. Investigators have now released transcripts that document the final hours of the ship.

The frantic dialogue on the ship's bridge before all 33 aboard perished is chilling.

"Hey, don't panic," El Faro Capt. Michael Davidson tells an unidentified crewman in an audio transcript from the voyage data recorder recovered in August. The National Transportation Safety Board released five factual reports, 500 pages of new information, on December 13, 2016.

Goin' down," an unidentified crewmember yells.

"You're not goin' down. Come on," Davidson responds.

"You gonna leave me?"

"I'm not leaving you. Let's go," Davidson says loudly.

"I can't. I can't. I'm gone, I'm a goner."

"No, you're not," Davidson yells.

"Just help me," the seaman yells back.

Then the transcript ends with yelling, cut off by the termination of the recording. The actual audio recordings have yet to be made public by the NTSB.

The latest reports are part of the agency's ongoing investigation into the Oct. 1, 2015, maritime tragedy that left the 791-foot ship 15,000 feet below the surface near Crooked Island in the Bahamas. Joaquin was a Category 3 hurricane with 127-mph winds when El Faro sank just 25 miles north-northwest of the storm's center. The course of the ship, which left Jacksonville, Florida, bound for San Juan, Puerto Rico, took it directing into Joaquin's path as it strengthened from a tropical storm to a hurricane.

Entered into the NTSB's docket on the El Faro investigation were factual reports from the Electronic Data Group, Meteorology Group, Survival Factors Group, Engineering Group and the Voyage Data Recorder Audio Transcript Group.

This is not the complete NTSB report," said NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart in a press release announcing the report. "There is no analysis, no statement of probable cause, and no recommendations on how to prevent this from happening in the future. That is still to come."

The audio transcripts cover multiple conversations between the captain and chief mate, who agreed on a course diversion they believed would keep them sufficiently clear of the eye of Hurricane Joaquin. Early the next day, the recordings document a phone call from the chief engineer regarding the vessel's list and engine oil levels. The alternate chief engineer is heard stating that he's never seen the ship with such a list.

About an hour later the captain takes a phone call and states there is a problem in the number three hold of the ship and sends the chief mate to investigate. The two soon after discuss suspected flooding over UHF radio. Thirty minutes later, the captain indicates that the ship lost propulsion. Numerous conversations are heard about the ship's flooding condition, attempts to rectify the ship's list and attempts to regain propulsion.

The captain instructed the second mate to send an electronic distress message at about 7:13 a.m. on October 1, and he gave the command to sound the ship's general alarm at about 7:27 a.m. Two minutes later, the second mate yells there were containers in the water, and the captain gives the command to sound the abandon ship alarm. About 4 minutes later the captain relayed over the UHF radio to put the life rafts in the water.

The bridge audio recording ended at about 7:40 a.m.

The full bridge audio transcript and other factual reports are available online in the docket management page.

The full NTSB public information site contains photographs, video, and a wealth of documentation. 

— Published: December 2016


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