The answer to the whereabouts of more than 30 people presumed dead after a cargo ship sank in early October could lie about 3 miles under the sea.
A U.S. Navy search team found the wreckage of a ship believed to be El Faro in about 15,000 feet (4,570 meters) of water, the National Transportation Safety Board said late Saturday.
The team, on board the USNS Apache, will try to confirm the wreck’s identity when it sends down a remotely operated sub, the CURV 21, which is outfitted with a video camera to record the wreckage. The vehicle will also search for the ship’s data recorder.
Lashawn Rivera was a crew member aboard El Faro. His relative Barry Young told CNN affiliate WJXT he was glad that the ship’s wreck may have been found.
“We’re just hoping for closure totally on this issue,” he said. The family wants Rivera’s remains brought home.
But complete findings could take days. CURV 21’s mission is expected to last 15 days under optimal conditions.
The 40-year-old U.S.-flagged El Faro was headed to Puerto Rico from Jacksonville, Fla., and went missing near the Bahamas on Oct. 1 with 33 people on board. The owners of El Faro said the captain had a “sound plan” to avoid Hurricane Joaquin, but the ship’s main propulsion failed, stranding the crew in the path of the Category 4 storm.
The ship’s 28 American crew members and five Polish nationals are all presumed dead. One body was found during a Coast Guard search of the sea surface in the days after the ship disappeared.
For nearly a week, helicopters, planes, as well as Coast Guard and private ships scoured the Atlantic Ocean for signs of the ship.
The deep-sea search for El Faro’s wreckage and its data recorder, or “black box,” began more than a week ago. After three days with no sign from the box’s pinger signal, searchers on Wednesday used a sonar searcher to get impressions of the ocean bottom.
Again, no sign. Three days of searches passed. Then on Saturday, a breakthrough — a large object 2.8 miles down. And it was about under the spot where El Faro was last noted.
“The target identified by Orion (side-scan radar) is consistent with a 790-foot cargo ship, which from sonar images appears to be in an upright position and in one piece,” the NTSB said.
The NTSB said the USNS Apache crew found the wreckage at 1:36 p.m. ET.
Recorded call with captain
In a recorded call, the ship’s captain reported a marine emergency early on Oct. 1. Capt. Michael Davidson said the hull had been breached, a scuttle blown open, and water had entered El Faro.
Engineers were unable to get its main propulsion going again.