URI's Inner Space Center Helps Locate El Faro's Black Box

Black Box Recorder of the El Faro Is Discovered

Credit: www.nbcnews.com

URI's Oceanography School Helps Locate El Faro's Black Box

May 2, 2016

The University of Rhode Island, located in the smallest state in the nation, is making big news for helping investigators make a key discovery.

URI's Inner Space Center at the Graduate School of Oceanography has assisted federal investigators in locating the "black box" or voyage data recorder from the El Faro cargo ship.

The 790-foot  El Faro sank off the coast of the Bahamas during hurricane Joaquin last fall. It was loaded with shipping containers and cars and sank in about 15,000 feet of water. All 33 crew members died, making it one of the worst disasters involving an American cargo vessel in decades. The ship was found about a month after the disaster, but investigators never located the voyage data recorder---until now.

Searchers are doing sonar scans from a vehicle system that is deployed around three miles down... taking photographs and doing sonar scans...and that's when they located a target---the ship's mast---and then a diving vehicle retrieved the black box adjacent to the mast.

Dwight Coleman, Director-URI's Inner Space Center at the Graduate School of Oceanography

Dwight Coleman is the center director. He says, "using cutting-edge telepresence technology we were able to assist with the research. We are delivering live video broadcasts from the ship that is doing the search and attempting the recovery of the "black box', and we have provided  a satellite connection directly to NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) headquarters in Washington, D.C. through the telepresence technology at the center."

It's a bit of a risky operation working at extreme depths, they don't quite have all the necessary tools on board to retrieve it, but the task at hand was simply to map the site, locate it (black box) and they succeeded in doing that.

Dwight Coleman, Director-URI's Inner Space Center at the Graduate School of Oceanography

Coleman says researchers were conducting sonar scans from a vehicle system that is deployed around three miles down taking photographs and they located a target---the ship's mast---and then using a specialized vehicle they retrieved the black box adjacent to the mast.

"It's a bit of a risky operation working at the extreme depths, they don't quite have all the necessary tools on-board to retrieve it... but the task at hand was simply to map the site and locate it and they succeeded in doing that."

Coleman says telepresence technology allows researchers to use video broadcast technology, high- speed internet devices and satellite tracking antennas, while streaming a ship-to-shore network consisting of two-way video and two-way voice communications that allows them to send data files. "It's the feeling you're on board the ship with the team doing the investigation," he says.

Federal officials say the data recorder is crucial to investigators and can contain pertinent information about he ship's speed and course and may have recorded audio from the bridge along with other information.


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