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El Faro data recorder may provide closure for grieving families

Lost crew member's father: 'I'm hoping that I can hear my son's voice'

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Military Sealift Command in Virginia deployed the USNS Apache Friday in an attempt to retrieve the voyage data recorder from the wreckage site of the sunken cargo ship El Faro. Family members of the lost crew hope the information it contains can offer closure.

Family members of the El Faro crew are very hopeful that this will be the trip that gives them answers. They want to know what’s on the VDR so that they can know what was happening during the minutes before El Faro sank.

Before the Apache left Virginia, one of the last things brought on board was a wreath in memory of the 33 crew members lost.

On board the Apache, there’s a lot of specialized equipment capable of operating at the depths needed to recover the VDR. On that, there could be navigational data, radar data and voice recordings from the bridge as the ship encountered hurricane Joaquin last fall.

“The requirement is that a VDR this type has 12 hours of audio files in the wheelhouse,” Brian Curtis, acting director for National Transportation Safety Board Office of Marine Safety, said. “So, certainly, it would be a big benefit where there are no survivors for us to find out more about the circumstances of the sinking of the vessel.”

One father is optimistic that he may soon be able to hear his son’s voice again through the VDR recordings.

“I'm hoping that I can hear my son’s voice saying something about getting off the ship,” Jackie Jones Sr. said. “Maybe, myself and the rest of the parents and the wives and husbands might be able to put some things to rest.”

Investigators told News4Jax they hope to be at the wreckage site by Tuesday and will spend 2-4 days on site, trying to retrieve the VDR before they head back.