Animation depicts El Faro sailing straight into hurricane's path

4 more families of crew members settle with TOTE

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A new animation seen for the first time Thursday shows how the Jacksonville-based cargo ship sailed right into the path of a hurricane when every other ship in the area turned away from the storm.

News4Jax obtained the video as four more families reached settlements with the company that owned El Faro.

The families of crew members Jackie Jones Jr., Carey Hatch, Jeremy Riehm and Jeffrey Matthias have each settled wrongful death lawsuits with El Faro's parent company, TOTE Maritime, according to court records.

The 790-foot SS El Faro sank in a hurricane Oct. 1, 2015, after losing propulsion near the Bahamas on its way from Jacksonville to San Juan, Puerto Rico. All 33 aboard died.

Attorney Steve Pajcic, who represents two of the families, said his clients now have a little bit of closure, but the ultimate goal is to prevent something like this from ever happening again. 

"Left port with a ship that had a broken anemometer, which is the one thing," Pajcic said. "And at the very end, they were saying, 'Where's the life preservers? Where's the life preservers?' Such a tragic situation that should've never happened."

Pajcic's office made an animation depicts what happened the night El Faro sailed right into the path of the hurricane. The video shows how every ship in the area turned around, except for El Faro. 

Another piece of evidence used by Pajcic's office included the transcript of the bridge audio recordings from the ship's voyage data recorder. 

WATCH: Animation of El Faro sailing toward Hurricane Joaquin

"It really lays out the scenario. It shows one of our clients, Jeremy Riehm, was a real hero. He realized that 23 hours before it happened here on the VDR, saying we're going to be slammed tonight," Pajcic said. 

The 510-page transcript released by the National Transportation Safety Board provides a glimpse at the final hours for the crew. Some of those on board, including Riehm, questioned the captain's decision to sail closer to Hurricane Joaquin, which took an erratic path as it swirled in the Atlantic.

Riehm: "We're going to get slammed."
Riehm: "It's not moving away, not yet ... we're on a collision course with it -- nearly."
Riehm: "Got it forecasted all the way up to 120."
Riehm: "Guess I am just turning into a Chicken Little. But I have a feeling something bad is going to happen."

Pajcic said those words are difficult to hear for his clients, who will never recover from what happened. 

"They've been having nightmares about it before anyway. This gives, now, you really, kind of, have a better feel for what really happened. You see that your loved one was trying to do all that can be done to do the right thing," he said.

The total of families who have settled with Sea Star Lines and TOTE Maritime is now 28.

"What we want to be sure is that they are responsible enough so that it never happens again," Pajcic said. 

TOTE sent the following statement to News4Jax on Thursday:

“Since the loss of the El Faro, we have focused every effort on supporting the families of those on board. An important part of this support has entailed reaching fair and swift legal settlements for those who may choose them. We can confirm that we have settled financially with 28 families through a respectful, equitable and meaningful mediation process, and have reached a full and final settlement of all claims filed in this action consistent with the prior settlements reached in this matter. We stress that our support of all the families will continue. Out of respect for the legal process and the privacy of the families, we will not discuss the specifics of any individual settlements.”

The third and final U.S. Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation hearing into the loss of El Faro is scheduled to start Feb. 6. 

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