WASHINGTON, D.C. (WAVY) – A newly released transcript of communications between captain and crew aboard the cargo ship El Faro shows their desperate final moments before they sank in a violent hurricane.
Thirty-three people were killed in October 2015 when the freighter tried to travel from Jacksonville, Florida and Puerto Rico during Hurricane Joaquin. The National Transportation Safety Board released a 500-page transcript of bridge conversations. The document covers 26 hours aboard the ship that ended when all communication was lost.
Two men with ties to Hampton Roads were among the victims. The chief engineer aboard El Faro was Richard Pusatere, of Virginia Beach. Crew member LaShawn Rivera was survived by his daughter and fiancée in Chesapeake.
El Faro was hauling cars and other freight. The NTSB transcript shows how the captain and crew tried to maneuver around Hurricane Joaquin, while dealing with shallow areas between Florida and the Bahamas.
They had conflicting data on where exactly the storm was. At times, they thought they could get south of the Category 4 storm, but a crew member said, “This storm keeps trying to follow us.”
“We are in dire straits,” the captain reported about 90 minutes before the ship went down.
He described a hull breach, a heavy list to port, and no propulsion. The engine room was flooding with seawater and from El Faro’s main fire hose that had ruptured during the storm from flying debris.
At 7:29 a.m. on October 1, the captain sounded a general alarm and called for the crew to abandon ship. About 10 minutes later, all communication from the bridge voice recorder ended.
One of the last words from the captain was his encouragement to a helmsman “not to freeze up” and that he could make it.
The transcript is only a record of bridge conversations, so it does not provide analysis, findings, recommendations or probable cause, which will come later from the NTSB.