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Sub with camera to dive on sea wreck believed to be missing ship El Faro

Posted at 10:31 PM, Oct 31, 2015
and last updated 2015-11-01 12:33:12-05

Closure may be near for the loved ones of the people lost on the cargo ship El Faro during Hurricane Joaquin. The ultimate answer to the whereabouts of the more than 30 people presumed dead could lie about three miles under the sea.

A U.S. Navy search team located the wreckage of a cargo ship believed to be the El Faro in about 15,000 feet of water, the National Transportation Safety Board said late Saturday.

As early as Sunday, the team on board the USNS Apache will try to confirm the wreck’s identity when it sends down a remote operated sub, the CURV 21. It is outfitted with a video camera that would record the wreckage. The vehicle would also search for the ship’s data recorder.

Lashawn Rivera was a crew member aboard the El Faro. Her 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.

Presumed dead

The El Faro went missing near the Bahamas on October 1 with 33 people on board. The owners of El Faro said the captain had a “sound plan” to avoid Hurricane Joaquin, but that 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 1,000 square miles of surface for signs of the ship.

Deep sea search

The deep sea search for the El Faro’s wreckage and its towed locator pinger, or “black box” began over a week ago. After three days with no sign from a pinger, searchers on Wednesday let a sonar searcher into the water 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 the 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 located the wreckage at 1:36 pm ET during the fifth of 13 planned search line surveys.

Recorded call with captain

The 40-year-old U.S.-flagged El Faro never made it to Puerto Rico after it left Jacksonville, Florida.

In a recorded call, the ship’s captain reported a marine emergency early October 1. Capt. Michael Davidson said the hull had been breached, a scuttle blown open, and water had entered the El Faro.

Engineers were unable to get its main propulsion going again.