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Many of the secrets of El Faro's final hours are revealed through audio transcripts released Tuesday by the NTSB.
Among the big revelations we learned:
1. El Faro’s captain, Michael Davidson, declined two requests to change course hours before the ship sunk
2. An engineer on board says the the vessel was listing (tilting) the “worst” he had ever seen
3. Captain Davidson ordered life rafts in the water, but it's unclear if any crew members used them.
The ship, which was based in Jacksonville and operated by TOTE Maritime, sank on Oct. 1, 2015 as it sailed with cargo wards Puerto Rico. The ship lost propulsion when it approached Hurricane Joaquin winds and sank, killing all 33 on board.
Federal officials investigating the sinking pored through 26 hours of audio in one of the most complex investigations in NTSB history. Much of the audio recovered on the ship’s voyage data recorder was poor quality and had to be intensely studied.
That recording began at 5:30 a.m. on Sept. 30, just over a day before the ship sank. With the passage of time, the audio quality got more difficult to understand, and experts had to listen to some statements over 100 times.
In the end, 510 pages of transcripts was developed, giving investigators a better idea of what happened to El Faro’s crew.
Some family members couldn’t hold back the tears as they sat in the audience during Tuesday’s news conference at the National Transportation Safety Board.
Much of the recordings couldn't be transcribed, but the final moments were detailed. At 7:29 a.m. on Oct. 1, Captain Davidson gave the order to abandon ship:
"All right, let's go ahead and ring it," Davidson said. "Ring the abandon ship."
A few seconds later, one of the crew members is thought to have said, "I'm a goner."
Rochelle Hamm, who lost her husband on board, traveled to Washington D.C. for the briefing.
“I still have a lot more questions and concerns,” Hamm said.
Among the biggest concerns? Why Captain Davidson didn’t change course as the massive ship approached the hurricane’s 100-mph winds.
At around 11:05 p.m., hours before the sinking, the ship’s third mate called the captain, who had retired to his cabin.
“Hey Captain, sorry to wake you,” the transcript said. “The latest weather just came in, and um, thought you might want to take a look at it.”
The third mate called Davidson back a few minutes later and said he estimated El Faro would be only 22 miles from the center of the hurricane around 4 a.m. on Oct. 1.
WATCH VIDEO: NTSB announcement of El Faro recordings:
The third mate suggested they head south to get more distance from the storm, but the captain didn’t change course, and the crew members followed his orders.
The transcript shows that before the captain declined two requests to change course, he did authorize a change in course around 6 p.m. the day before the sinking.
One of the crewmembers' family members, Patricia Quammie, was blunt:
“Oh, I would have thrown the captain overboard and tried to save myself,” Quammie said. “It’s just devastating that something like this happened.”
The end of the transcription is especially gut-wrenching — the captain and at least one other crew member can be heard trying to save themselves.
“You going to leave me?” the crew member asked Captain Davidson.
“I”m not leaving you. Let’s go,” Davidson said, as the recording ended.
There are elements in the recordings that the NTSB didn’t include in the public docket because it pertains to the specific elements that are still under investigation.
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