Search for missing ship ‘El Faro’ continues with hi-tech equipment

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Hi-tech equipment being used to search for "El Faro"

(October 18, 2015) — The U.S. Navy is hoping some of the high-tech equipment it used in the search for MH370 will have better luck in its next mission: finding the American cargo ship El Faro.

The Jacksonville, Florida-based El Faro and its 33 crew members disappeared October 1 after encountering Hurricane Joaquin while en route to San Juan, Puerto Rico. The ship is believed to have sunk some 35 miles northeast of Crooked Island in the Bahamas

The National Transportation Safety Board, the agency heading up the investigation into what happened, announced last week that the U.S. Navy’s Salvage and Diving division would be brought in to find the voyage data recorder (VDR), the ship’s so-called “black box.”

Naval Sea Systems Command spokesman Chris Johnson told CNN on Saturday that the Navy will be sending in the same hydrophone — a sophisticated piece of equipment designed to pick up the pulse of a ship’s VDR — that it did to the Indian Ocean last year for the thus far unsuccessful search for the Malaysian Airlines flight that disappeared in March 2014.

Johnson said that it will arrive and be in use by midweek, giving searchers only about a week until the 30-day life of the VDR’s battery runs out.

But that doesn’t concern Johnson, who said officials are reasonably confident about where to search, and that it’s not their only hope. “If we get out there and can’t find the recorder, we have other options,” said Johnson, who questioned whether the VDR was even still working. “And those options might be better anyway.”

Those other options include the two other pieces of equipment that the Navy is sending: a sonar vehicle called Orion that is towed underwater as it sends back real-time data, and CURV 21, a remotely operated vehicle with a 20,000-foot depth capability loaded with “a suite of video equipment,” according to Johnson.

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