URI technology plays key role in El Faro black box recovery

The Voyage Data Recorder from the El Faro is recovered form the ocean floor

KINGSTON, R.I. (WPRI) — Federal investigators have recovered the data recorder from the El Faro, the cargo ship that sank during Hurricane Joaquin in October of last year.

Officials from the National Transportation Safety Board say they are hopeful the data will reveal clues as to what happened when the ship went down.

The University of Rhode Island’s Inner Space Center at the Graduate School of Oceanography provided telepresence technology and its expertise in assisting search crews.

Inside mission control at URI’s Narragansett Bay Campus, Dwight Coleman helps oversee the assembly of a stack of equipment to be installed on a ship for ocean-floor exploration.

“It’s pretty amazing technology and we were recruited for this project,” Coleman told Eyewitness News on Wednesday.

Similar equipment was used to broadcast images from three miles below the ocean’s surface of El Faro’s data recorder.

“This permits ship to shore communications, live video streaming from the ships themselves but also from robots they deploy down to investigate the bottom of the ocean,” Coleman explained. “So we can deliver real-time audio and video from the ships and the bottom of the ocean to the inner space center and then out to the world in real time.”

Images of the data recorder were broadcast lives to investigators on Tuesday.

“You couldn’t just have the people on the ship always knowing what’s going on,” Coleman said. “You needed to communicate back to other people that are invested in the project. It was a really valuable communication tool and the telepresence basically brings them live onto the ship from NTSB headquarters.”

The telecommunication equipment from URI is still out on the water on that ship – but we can’t access the live feed because the investigation is ongoing.

Annie Shalvey contributed to this report. 

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