El Faro captain got hours-old forecast before sailing into storm

The captain of the doomed cargo ship El Faro received a storm track forecast that was up to 21 hours old, according to testimony given this morning.

Executives of the private company Applied Weather Technology, which provided forecast information to El Faro, were grilled during a U.S. Coast Guard hearing about what predictions the ship was receiving, specifically on Sept. 30 when Tropical Storm Joaquin became a hurricane.

Joaquin, which eventually spun up into a strong Category 4 storm, is blamed for the deaths of 33 crew members aboard El Faro, which sank near the Bahamas.

National Transportation Board photo of El Faro on bottom of sea floor.
National Transportation Board photo of El Faro on bottom of sea floor.

According to the testimony of Jerry Hale and Rich Brown, a problem with the forecast sent to El Faro in the early hours of Sept. 30 did not include updated track information for the storm.

The wind and wave information, however, were correct.

“For some reason an anomaly that we have not reproduced or identified – the tropical storm file was not updated.” Hale said.

Today’s hearing marks the third day in a second round of testimony given to the Coast Guard about the sinking. The hearings begin at 9 a.m. and can be watched live here. 

On Tuesday, James Franklin, chief of the National Hurricane Center’s specialist unit, was interviewed, providing testimony about how difficult it was to forecast Joaquin.

Franklin said Tuesday that there is already a three-hour delay from when observations are made to when they issue their forecast. AWT relies heavily on the National Hurricane Center.

With that three-hour delay, plus time it takes for AWT to get its forecast out, the forecast track for Joaquin could have been 21 hours old on Sept. 30.

El Faro sank Oct. 1.

On Monday, one of the last people to see El Faro crew members alive, said the captain told him he planned to “shoot under” the brewing storm.

Eric Bryson, a St. John’s barge pilot who was one of the last people to see the crew and captain alive, said there was little discussion about Hurricane Joaquin as preparations were made for El Faro’s trip to Puerto Rico.

But he remembers El Faro Capt. Michael Davidson saying how he planned to handle the storm.

“I don’t recall what I said,” Bryson said. “But Capt. Davidson said ‘we’re just going to go out and shoot under it.’”



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