Preview: Voices of the Lost

In his first interview about El Faro’s black box, NTSB investigator recounts listening to the last words of the doomed crew

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NTSB investigator Brian Young

CBS News

Perhaps the hardest part of their jobs to investigate and explain the sinking of the El Faro was listening to the doomed crew’s last words on the vessel’s voyage data recorder. In his first interview about that task, the National Transportation Safety Board’s lead investigator Brian Young recalls how it felt to hear those voices. Scott Pelley’s report on the final chapter of the El Faro investigation will be broadcast on 60 Minutes Sunday, March 5 at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

The cargo ship El Faro sank during Hurricane Joaquin enroute from Jacksonville, Florida, to Puerto Rico on Oct. 1, 2015; all 33 men and women aboard perished. The wreck, in two pieces nearly three miles below the Atlantic, wasn’t located until a month later. But the voyage data recorder, the most important clue in the investigation, was not found in either place.  Six months later, searchers finally located it.  A special remotely operated vehicle was needed to recover the recording device from the extreme depth. 

Young and his team listened to all 26 hours of the recording. The experience was difficult for the investigators, many of whom are former mariners.  “It was incredibly moving…Nobody spoke. 

“We were watching the clock. We knew when that recording was going to end and we knew what a tragic ending it was going to be,” recalls Young.  “Whereas the crew did not know that.  That was very difficult for us to watch that clock count down to the end of the recording…really tough to listen to.”

Titled “Voices of the Lost,” the segment is Pelley’s second story on the sinking of the El Faro, the worst U.S. maritime loss of life in 35 years.  He also interviews Safety Board investigator Eric Stolzenberg  and some of the victims’ family members.  

Pelley’s first report documented the hunt for the El Faro aboard the USNS Apache, the search vessel tasked with finding the wreck.