Recording Captures Captain's Last Words on Sinking Ship

'It's time to come this way!' El Faro captain calls to struggling man; all 33 aboard the ship died
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 6, 2018 2:06 PM CDT
Updated Apr 8, 2018 9:40 AM CDT
Recording Captures Captain's Last Words on Sinking Ship
This undated image made from a video released April 26, 2016, by the National Transportation Safety Board shows the stern of the sunken ship El Faro.   (National Transportation Safety Board via AP, File)

The cargo ship El Faro went down in a hurricane near the Bahama Islands in 2015, and none of the 33 people aboard survived. Now Vanity Fair is out with a gripping account of the ship's final hours, based on recordings from the bridge salvaged from the ocean floor. They generally support the main conclusion of investigators who chalked up the disaster to human error—specifically that of Capt. Michael Davidson, who seems to have misjudged the strength and path of Hurricane Joaquin, and eventually sailed his ship into its eye wall. The recordings show that crew members were wary of their path, but nobody challenged the captain enough to make him fundamentally change course. At one point, second mate Danielle Randolph is heard mimicking the captain, who was not in earshot. "It's nothing, it's nothing," Randolph says, parroting Davidson.

"Think he’s just trying to play it down because he realizes we shouldn’t have come this way," she says. "Saving face.” The recordings catch the final emergency call Davidson placed to his shipping company, and his impatience as the operator asks him to spell the name of his ship. “Oh, man! The clock is ticking! Can I please speak to a Q.I.?," he pleads, referring to a "qualified individual." Within the hour, the captain would send out an emergency signal to the Coast Guard and order the crew overboard onto rafts. No bodies have been found. Late in the recording, one exhausted crew member who was struggling to climb the deck to reach the captain calls out, "You gonna leave me?" Davidson answers, "I'm not leaving you." A bit later, the last words captured on the recording are the captain's, to the same man: "It's time to come this way!" Click for the full story. (More Longform stories.)

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