A search team early Tuesday morning located the missing data recorder belonging to the ill-fated freighter ship the El Faro, federal officials said.
The device was found near the sunken ship's wreckage — 15,000 feet down and about 41 miles northeast of the Bahamas, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. The research vessel Atlantis located the so-called voyage data recorder mounted on El Faro's mast.
"Finding an object about the size of a basketball almost three miles under the surface of the sea is a remarkable achievement," NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart said in a statement.
Federal officials said the recorder can hold "conversations and sounds on the ship's navigation bridge" — evidence that if extracted could help explain what led the cargo ship to stall and then sink last October as Hurricane Joaquin thrashed the waters off the coast of the Bahamas. All 33 of the ship's crew — 28 Americans and five Poles — were killed.
The 790-foot freighter was traveling between its home port of Jacksonville, Florida, and San Juan, Puerto Rico, when it took on water.
The NTSB said last week it was resuming the search for the device after investigators were able to identify the debris field. While the recorder was found, investigators must still determine exactly how to pluck the equipment from the mast.
"Thank goodness the NTSB went back a second time to find the missing data recorder," Sen. Bill Nelson, the top Democrat on the Senate committee that oversees the NTSB, said in a statement. "This could be a big break for investigators as they try to understand what caused the El Faro to sink. The information stored on this device could be the key to determining not only what happened, but also what can be done to ensure that it never happens again."