A tragic story, told well

Vanity Fair has published an incredible, haunting account about the ill-fated cargo ship El Faro. The ship sank during a 2015 Caribbean hurricane, and all 33 people aboard drowned.

…the ship was found resting upright on a sandy plain 15,400 feet beneath the surface, and the recorder—a circuit board barely 2.5 inches long—was eventually retrieved. It contained the final 26 hours of conversations among nine doomed people on the bridge. The audio quality was poor, but a technical team was able to extract most of the spoken words and produce a 496-page transcript, by far the longest in the N.T.S.B.’s history. … It is now possible to know with reasonable certainty what occurred.

Writer William Langewiesche used that transcript to reconstruct the crew’s final hours. Reading this, I was thinking about their families. Would they want to know all this? To replay their conversations and their brave decisions and ultimately their fear as they abandoned ship and faced certain death?

I think I would. This story certainly honors their memory. It’s also a valuable story for the public consciousness, and one that might even help prevent similar, future tragedies.

I also thought about stories where bad things happen to faithful, prayerful people — and how I appreciate knowing those stories, disturbing as they are. They help guide my prayer life and, in some cases, my actions.

And then there’s just the pure craftsmanship of the El Faro story. Langewiesche, the writer, took a 496-page transcript and crafted what’s basically a movie. Long-form journalism still plays.


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