Widow of El Faro crew member brings helmet to hearing

Shelby Danielsen reporting, 02/16/2017

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- On Thursday, the helmet of an El Faro crew member, Frank Hamm, sat prominently in the front row of the NTSB hearing. The helmet was found in Ormond Beach, just a couple months after El Faro sank in October 2015. The helmet was returned to Hamm's wife, Rochelle, soon after. 

"The families asked me to, they asked me to because I was the only person to have something from the El Faro," Rochelle Hamm said.

The helmet was positioned next to Frank Hamm's picture and surrounded by the 32 other crew members who died at sea with him. 

"It at least gives them something to see, you know, because we’re a family now," Hamm said.

It is the only helmet that have been recovered, the only personal item Hamm has from her husband’s final voyage, but something in which every grieving family here can find comfort because it's tangible and the fact that it was found close to home, some say, is a miracle. 

"The helmet may serve as a symbol that God can do anything," said Pastor Robert Green, who lost a son aboard El Faro. "Just like finding the VDR, it was like finding a needle in a haystack. Who knows what else God has in store for us."

Valma Champa also lost her son with the El Faro. The families have grown very close over the past year and a half, attending almost every hearing together.

"It helps to know you’re not the only one who feels the way you feel," Champa said.

Besides Hamm’s helmet the only tangible piece of comfort at these hearings is each other because the hours of testimony have yielded few answers for these families.

"I know that the NTSB and the Coast Guard have done everything they can to get to the bottom of this, but my personal feeling is that it was a whole bunch of things that all came together at once like an atom bomb," Champa said.

Outside of these hearings action is being taken. Rochelle Hamm is still pursuing a petition for the “Hamm Alert," a proposal that would prevent ships from departing in the direction of any storm or hurricane and require a third party oversight to be added to ensure safety.

"The families are behind 'Hamm Alert' 100 percent, I’m not doing this for me, my kids, or my husband, I’m doing this for everyone as a whole, a lot of safety measures need to be in place," Hamm said.

Hamm is still hoping her petition will reach Congress. She says her numbers are growing, but it needs to reach 100,000 signatures before it can move forward. She says finding her husband's helmet has motivated her to not give up on it. 

You can view the peition here. 

To read more about how Hamm's helmet was discovered you can watch our previous story here. 

(© 2017 WTLV)


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