SACO — A Thornton Academy student’s research of the SS El Faro has caught the eye of a television producer.

SS El Faro was a “roll on-roll off” cargo ship designed to carry vehicles, and crewed by merchant mariners. The 40-year-old ship was headed to Puerto Rico from Florida in 2015 when the vessel and its 33-member crew went down in the Caribbean after running into Hurricane Joaquin.

Sophia Meyer, a 16-year-old junior from Saco, became interested in the topic after reading an article about a year ago. She purchased a few books written on the ship and the tragic event.

“I read all three of them from cover to cover,” Meyer said.

Her interest piqued, she decided to research the El Faro for the 2019 History Day Contest.

“Then I had the opportunity to start this project, and I went full blown – late-night Googling and interviewing and doing research,” Meyer said.


Meyer said through her research she’s learned things she never imagined she as a teenager would know about. She’s talked with the mother of one of the crew of the El Faro, learned about what the day-to-day life on a ship is like for merchant mariners and the chain of command on ships, studied hurricane developmental patterns, and became familiar with some of the finer details of the operation of a roll on-roll off cargo ship.

One of the people Meyer interviewed asked if he could share her contact information with a producer from National Geographic television.

It turned out that Meyer, through her research, had discovered something the people at National Geographic didn’t know.

The producers at National Geographic knew that there were eight ships similar to the El Faro that had been scrapped. They did not know that there was another similar vessel, the Matsonia, a 46-year-old cargo ship still in operation.

Meyer made the discovery when reading a Navy report, which she cross-referenced to assure the information was accurate.

Meyer has countless files on her laptop – photos, reports, audio recordings of interviews and email transactions – and she’s using the information to build a website for the History Day Contest. The regional contest is March 8. Finalists from the regional will compete in the state competition in April and the state finalist will compete in the national competition in June.


Meyer said her work has spurred an interest in a career that involves research like accident investigation or investigative journalism.

“To be able to do this kind of research every day would be the best thing on Earth, because I love doing this,” she said.

Liz Gotthelf can be contacted at 780-9015 or at:

[email protected]

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