SACO — A Thornton Academy student’s research into the SS El Faro has captured the interest of television producers.

The El Faro was a roll-on/roll-off cargo ship designed to carry automobiles and be crewed by merchant mariners.

The 40-year-old ship was headed to Puerto Rico from Florida in 2015 when it 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 after reading an article about a year ago. She then bought a few books about the El Faro and its demise.

“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 has learned much about the ship. She has talked with the mother of one of the crew of the El Faro, learned about day-to-day life for merchant marines and the chain of command aboard ships, studied hurricane developmental patterns and came to understand some of the finer details of the operation of a roll-on/roll-off cargo ship.

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

It turned out Meyer, through her research, had discovered something the people at National Geographic had not known.

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

Meyer made the discovery when reading a U.S. Navy report, which she cross-referenced to confirm its accuracy.


Meyer said she has countless files on her laptop computer — photos, reports, audio recordings of interviews and email transactions — and is using the information to build a website for the History Day Contest.

The regional contest is March 8. Finalists from the region will compete in the state competition in April, and the state finalist will compete in the national competition in June.

Meyer said her research has fueled her interest in a career that involves research, such as 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.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.