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Street renaming ceremony will honor East Rockaway native who died in El Faro shipwreck

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John Street will soon by synonymous with Howard Schoenly, a man who grew up there and died tragically in the El Faro shipwreck in 2015.

Village officials will honor the late Schoenly by renaming John Street in his honor during a ceremony on March 24 at 11:30 a.m.

“They have been extremely supportive,” Howard’s brother, Steve Schoenly, told the Herald in an email in regard to village officials.

With a crew of 33, the El Faro left Jacksonville, Fla. on Sept. 29, 2015, and headed straight into Hurricane Joaquin, a Category 4 storm that stalled over the Crooked Islands in the Bahamas. After the 790-foot boat was battered by heavy winds and waves up to 40 feet high, communications with the crew were lost on Oct. 1. The ship was found on the bottom of the Caribbean on Oct. 31.

Schoenly worked for TOTE Maritime as a ship engineer, and frequently made weeklong, round-trip runs between Jacksonville and Puerto Rico, transporting household goods.

The National Transportation Safety Board and the Coast Guard hosted hearings to further investigate the cause of the shipwreck in 2016 and 2017. Officials from TOTE, former El Faro ship personnel, Coast Guard representatives and others were among those who testified.

On April 26, 2016, a U.S. Navy salvage ship, the USNS Apache, located the El Faro’s voyage data recorder, which functions like an aircraft’s black box, recording the captain’s radio transmissions. The 510-page transcript of Capt. Michael Davidson’s conversations was released to the public on Dec. 13 of that year. In the recordings, Davidson was asked about changing course, but he said he thought that he could avoid the hurricane by sticking to his route. Eventually, he was forced to sound the alarm to abandon ship before communications cut off.

After learning of the ship’s disappearance, Steve flew to his brother’s home in Cape Coral, Fla., where he waited with Howard’s wife, Karen, for updates as the search dragged on for days. On Oct. 7, a mile-long debris field was discovered in the Caribbean Sea. The Coast Guard determined that the ship sank in 15,000 feet of water on Oct. 1 and that every crewmember on board died.

In a 2017 interview with the Herald, Steve described the close bond between him and Howard. “Me and my brother were as tight as you could be,” he said. “He was not only my brother, he was my best friend. He was the one I would call, the first call you make, no matter what happens. Everyone’s got that person that they call. And he was it.”