Hunt for cockpit tapes after Indonesia jet crash

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
The flight data recorder from the crashed Sriwijaya Air 737 has been recovered. AFP

Bad weather forced scores of divers to temporarily suspend their hunt for a crashed Indonesian jet’s cockpit voice recorder on January 13, as investigators worked to read critical details on a flight data device that had already been salvaged.

The two “black boxes” could supply key clues as to why the Sriwijaya Air Boeing 737-500 plunged about 3,000m in less than a minute before slamming into the Java Sea soon after take-off on January 9, taking with it 62 people.

Divers just off the coast of Jakarta had hauled the data recorder to the surface on January 12, with the hunt now focused on finding a voice recorder on the wreckage-littered seabed.

The discovery came as a team from the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) prepared to join the investigation in the capital, along with staff from Boeing, the US Federal Aviation Administration and jet engine producer GE Aviation.

While dozens of boats and helicopters searched for wreckage, poor conditions forced divers to temporarily suspend their hunt.

Search and rescue agency spokesman Yusuf Latif said: “It was called off . . . due to bad weather. All divers are now on standby.”

A remotely operated underwater vehicle was still searching the wreckage-littered seabed.

Agency chief Soerjanto Tjahjono said a day earlier that investigators hoped to download data from the retrieved black box in a matter of days, so “we can reveal the mystery behind this accident”.

Black box data includes the speed, altitude and direction of the plane as well as flight crew conversations, and helps explain nearly 90 per cent of all crashes, according to aviation experts.

So far authorities have been unable to explain why the 26-year-old plane crashed just four minutes after setting off from Jakarta, bound for Pontianak city on Borneo island, a 90-minute flight away.

More than 3,000 people are taking part in the recovery effort, assisted by dozens of boats and helicopters flying over small islands off the capital’s coast.

Agus Haryono with the search-and-rescue agency’s crash team said: “It’s not easy to find victims and parts of the fuselage because the debris and human remains are usually in small pieces so they can easily drift away.”

The grisly task of hunting for mangled body parts can also take a psychological toll.

Agus said newer divers “feel uncomfortable or even get scared, especially when they’re retrieving remains at night.

“But, as time goes by, they get stronger mentally to face these situations.”

Three more victims have been identified by matching fingerprints on file to body parts retrieved from the murky depths, authorities said on January 13, including a 50-year-old female passenger and a 38-year-old off-duty pilot.

There were 10 children among the passengers on the half-full plane, which had experienced pilots at the controls.

Scores of body bags filled with human remains were being taken to a police morgue where forensic investigators hoped to identify victims by matching fingerprints or DNA with relatives.