A “black box” from the crashed Indonesian passenger jet was recovered on Tuesday, days after the plane with 62 people on board slammed into the sea.
So far authorities have been unable to explain why the 26-year-old plane crashed just four minutes after takeoff.
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Black box data – which record information about the speed, altitude and direction of the plane as well as flight crew conversations – helps explain nearly 90 percent of all crashes, according to aviation experts.
“The FDR [flight data recorder] has been found,” Transport Minister Budi Karya Sumadi told a live television briefing.
The recorder is one of two black boxes – the other being a cockpit voice recorder – that could prove crucial to explaining why the 737-500 aircraft plunged about 3,000 metres (10,000 feet) in less than a minute before crashing into waters off the capital, Jakarta, on Saturday.
TV stations showed divers on an inflatable vessel with a large white container containing the device heading to a Jakarta port. It will be handed over to the National Transportation Safety Committee that is overseeing the crash investigation.
An Indonesian Navy ship earlier picked up intense pings being emitted from the two Sriwijaya Air recorders. They were buried in seabed mud under tonnes of sharp objects in the wreckage, Navy Chief Admiral Yudo Margono said.
He said at least 160 divers were deployed in the search for the devices.
Sumadi added officials believe the cockpit voice recorder is nearby that of flight data recorder. “We strongly believe it’ll be found soon,” he said.
More than 3,600 rescue personnel, 13 helicopters, 54 large ships and 20 small boats are searching the area just north of Jakarta where Flight 182 crashed and have found parts of the plane and human remains in the water at a depth of 23 metres (75 feet).
So far, the searchers have sent 74 body bags containing human remains to police identification experts who on Monday said they identified their first victim, 29-year-old flight attendant Okky Bisma.
His wife, Aldha Refa, who is also a flight attendant for Sriwijaya Air, shared her grief in a series of posts on social media.
“My husband is a loving, devout and super kind man,” she wrote on Instagram. “Heaven is your place, dear … be peaceful there.”
Anguished family members have been providing samples for DNA tests and police say results are expected in four to eight days.
National Police spokesman Rusdi Hartono said about 53 samples for DNA testing have been collected but more are still needed, especially from parents and children of victims.
Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee chairman, Soerjanto Tjahjono, ruled out a possible midair breakup after seeing the condition of the wreckage found by searchers. He said the jet was intact until it struck the water, concentrating the debris field, rather than spreading it out over a large area as would be seen with a midair event.
Dismal safety record
The disaster has reignited concerns about safety in Indonesia’s aviation industry, which grew quickly after the economy was opened following the fall of dictator Soeharto in the late 1990s.
The United States had banned Indonesian carriers from operating in the country in 2007, lifting the action in 2016, citing improvements in compliance with international aviation standards. The European Union lifted a similar ban in 2018.
In the past year, Indonesian aviation was affected significantly by the coronavirus pandemic that caused travel restrictions and a slump in demand among travellers.
Sriwijaya Air has had only minor safety incidents in the past, though a farmer was killed in 2008 when a plane went off the runway while landing due to a hydraulic issue.
In 2018, a Boeing 737 MAX 8 jet operated by Lion Air crashed, killing 189 people. An automated flight-control system played a role in that crash, but the Sriwijaya Air jet did not have that system on board.