Indonesian divers on Monday retrieved the flight data recorder of the AirAsia plane that went down in the Java Sea with 162 people on board, a potential breakthrough in efforts to discover what caused the crash.
The recorder, one of two black boxes containing vital information, was brought to the surface early in the morning, said national search and rescue chief Bambang Soelistyo, after a fortnight-long frustrating search often hampered by bad weather.
“We succeeded in bringing up part of the black box that we call the flight data recorder,” Soelistyo told reporters in Jakarta.
He said it was found under the wreckage of a wing and added that divers were still hunting for the second black box, the cockpit voice recorder.
Officials said Sunday that strong ping signals from the black boxes had been detected near an object believed to be the plane’s main body. On Monday improved weather helped divers to retrieve the flight data recorder.
It monitors data such as airspeed and heading, while the cockpit voice recorder stores radio transmissions and sounds in the cockpit. Both are located near the rear of the plane and designed to survive underwater.
Indonesia’s National Transport Safety Committee said the recovered black box would be sent to Jakarta for a lengthy analysis, to be carried out with French experts and Airbus.
It would later be transferred for further analysis to France, where the aircraft manufacturer is headquartered.
Flight QZ8501 crashed on December 28 on a short flight from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore. Indonesia’s meteorological agency has said stormy weather likely caused the Airbus A320-200 to go down but a definitive answer is impossible without the data recorders.
Forty-eight bodies have been recovered so far, but the weather has hampered efforts to locate all the victims and the wreckage.
S.B. Supriyadi, a director with the national search and rescue agency, said initial analysis of the wreckage so far recovered indicated that the plane broke apart on impact with the water.
“It exploded because of the pressure,” he told reporters in the town of Pangkalan Bun on Borneo island, the search headquarters.
“The cabin was pressurised and before the pressure of the cabin could be adjusted, it went down — boom. That explosion was heard in the area.”
– Victims believed trapped in cabin –
The search has involved US, Chinese and other international naval ships.
Supriyadi said many bodies were believed trapped in the cabin, so reaching that part of the wreckage was also a top priority.
The tail of the plane, with its red AirAsia logo, was lifted out of the water on Saturday using giant balloons and a crane.
It was brought by tugboat on Sunday to a port near Pangkalan Bun.
All but seven of those on board the flight were Indonesian.
The bodies of a South Korean couple were identified on Sunday, but their 11-month-old baby remains unaccounted for.
The other foreigners were one Singaporean, one Malaysian, one Briton and a Frenchman — co-pilot Remi Plesel. Their bodies have not been recovered.
While the cause of the crash is unknown, the disaster has once again placed Indonesia’s chaotic aviation industry under scrutiny.
Indonesian officials have alleged Indonesia AirAsia did not have a licence to fly the route on the day of the crash, although the airline rejects the claim.
Indonesia’s transport ministry quickly banned AirAsia from flying the Surabaya-Singapore route.
On Friday it suspended dozens more routes operated by five other domestic airlines for similar licence violations.
Despite the disaster, analysts believe that Malaysia-based AirAsia — which has had a spectacular 13-year run of success — will overcome its first major reversal.