Adverse Weather Hinders Efforts to Recover AirAsia Flight Data Recorders

By , and | December 31, 2014

Indonesian authorities began deploying divers to find debris from the crashed AirAsia Bhd. jetliner as a day of adverse weather hindered efforts to find the plane’s black boxes.

Searchers recovered seven bodies so far, including that of a female flight attendant, from the wreckage site of Flight 8501, while 17 helicopters assisted recovery efforts, F.H. Bambang Sulistyo, head of the national search and rescue agency Basarnas, said today in Jakarta. Parts of the aircraft body were identified after establishing sonar contact at 24 meters under water.

Aerial operations were suspended because of bad weather, officials said late in the day. Sixty seven divers were readied by Indonesia to scour the area for the fuselage of the Airbus Group NV A320, plus the black boxes that may answer what doomed the 162 people on board. The cockpit-voice and flight-data recorders are essential to piecing together what happened in the six minutes between the time the pilot asked the control tower for permission to deviate from the flight path and when the jet dropped off radar contact.

The aircraft went missing Dec. 28 en route to Singapore from the central Indonesian city of Surabaya. Search crews found objects including what appears to be an emergency door as well as submerged items resembling plane parts, Sulistyo said yesterday. Searchers recovered an evacuation slide today, officials said.

No Response

The bodies of four males and three females were found. Indonesia can’t yet say if there were any survivors, Sulistyo said. No bodies were found wearing a life jacket, Air Force spokesman Hadi Tjahjanto said in an interview today.

The crash site is in an area around Pangkalan Bun, about 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) southeast of Singapore. Water in the area is shallow, at 25 meters to 30 meters deep.

The Flight 8501 pilots requested to climb to 38,000 feet and were given a response two minutes later to fly at 34,000 feet, Wisnu Darjono, director at AirNav Indonesia, the nation’s air navigation operator, told Bloomberg News today, citing a transcript of the conversation between traffic controllers and the plane. The transcript is being submitted for review by the National Transport Safety Committee.

The pilots didn’t reply to the controller’s response, Darjono said. The actual transcript won’t be released to the public.

The black boxes, which are encased in bright orange to facilitate their retrieval, are waterproof, fortified and designed to emit an electronic signal underwater for 30 days to help searchers find them. No pings have been detected, Indonesia’s Air Force said yesterday.

Third Incident

“Basarnas is concentrating on securing the flight data recorder,” Sulistyo said.

Family members gathered at Surabaya airport broke into tears and anguished wails yesterday as authorities said the debris found was from Flight 8501.

It’s the third high-profile incident involving a carrier in Asia this year, raising safety concerns in one of the fastest- growing aviation markets in the world. AirAsia is the biggest customer by units of the A320, a workhorse airliner that’s used by hundreds of carriers around the world.

Bad weather may persist for the next few days, Tatang Zaenudin, deputy for operations at the search agency, said at a Jakarta news conference in the early evening.

Still, the search area now is more focused, AirAsia Group Chief Executive Officer Tony Fernandes told reporters today in Surabaya.

“The search-and-rescue team is doing a fantastic job,” he said. “They’re feeling more comfortable with getting to know where it is.”

Java Sea

The Java Sea covers about 320,000 square kilometers, bordered by the Indonesian islands of Borneo to the north and Java to the south.

“There’s no doubt they’ll recover the data boxes,” said Peter Marosszeky, a former air accident investigator who lectures at the University of New South Wales. “They know when it went down and about where.”

The black boxes could answer questions for families who wonder what happened, provide insight to the industry about what causes accidents and prompt changes to practices or new technologies.

It took almost two years for investigators to recover the data recorders from the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean after an Air France plane went down en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris in 2009. Indonesia avoided the missteps that plagued the fruitless hunt for Malaysian Airline System Bhd.’s Flight 370, analysts said.

MH370 Mystery

Nothing has been recovered from Flight 370 that disappeared March 8 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing carrying 239 people. As a result, much about that jet’s mysterious change of course remains unknown.

Losing the AirAsia plane caps the worst year for air- passenger fatalities since 2010. The AirAsia pilots didn’t send a distress signal, drawing comparisons with Flight 370. The hunt continues for that plane, the longest search for a passenger jet in modern aviation history.

–With assistance from Chong Pooi Koon and Herdaru Purnomo in Surabaya, Andrew Janes in Jakarta and Anurag Kotoky in New Delhi.

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