AirAsia Search Hampered by Bad Weather; Black Box Locater Deployed

By , Niluksi Koswanage and | January 2, 2015

Search teams looking for the crashed AirAsia Bhd. jetliner’s black box will deploy side-scan sonar and pinger locaters as inclement weather off Indonesia’s coast hinders efforts to recover bodies and the plane’s fuselage.

The international team has set 1,575 square nautical miles as the most likely area to find the plane wreckage, Malaysia’s Navy Chief Abdul Aziz Jaafar said today in a Twitter post. Three ships will be used to seek the sound emitted by the cockpit-voice recorder and flight-data recorder, together known as the black box.

Heavy seas and wind exceeding 40 knots in the search area are delaying progress while three-meter high waves are preventing divers from going down. Bad weather is expected to persist through Jan. 4, Indonesia search and rescue agency chief F.H. Bambang Sulistyo said at a briefing last night in Jakarta. Singapore will lend Indonesia a device to detect metal under water, he said.

Divers, helicopters, planes and ships have scoured the Java Sea for the remains of Flight 8501 in a search that has so far helped recover 16 bodies. The black box of the Airbus Group NV jet has eluded recovery efforts near Pangkalan Bun, about 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) southeast of Singapore. Parts of the plane were identified after sonar contact at 24 meters (79 feet) under water, Hadi Tjahjanto, a spokesman for Indonesia’s Air Force, said earlier.

‘Abnormal Situation’

Recovering the fuselage and black box of the A320 plane that went down with 162 people on board could help answer why the six-year-old aircraft on a routine commercial flight to Singapore from Surabaya in Indonesia crashed on Dec. 28. Flying at 32,000 feet, the pilot asked to move to a higher altitude, citing clouds, officials have said.

An “abnormal situation occurred” at that height, said AirNav Indonesia, the nation’s air-navigation operator.

More than 90 vessels and aircraft have been involved in the operation that has so far found objects including what appears to be an emergency door and an evacuation slide.

“I am hoping that the latest information is correct and aircraft has been found,” AirAsia Group Chief Executive Officer Tony Fernandes said yesterday in a Twitter post. “Please all hope together. This is so important.”

Recovery Effort

The recovery effort will involve salvaging large pieces of the plane, engines, landing gear and other wreckage requiring heavy-duty lifting capability. The parts will then be pieced together for the investigation. Indonesia has sent a tanker to help, Sulistyo said.

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.

Flight 8501 was the third high-profile incident involving a carrier in Asia last 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.

A spate of crashes in the past decade had prompted Indonesia in 2008 to amend laws and boost plane-safety checks after the European Union imposed a ban on its carriers from flying to Europe. The ban was partially lifted later. Indonesia had 3.77 fatal accidents for every 1 million takeoffs in the three years ended March 31, London-based aviation adviser Ascend said in 2007. The global rate was 0.25 then.

–With assistance from Herdaru Purnomo in Surabaya, Rieka Rahadiana, Andrew Janes and Neil Chatterjee in Jakarta and Eko Listiyorini in Pangkalan Bun.

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