Indonesian Divers Recover Part of Black Box from Lion Air Crash

Ahmad Syamsudin and Tria Dianti
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181101-ID-crash-1000.jpg Muhammad Syaugi, chief of Indonesia’s National Search and Rescue Agency, (second from left) holds the flight data recorder from the crashed Lion Air jet during a news conference onboard a rescue ship in Tanjung Karawang, Nov. 1, 2018.

Indonesian divers on Thursday recovered what they believe is the flight-data recorder of a Lion Air jet that plunged into the Java Sea with 189 people aboard, officials said, a finding that could help investigators piece together the crash’s cause.

Navy divers retrieved the box from a depth of 30 meters (about 100 feet), said Muhammad Syaugi, head of the National Search and Rescue Agency.

Soerjanto Tjahjono, director of the National Transport Safety Committee, said the device was “most likely the flight data recorder.”

“We’re still looking for the cockpit voice recorder,” he told reporters.

“It was covered in mud, but is still intact,” diver 1st Sgt. Hendra told a local TV news channel.

The black box consists of a cockpit voice recorder, which records conversations between pilots, and a similar looking flight-data recorder, which tracks electronic information such as airspeed, pressure altitude and vertical acceleration.

Ony Soeryo Wibowo, another investigator, said they still hadn’t determined if the box pulled from the sea on Thursday was the flight data or cockpit voice recorder, according to the Associated Press.

“Their forms are similar,” AP quoted him as saying.

The new Boeing 737 MAX 8, which had joined the Lion Air fleet in August, crashed on Monday morning minutes after take-off from Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, bound for Pangkal Pinang in Kepulauan Bangka-Belitung province off Sumatra.

All 181 passengers and eight crew members are presumed dead.

Search chief Syaugi said navy divers also recovered a part of the aircraft measuring about 1.5 meters (about 5 feet) in length and half a meter in width, the biggest piece from the wreckage to be found so far.

He said bigger parts of the aircraft were also spotted but were too heavy to lift.

“We lowered an ROV (remotely operated vehicle) and saw many debris and several bodies. There were also the aircraft’s two wheels and the side of the aircraft’s body,” he told a news conference.

Dismembered bodies

Senior Commissioner Musyafak, director of the Said Sukanto central police hospital, said 48 bags with dismembered body parts had been examined and lab tests would be carried out to match them with DNA samples taken from the victims’ families.

The DNA identification effort could take about a week, said Musyafak, who goes by one name.

On Thursday, Lion Air said the remains of one of the passengers, Jannatun Shintya Dewi, had been flown to her hometown Surabaya, capital of East Java province, for burial.

Airline representatives handed over Jannatun’s remains to her family on Wednesday after police confirmed her identity through a DNA match, the company said in a statement.

“Lion Air has expressed their deepest condolences to all the family and friends of the late Jannatun Shintya Dewi,” it said.

Lion Air said it was supporting her family with necessary expenses and offered them a “waiting allowance” of about U.S. $331, grief money of about U.S. $1,700 and more than 1.2 trillion rupiah (about U.S. $83,000) to compensate for her death.

‘We will ask for an explanation’

Meanwhile, Transport Minister Budi Karya Sumadi said Thursday he would ask Boeing investigators currently in Indonesia to “clarify details” regarding the 737 MAX 8, one of the most-advanced planes built by the U.S. aircraft maker.

“We will ask for an explanation from Boeing about the aircraft. Perhaps there’s a mismatch between its technology and the pilot’s competence,” he told a news conference.

Authorities have not pinned the blame on the aircraft model, which has been in commercial use only since mid-2017.

Budi said the ministry had also ordered Lion Air to suspend the airline’s director of maintenance and engineering, the managers of quality control and fleet maintenance, as well as the release engineer, and appoint other people to their posts.

“The goal of the suspension is to allow them to focus on supporting the investigation,” he said.

The minister said that an inspection of Lion Air’s Boeing 737 MAX 8 fleet following Monday’s crash had found no technical problems, but more checks were needed.

The government was also considering raising the minimum ticket price for low-cost carriers, taking into account a recent increase in oil prices, Budi said.

Lion Air has confirmed reports that the aircraft logged “unreliable” readings of altitude and airspeed on its previous flight, the night before it crashed.

But the company said the issues had been resolved before Monday’s flight.

Robbi Gaharu, who boarded the same plane on Lion Air’s Bali-Jakarta route on Sunday, told CNN that the aircraft dropped sharply in altitude and said the passengers felt like they were falling into “a really, really deep hole.”

“I thought maybe it was caused by turbulence. After 10 minutes in the air, the plane dropped as if it was losing power,” said Gaharu, a management consultant and frequent flier. “People panicked. It dropped about 400 feet.”

A spokesman for the airline, however, declined on Thursday to comment about a report that the pilot of the Bali-Jakarta flight had made a distress call about technical problems minutes after take-off from Denpasar, according to Reuters.

Monday’s crash was the second deadly accident in 14 years involving a plane from budget carrier Lion Air.

In 2004, an MD-82 from its fleet overshot the runway of the airport in Solo, Central Java. It crashed into a cemetery, killing 25 people. Nine years later, a Lion Air Boeing 737 carrying more than 100 people crashed into the sea while trying to land on Bali island, nearly splitting the fuselage into two. There were no fatalities.


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