SEARCH teams could be close to finding the black box flight recorders from the crashed AirAsia plane.
“Pings” that could have come from the devices aboard the Airbus A320-200 have been detected in the Java Sea, according to an accident investigator.
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The commander of the Indonesian armed forces, General Moeldoko, confirmed divers had been sent to investigate.
A total of 155 passengers, including Briton Choi Chi Man, and seven crew were killed when the plane, flight QZ8501, crashed in bad weather on a flight from Surabaya in Indonesia to Singapore on 28 December.
The black boxes, usually housed in a plane’s tail section, have ping-emitting beacons whose batteries have around 30 days of life following an accident.
Santoso Sayogo, an investigator at the national transportation safety committee, said yesterday: “We received an update from the field that the pinger locator already detected pings.
“We have our fingers crossed it is the black box. Divers need to confirm. Unfortunately, it seems it’s off from the tail. But the divers need to confirm the position.”
He added: “The divers are tying the tail with straps and then we will try to lift it two ways – floating balloons combined with cranes, so that the tail sector wouldn’t be damaged. Because we assume the black box is in the tail sector.”
A total of six ships with ping locators have been in the search area in the Java Sea. The tail section of the plane has been detected but is said to be in a broken condition. Attempts to retrieve it have been hampered by bad weather.
The black boxes, which are actually orange in colour, comprise the cockpit voice recorder, which is a record of flight deck conversations in the minutes before an accident, and the flight data recorder, which enables investigators to see how the planes’ various parts had been working.
One of the UK’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) teams has travelled to Indonesia to assist with the recovery of the black boxes. The AAIB played a key role after the recovery of the black boxes from the Malaysia Airlines plane downed over Ukraine last summer.
Its boxes were taken to the AAIB’s headquarters at Farnborough in Hampshire where they were examined by international investigators before being handed over to the Dutch Safety Board, which is leading the inquiry into MH17 disaster.
Before yesterday, 46 bodies had been retrieved but then four additional bodies were recovered – two of them still strapped in their seats on the ocean floor – taking the total to 48. Officials hope many of the remaining corpses will be found inside the fuselage, which has not yet been located by divers. Several large objects have been spotted in the area by sonar.
Though the water is relatively shallow at about 100ft deep, this is the worst time of year for a recovery operation because of monsoon rains and wind. The relatives of the victims have urged authorities to make finding the remains of their loved ones the priority.
Indonesia AirAsia, 49 per cent owned by the Malaysia-based AirAsia budget group, has come under pressure from the authorities in Jakarta since the crash.
The transport ministry has suspended the carrier’s Surabaya-Singapore licence, saying it had permission to fly the route only on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
Flight QZ8501 took off on a Sunday, though the ministry said this had no bearing on the accident.
While the cause of the crash is not known, the national weather bureau has said seasonal tropical storms common in the area were likely to be a factor.
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