AirAsia flight QZ8501: Black box may be retrieved today

America's guided-missile destroyer USS Sampson seen in the search for parts of the ill fated AirAsia flight QZ8501 in the Java Sea. Indonesian officials expect to retrieve the crucial black box today. --PHOTO: AFP 
America's guided-missile destroyer USS Sampson seen in the search for parts of the ill fated AirAsia flight QZ8501 in the Java Sea. Indonesian officials expect to retrieve the crucial black box today. --PHOTO: AFP 

Indonesia hopes to retrieve the black box on Indonesia AirAsia Flight QZ8501 today, after a brief lull in the bad weather allowed divers to positively identify the tail of the Airbus A320-200 plane where the voice and flight data recorders are housed.

The breakthrough yesterday - on the 11th day of a massive multinational search and recovery effort in the Java Sea - came as the Indonesian authorities suspended more AirAsia flights to Singapore, cutting three of the 21 weekly services from Bandung. The Surabaya-Singapore route was suspended late last week.

"The tail is where the black box is located," Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs Indroyono Soesilo told reporters. "Hopefully, it won't be long before it can be discovered."

The recorders are crucial in providing clues to what could have caused the plane, flying from Surabaya to Singapore on Dec 28 with 162 people on board, to crash into the sea. The data will be analysed in Indonesia after the black box is found, Mr Soesilo said.

Earlier, AirAsia boss Tony Fernandes tweeted on hearing news of the find: "If (it is the) right part of tail section, then the black box should be there... We need to find all parts soon so we can find all our guests to ease the pain of our families. That still is our priority."

Indonesia AirAsia has come under some fire after it was found that Flight QZ8501 did not have permission from the Indonesian authorities to fly on Sundays, the day the crash happened. Mr Fernandes denies culpability, saying this was "purely an administrative error".

But this has sparked a probe on unscheduled, or "phantom", flight approvals. The Corruption Eradication Commission may be roped in to help in the investigation.

Indonesia's National Police's Criminal Investigation Agency has formed a team to investigate the possibility of criminal activity in connection with the crash, chief spokesman Inspector General Ronny F Sompie told the Antara news agency. It is waiting for a crash report from the National Transportation Safety Committee, he said.

Yesterday, the head of search agency Basarnas, Mr Bambang Soelistyo, said divers were able to take photos that confirmed it was the tail, on which part of the airline logo could be seen.

The tail is wedged upside down on the seabed 30m deep. But it took a spot of good luck to pull it off, Lieutenant Edy Tirtayasa, the commander of Indonesia's elite diving unit Kopaska, told The Straits Times.

Undersea currents were calm - meaning visibility was good - when the first team went down and spotted the tail. A second team was deployed to take the pictures. After that, undersea current speeds picked up again.

One more body was retrieved yesterday, bringing the total to 40. Eight more victims have been identified, including St Andrew's Junior College student Nico Giovanni.

chengwee@sph.com.sg

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