AirAsia flight QZ8501: Cockpit voice recorder retrieved, report out within a month

JAKARTA (AFP, REUTERS) - Divers on Tuesday retrieved the black box cockpit voice recorder from the wreck of an AirAsia passenger jet, Indonesian news channel MetroTV said, quoting a Transport Ministry official. With both parts of the black box found, a preliminary report on the crash will be released within a month.

When asked if the black box was found, Mr Santoso Sayogo, an investigator at the National Transportation Safety Committee, told Reuters: "We can confirm."

The black box was found near the location where the flight data recorder was retrieved on Monday.

"The CVR (cockpit voice recorder) has been lifted from the water and is in the ship," Mr Sayogo told AFP, adding it would be flown to Jakarta later on Tuesday The device had been about 32m underwater, beneath a wing. It was not far from the first black box but took longer to retrieve as it was trapped under heavy wreckage.

Indonesia's National Transport Safety Committee said the boxes would undergo a lengthy analysis in the capital. Mr Suryanto Cahyono, a senior investigator from the committee, told AFP that it would take about a week to download the data before analysis could begin.

He said French experts from Airbus were in Jakarta to help with the analysis, and experts from countries whose citizens were involved in the crash would also assist.

The committee has said a preliminary report on the accident will be produced within a month, and a final report after a year.

Indonesia's search and rescue agency said on Monday that search teams had managed to retrieve the flight data recorder of the Indonesia AirAsia plane that crashed in the Java Sea. The cockpit voice recorder was located 20m away from it, said an official.

Indonesia's army chief, General Moeldoko, has instructed his men to focus on finding the cockpit voice recorder and fuselage, as naval personnel carried AirAsia flight QZ8501's flight data recorder from a ship on land at Pangkalan Bun.

The flight data recorder was brought by helicopter to Pangkalan Bun, the southern Borneo town that has been the base for the search effort, and then flown to Jakarta for analysis.

National Transport Safety Committee (KNKT) chief Tatang Kurniadi said that the recovered flight data recorder was in good condition and ready to be analysed.

"To open it, takes only two to three days. But process of analysing it will take a longer time. We will also need input from Airbus," Mr Tatang said on Monday.

The second so-called black box, containing the cockpit voice recorder, has been located but not yet retrieved, Mr Madjono Siswosuwarno, the main investigator at the KNKT, told Reuters.

Investigators may need up to a month to get a complete reading of the data. "The download is easy, probably one day. But the reading is more difficult ... could take two weeks to one month," Mr Siswosuwarno said.

Earlier, Basarnas chief Bambang Soelistyo told reporters: "I received information from the National Transport Safety Committee (KNKT) chief that at 07.11 am, we succeeded in bringing up part of the black box that we call the flight data recorder."

"We confirmed this as the object has a tag number and serial - PN-2100-4043-02 and serial number SN-000556583,'' he said.

The cockpit voice recorder has yet to be recovered, he added.

Basarnas operational director SB Supriyadi said the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder were located 20m apart, according to

"One black box was 20m away from the other," quoted him as saying at the joint command post at the Iskandar Airbase in Pangkalan Bun on Monday.

Investigators have said that it could take up to two weeks to download the data. But the information could be accessed in as little as two days if the device is not badly damaged.

Flight QZ8501 with 162 people on board vanished from radar screens over the northern Java Sea on Dec 28, less than half-way into a two-hour flight from Indonesia's second-biggest city of Surabaya to Singapore. The Indonesian meteorological agency has said stormy weather likely caused the Airbus A320-200 to crash.

Over the weekend, three vessels detected strong "pings" that were believed to be from the black boxes. But strong winds, powerful currents and high waves hampered search efforts. Indonesian navy divers took advantage of calmer weather in the Java Sea on Monday to retrieve the black boxes and search for the fuselage.

The tail of the plane, with its red AirAsia logo, was lifted out of the water on Saturday using giant balloons and a crane. It was brought by tugboat on Sunday to a port near the search headquarters, at Pangkalan Bun town on Borneo island.

So far search teams have recovered just 48 bodies. All but seven of those on board were Indonesian. The other foreigners were three Koreans, one Singaporean, one Malaysian, one Briton and a Frenchman - co-pilot Remi Plesel.

The search efforts have involved Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, US, China and other foreign naval ships. In a statement on Saturday, the Singapore Armed Forces said it continues to be committed to the Indonesian-led search operation.

Relatives of the victims have urged authorities to make finding the remains of their loved ones the priority.

Was airline permitted to fly Surabaya-Singapore route on Sundays?

The transport ministry has already suspended Indonesia AirAsia's Surabaya-Singapore licence after it flew on a Sunday, for which it did not have permission. However, the ministry has said this had no bearing on the crash of Flight QZ8501.

The airline however insisted it had the right to fly the route for seven days a week.

"We have the right to fly Surabaya-Singapore. We had flown that schedule and had rights for 7 days a week," a statement quoted AirAsia chief Tony Fernandes as saying.

"We have secured...approval from both Indonesia and Singapore. What happened was purely an administrative error," it added.

The transport ministry suspended AirAsia's flight permit for the Surabaya-Singapore route on Jan 2, after it was revealed that AirAsia allegedly violated operational procedures by flying on a Sunday when its licence only allowed it to fly on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

In October, the airline revised its route schedule to fly on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, without the required permission from the ministry, it was alleged.

Director-general of air transport Djoko Murjatmodjo said Air Asia's suspension would be till investigations were completed.

The transport ministry has ordered officials who allowed the airline to fly the Surabaya-Singapore route on Sundays to be removed from their duties.

It has also made it mandatory for all pilots to have a face-to-face briefing with an airline flight operating officer (FOO) before departure, after questions were asked about whether the pilots of ill-fated Flight QZ8501 had received a weather update and briefing before it took off two Sundays ago.

Icing likely caused engine damage

Weather was the "triggering factor" in the crash of flight 8501, with icing likely causing engine damage, Indonesian officials said.

An initial report on the website of Indonesia's meteorological agency, BMKG, suggested the weather at the time the plane went down sparked the disaster after it appeared to fly into storm clouds.

"Based on the available data received on the location of the aircraft's last contact, the weather was the triggering factor behind the accident," said the report, which referred to infra-red satellite pictures showing peak cloud temperatures of minus 80 to minus 85 deg C at the time.

"The most probable weather phenomenon was icing which can cause engine damage due to a cooling process. This is just one of the possibilities that occurred based on the analysis of existing meteorological data," the report said.

It remained unclear why other planes on similar routes were unaffected by the weather, and other analysts said there was not yet enough information to explain the disaster.

"It's irrelevant to make an assumption on the cause of the crash as we haven't found the black boxes yet," former air force commander Chappy Hakim told AFP.

AirAsia QZ8501 debris

Was the plane flying too slowly, too steeply?

The plane disappeared on December 28 morning after it failed to get permission to fly higher to avoid bad weather because of heavy air traffic.

The plane was travelling at 32,000 feet and had asked to fly at 38,000 feet. When air traffic controllers granted permission for a rise to 34,000 feet a few minutes later, they received no response.

Radar data being examined by investigators appeared to show that the Airbus A320 made an "unbelievably" steep climb before it crashed, possibly pushing it beyond the aircraft's limits, a source familiar with the probe's initial findings said.

The data was transmitted before the aircraft disappeared from the screens of air traffic controllers in Jakarta, added the source, who declined to be identified. "So far, the numbers taken by the radar are unbelievably high. This rate of climb is very high, too high. It appears to be beyond the performance envelope of the aircraft," he said.

Online discussion among pilots has centred on unconfirmed secondary radar data from Malaysia that suggested the aircraft was climbing at a speed of 353 knots, about 100 knots too slow, and that it might have stalled.

Investigators are focusing initially on whether the crew took too long to request permission to climb, or could have ascended on their own initiative earlier, said a source close to the inquiry, adding that poor weather could have played a part as well.

A Qantas pilot with 25 years of experience flying in the region said the discovery of the debris field relatively close to the last known radar plot of the plane pointed to an aerodynamic stall. One possibility is that the plane's instruments iced up, giving the pilots inaccurate readings.

The Indonesian captain, a former air force fighter pilot, had 6,100 flying hours under his belt and the plane last underwent maintenance in mid-November, said the airline, which is 49 per cent owned by Malaysia-based budget carrier AirAsia.

Did the aircraft manage to ditch?

The Airbus A320-200 had disappeared from radar over the Java Sea during a storm, but it failed to send the transmissions normally emitted when a plane crashes or is submerged.

Experts say this suggests the experienced former air force pilot, Captain Iriyanto, conducted an emergency water landing which did not have a destructive impact.

"The emergency locator transmitter (ELT) would work on impact, be that land, sea or the sides of a mountain, and my analysis is it didn't work because there was no major impact during landing," said Mr Dudi Sudibyo, a senior editor of aviation magazine Angkasa. "The pilot managed to land it on the sea's surface," he added.

"The conclusions I have come to so far are that the plane did not blow up mid-air, and it did not suffer an impact when it hit a surface, because if it did so then the bodies would not be intact," Chappy Hakim, a former air force commander, told AFP.

The fuselage is also thought to be largely intact after aerial searchers saw a "shadow" on the seabed, where operations are now being focused. An emergency exit door and an inflatable slide were among the first items recovered by the search team, suggesting the first passengers may have started the evacuation process once the plane landed on water.

Former transport minister Jusman Syafii Djamal was convinced the discovery of the floating exit door meant "someone had opened it". Passengers may have been waiting for a flight attendant to inflate a life raft when a high wave hit the nose and sank the plane, Djamal added. "High waves may have hit the plane, the nose, and sunk the plane."

Flight safety standards require that all passengers can be evacuated from a plane in 90 seconds. The cause and more details of the crash will remain unclear until investigators find the all-important black boxes, which will answer questions such as why the underwater locator beacon did not work.


Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.