AirAsia flight QZ8501: Investigators get going to analyse flight data recorder

Device in 'good condition'; efforts to retrieve voice recorder continue

Crash investigators in Jakarta are ready to analyse the black box flight data recorder that could throw light on Indonesia AirAsia Flight QZ8501, after divers recovered it "in good condition" yesterday.

The divers located the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) near the flight data recorder (FDR) but were unable to retrieve it.

The find came more than two weeks after the plane crashed into the Java Sea with 162 people on board, and rough weather often hampered search operations.

"We have made a breakthrough," Mr Tatang Kurniadi, chief of the National Transportation Safety Committee (KNKT), told reporters in Pangkalan Bun, a major town in Central Kalimantan closest to the site of the crash, earlier in the day.

The device, which was later flown to Jakarta, was in "good condition", he added.

Search and rescue officials are hoping to recover the CVR soon.

"The distance (between FDR and CVR) is 20m," the director of operations of search agency Basarnas, Mr S.B. Supriyadi, told The Straits Times. It was believed to be trapped under the plane's wing.

Finding the fuselage of the Airbus A320-200, where the bodies of most of the passengers are believed to be, remains the priority today. For the third day in a row, searchers did not find any bodies yesterday. The count stands at 48. The forensics team in Surabaya identified two more bodies.

Now that they have the flight data recorder, crash investigators can start work by downloading the data. However, analysis could take up to a month. The Singapore-bound plane set off from Surabaya on Dec 28 but vanished from air controllers' radar more than 40 minutes into its flight after its pilots asked for permission to climb from 32,000ft to 38,000ft.

The FDR contains information about the plane's movements such as air speed and engine pressure, while the CVR records all sounds in the cockpit, including conversations between pilots.

"To open it (FDR) takes only two to three days. But the process of analysing it will take a longer time. We will also need input from Airbus," Mr Tatang told reporters, referring to the plane maker. After having detected pings since last Wednesday and on Friday, naval divers managed to retrieve the FDR at 7.11am yesterday. It was later placed in a clear case filled with seawater to prevent rust from setting in before being taken to Jakarta on a military plane.

Mr Tatang said he will invite personnel from France, Singapore and any other countries involved in the search to witness the handover of the FDR from the military to his lab in KNKT before they open it to begin their analysis.

One of his investigators, Mr Santoso Sayogo, rejected a theory that the AirAsia airliner experienced high cabin pressure on its left side and exploded before hitting the water, saying there was no data to support that.

In Surabaya, the East Java police's medical and health department chief Budiyono told reporters that one of the bodies his team identified was that of Ms Elisabeth Youvita, 20, from Surabaya, and the other was of Mr David Gunawan, 37, also from Surabaya.

The crash, which has put the nation's aviation industry in the spotlight, has seen the Transport Ministry come under pressure to take tough action to clean up a sector with a patchy safety record and weak regulatory oversight.

Last Friday, the ministry issued a ban on 61 flights from five airlines for lacking valid flight permits, discovered during a four- day audit of five key airports.

It had to issue a correction over the weekend, however, to state that it mistakenly listed national carrier Garuda Indonesia as having four flights without permits, and one TransNusa Aviation flight as not having approval.

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