Search for black box of Sriwijaya Air plane hampered by bad weather

A piece of debris found off the sea which is believed to be from a turbine of Sriwijaya Air flight SJ182. PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA - Indonesian search teams on Monday (Jan 11) sought to retrieve the black box of a crashed Sriwijaya Air plane after narrowing down the search area the day before, but their efforts were hampered by bad weather.

As they recovered more aircraft fuselage and human remains from the Java Sea, police identified the first victim as Mr Okky Bisma. He was a flight attendant, according to aircraft manifest.

National Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas) chief Bagus Puruhito said in a televised press briefing that the search operation was hindered by heavy rain and relatively strong storm in the waters on Sunday.

"If we found something (the day before) underwater, we can't expect to find it there when we come again," he said.

Brigadier-General of Navy Rasman M.S, the search-and-rescue mission coordinator, said human remains and aircraft debris could be carried away by sea currents and waves to areas near the shores.

"For the search, we continue to find whatever we can get (such as ) pieces (of aircraft), victims," he added.

Another vessel with extra equipment would be deployed on Tuesday to help with the search, according to National Transport Safety Commission (KNKT) chief Soerjanto Tjahjono.

Local media reported that the vessel has sonar technology that can detect objects as deep as 2,500m underwater.

Mr Soerjanto said that the joint operation team had managed to narrow the search area thought to be the location of the black box. "We're optimising the search effort," he told reporters.

The black box - consisting of the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder - could shed light on what happened to the ill-fated flight on Saturday afternoon.

The Boeing 737-500 plane departed from Indonesia's main gateway Soekarno-Hatta International Airport on the outskirts of Jakarta, enroute to Pontianak, the provincial capital of West Kalimantan.

But it disappeared from the radar screen four minutes after take-off and crashed into the waters off Thousands Islands, north of Jakarta.

The plane carried 62 people - all Indonesians - consisting of 50 passengers and 12 crew. No survivors have been found.

The US National Transportation Safety Board will be involved in the investigation as the Boeing plane was made in the United States. The Transport Safety Investigation Bureau of Singapore has also offered its assistance.

Singapore President Halimah Yacob and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong have written to Indonesian President Joko Widodo to convey their condolences over the incident, according to a statement from Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Monday.

"On behalf of the people of Singapore, I extend my heartfelt sympathies to the people of Indonesia in this time of grief. Our thoughts are with the families and loved ones of those on SJ182. Singapore stands ready to offer any possible assistance," Madam Halimah said.

Divers bringing up bags filled with debris and body parts at Tanjung Priok port, north of Jakarta, on Jan 11, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

As the search-and-rescue operation entered the third day, police forensic experts continued the process to identify the remains of bodies recovered.

The National Police's Disaster Victim Identification Unit collected 53 samples of DNA from the families of the passengers.

Brigadier-General Hudi Suryanto, who is head of the National Police's Indonesia Automatic Fingerprint Identification System (Inafis), said that Mr Okky was identified by matching the data from the aircraft manifest, his fingerprint and the data in his electronic ID kept by the Population and Civil Registration Agency.

Saturday's crash was the first major air crash in Indonesia since 2018, when a Lion Air Boeing 737 Max with 189 people onboard crashed into the sea off Karawang, West Java, soon after taking off from the Soekarno-Hatta Airport.

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