Search for Lion Air plane debris, black box extended while investigators mull over problematic readings

Workers lift a turbine engine of the Lion Air flight JT610 jet, at Tanjung Priok port in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Nov 4, 2018.
Workers lift a turbine engine of the Lion Air flight JT610 jet, at Tanjung Priok port in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Nov 4, 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA - Search efforts for the downed Lion Air jet have been extended once more in the hopes of recovering victims' bodies and a second black box, while air crash investigators take a closer look at problematic "angle of attack" readings in a bid to unravel the mystery behind the deadly crash.

Indonesia's National Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas) chief Muhammad Syaugi told reporters on Wednesday morning (Nov 7): "We decided to extend our evacuation operation another three days, specifically for Basarnas."

The agency's search for Lion Air Flight JT610 - which crashed on Oct 29 en route to Pangkal Pinang from Jakarta, killing all 189 aboard - will go on till Saturday.

A joint team that includes volunteers and officers from the Indonesian military and police have for the past 10 days scoured the Java sea for victims and plane parts.

Air Marshal Syaugi said: "To the others involved, I would like to express my gratitude and greatest appreciation for the synergy and dedication that has allowed us, to this morning, to hand 186 body bags over to the disaster victim investigation team."

About 220 Basarnas staff, as well as 60 divers, will press on with search efforts over the next few days, he added.

They will focus on a 250m radius in the Java Sea where plane parts - including wheels and turbines - have been found.

This is the second time that the evacuation operation, which was initially supposed to end on Nov 4, has been extended..

 
 
 

Divers say there are still victims buried under plane debris.

The plane's second black box - its cockpit voice recorder - continues to elude divers.

While the flight data recorder was retrieved last week, Indonesia's National Transportation Safety Committee (KNKT) chief Soerjanto Tjahjono said that his team still needs the second black box.

The cockpit voice recorder could offer crucial clues, he said, noting that besides conversations inside the cockpit, it could also contain other valuable information, such as warning sounds. The KNKT team, helped by a team from Singapore's Transport Safety Investigation Bureau, is still looking for the device, Mr Soerjanto said on Wednesday.

Air Marshal Syaugi said some of his divers have been tasked to continue the search as well.

The plane's flight data recorder showed that there were problems with the Boeing 737 Max 8's airspeed indicator during its final four flights.

On a flight from Bali to Jakarta on Oct 28 - the plane's penultimate journey before it crashed the next morning - there was a difference between angle of attack readings on the side of the pilot and that of the co-pilot, Mr Soerjanto said.

Mr Nurcahyo Utomo, the KNKT sub-committee head for air accidents, said the angle of attack reading - which shows the angle at which the wind is passing over the wing - affects calculation of aircraft speed.

One of the plane's angle of attack sensors had been changed before the flight out of Bali, after a pilot flagged issues with the airspeed indicator.

The sensor that was removed then has been brought to the KNKT office, and will be inspected at the manufacturer's factory in Chicago, said Mr Soerjanto.

KNKT plans to do a flight reconstruction, taking into account a faulty angle of attack sensor, at Boeing's engineering simulator in Seattle.