Search teams close in on plane's black box

Indonesian navy divers recovering a piece of the wreckage from the Sriwijaya Air plane that crashed shortly after take-off last Saturday, during a search and rescue operation yesterday near Lancang island, off the Jakarta coast.
Indonesian navy divers recovering a piece of the wreckage from the Sriwijaya Air plane that crashed shortly after take-off last Saturday, during a search and rescue operation yesterday near Lancang island, off the Jakarta coast. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Indonesia's search teams have determined the estimated location of the black box of a crashed Sriwijaya Air Boeing 737 plane after scouring the Java sea floor using sonar, and retrieved body parts and aircraft debris.

National Transport Safety Commission (KNKT) chief Soerjanto Tjahjono said search teams picked up two emergency signals transmitted by the black box on the sea floor about 23m deep. The black box consists of the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder of the plane, which crashed last Saturday afternoon shortly after take-off.

The cause remains unknown, but Captain Nurcahyo Utomo, head of air safety investigation at KNKT, told The Straits Times that the plane likely broke apart when it crashed into the sea.

"It is not yet conclusive... The preliminary data indicates that the aircraft broke apart upon impact with the water," he said, adding that the debris would have been scattered across a larger area if the plane had broken apart in mid-air.

Weather was favourable to search operations yesterday before the sea current turned stronger later in the day, with heavy rain in the evening. Visibility underwater was about 3m during the daylight, according to divers deployed there.

"With nightfall, we refrain from relying on divers… Vessels with sonar capacity continue operating," Mr Rasman M.S., the operations director of Indonesia's search and rescue agency Basarnas, told reporters.

Military chief Hadi Tjahjanto said buoys had been placed as markings on the surface to assist further searches.

Capt Nurcahyo said his agency received an offer from Singapore's Transport Safety Investigation Bureau to assist in the search of the black box, and has also communicated with the United States National Transportation Safety Board.

"For the arrival of counterparts from overseas, KNKT is still working with the relevant local authorities to get the nod as currently Indonesia imposes a ban on the entry of all foreign nationals until Jan 14 (due to Covid-19)," Capt Nurcahyo said in a video message sent to reporters.

The police disaster victim identification department received seven bags of body parts yesterday and will start the identification process today. Twenty-one DNA samples were taken from the families of the victims yesterday.


Above: Body bags containing human remains recovered from the crash site. The identification process will begin today, with some DNA samples taken from the families of victims. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Ten bags of smaller aircraft debris and 16 larger parts of the wreckage were hauled from the Java Sea yesterday and would be handed over to KNKT for investigation, according to Basarnas chief Bagus Puruhito at last night's press conference.

Among the debris were parts of the plane's wheels and the engine, a torn steel alloy sheet with blue and red paint that matches Sriwijaya Air's corporate colours and pink children's trousers.

The Boeing 737-500 plane disappeared from radar four minutes after taking off, above the sea roughly between Laki island and Lancang island. Sixty-two people were aboard - 12 crew and 50 passengers, including seven children and three infants.

President Joko Widodo yesterday expressed his deep condolences to the families of the victims.

In a statement, he said: "I ordered the Transport Minister and the search and rescue agency head - assisted by the armed forces and police - to immediately conduct search and rescue operations as swiftly as possible."

The search focuses on the outer ring of the Laki and Lancang islands off the Jakarta coast.


Singapore offers condolences

Singapore yesterday offered its condolences to the Indonesian government on the Sriwijaya Air Flight SJ182 that crashed on Saturday.

In a statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), the Singapore Government said it was saddened by news of the crash and conveyed its "deepest condolences to the government of Indonesia and the families that are left behind".

An MFA spokesman said the ministry was in contact with the Indonesian authorities and there were no reports so far of any Singaporeans being on board the ill-fated flight.

Singaporeans who require consular assistance should contact the Embassy of Singapore in Jakarta on +62-811-863-348 or the MFA Duty Office on 6379-8800/8855, the MFA spokesman said.

"We will operate in the same locations - sea surface and underwater - expanding the search area slightly and reaching some coastal areas in the direction the sea currents are flowing," Mr Bagus told reporters.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 11, 2021, with the headline 'Search teams close in on plane's black box'. Print Edition | Subscribe