Weather hinders efforts to get black box

Search teams find more parts of Sriwijaya Air plane, human remains; first victim identified

A search and rescue team member with a part of the plane's wreckage recovered from the sea yesterday. The joint operation team has managed to narrow the search area thought to be the location of the black box.
A search and rescue team member with a part of the plane's wreckage recovered from the sea yesterday. The joint operation team has managed to narrow the search area thought to be the location of the black box. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Indonesian search teams yesterday sought to retrieve the black box of a Sriwijaya Air plane after narrowing down the search area the day before, but their efforts were hampered by bad weather.

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

National Search and Rescue Agency chief Bagus Puruhito said in a televised press conference that the search operation was hindered by heavy rain and a relatively strong storm 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 shore.

"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 today to help with the search, according to National Transport Safety Commission 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 has 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, for 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 had 62 people on board - 50 passengers and 12 crew, all of them Indonesians. No survivors have been found.

The United States National Transportation Safety Board will be involved in the investigation as the Boeing plane was made in the US.

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 yesterday.

"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.

As the search and rescue operation entered the third day, police forensic experts continued with 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.

Police Brigadier-General Hudi Suryanto, who is in charge of the National Police's automatic fingerprint identification system, said that Mr Okky was identified by matching the data from the aircraft manifest, his fingerprint and the data in his electronic identification 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 on board crashed into the sea off Karawang, West Java, soon after taking off from the Soekarno-Hatta airport.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 12, 2021, with the headline 'Weather hinders efforts to get black box'. Print Edition | Subscribe