Search crews are shifting their focus to hunt for the black boxes from AirAsia after recovering wreckage and bodies from the jet which crashed in the waters near Indonesia with 162 people on board.
The cockpit-voice and flight-data recorders are essential to piecing together what happened to Flight 8501 in the six minutes between the time the pilot asked the control tower for permission to deviate from the flight path and when the jet dropped out of radar contact.
Flight 8501 went missing on Sunday during a trip from Surabaya, Indonesia, to Singapore with 162 people on board. Tuesday in Indonesia search crews discovered objects including what appears to be an emergency door as well as submerged items resembling plane parts, F.H. Bambang Sulistyo, head of the national search and rescue agency, said in Jakarta. Two female bodies and one male body were retrieved, he said. No mention was made of survivors.
“It wasn’t a controlled ditching,” said Paul Hayes, safety director at London-based aviation consulting company Ascend Worldwide. “That’s clear from the finding of bodies that don’t have life jackets on.”
The crash site is in an area around Pangkalan Bun, about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) southeast of Singapore. Water in the area is shallow, at 25 meters to 30 meters (98 feet) deep, and authorities have prepared divers to search for the data recorders and further evidence.
The black boxes of the Airbus Group A320 aircraft, which are actually encased in bright orange to facilitate their retrieval, are waterproof, fortified and designed to emit an electronic signal underwater for 30 days to help searchers find them. So far, no pings have been detected, Indonesia’s Air Force said Tuesday.
It’s the third high-profile incident involving a carrier in Asia this year, raising safety concerns in one of the fastest- growing aviation markets in the world. AirAsia is the biggest customer by units of the A320, a workhorse airliner that’s used by hundreds of carriers around the world.
“We have 1,000 flights a day and until we have the investigation we cannot make any assumptions as to what went wrong,” AirAsia founder and Chief Executive Officer Tony Fernandes said at a press conference. “All I can say is the weather in Southeast Asia is very bad at the moment.”
The Java Sea covers about 320,000 square kilometers, bordered by the Indonesian islands of Borneo to the north, Java to the south.
“There’s no doubt they'll recover the data boxes,” said Peter Marosszeky, a former air accident investigator who lectures at the University of New South Wales. “They know when it went down and about where.”
The plane disappeared off radars after the pilot requested a higher altitude because of storm clouds in the flight path. The last signal from the plane was between the city of Pontianak on Borneo and Tanjung Pandan.
The black boxes could go a long way in bringing closure to families who wonder what happened and also provide insight to the industry about what causes accidents and help prompt changing practices or developing new technologies.
Losing the AirAsia plane caps the worst year for air- passenger fatalities since 2010. The AirAsia pilots didn’t send a distress signal, drawing comparisons with Malaysian Airline’s Flight 370. The hunt continues for that plane, the longest search for a passenger jet in modern aviation history.
Rahadiana and Ho reported from Jakarta. Contributors: Andrew Janes and Fathiya Dahrul in Jakarta, Herdaru Purnomo in Surabaya and Anurag Kotoky in New Delhi.