Divers Recover Crashed Indonesian Plane’s Data Recorder

In a Tuesday press conference at Tanjung Priok Port, the box containing the flight data recorder of Sriwijaya Air flight SJ-182 is held by Soerjanto Tjahjono, left, who is chief of Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee, and Bagus Puruhito, right, chief of the National Search and Rescue Agency. Indonesian navy divers recovered the flight data recorder from the Java Sea after the jet crashed with 62 people on board. Rear from left, Armed Forces Chief Mair Marshall Hadi Tjahjanto, Transportation Minister Budi Karya Sumadi, and Navy Chief of Staff Admiral Yudho Margono look on. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesian navy divers searching the ocean floor on Tuesday recovered the flight data recorder from a Sriwijaya Air jet that crashed into the Java Sea with 62 people on board.

The device is expected to help investigators determine what caused the Boeing 737-500 to nosedive into the ocean in heavy rain shortly after taking off from Jakarta on Saturday.

TV stations showed divers on an inflatable raft with a large white container containing the device heading to a Jakarta port.

Military chief Air Chief Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto said the plane’s other “black box,” the cockpit voice recorder, was likely to be found soon because its beacon was being emitted in the same area.

The devices were buried in seabed mud under tons of sharp objects in the plane’s wreckage, navy Chief Adm. Yudo Margono said. He said at least 160 divers were deployed Tuesday in the search.

More than 3,600 rescue personnel, 13 helicopters, 54 large ships and 20 small boats are searching the area just north of Jakarta where Flight 182 crashed and have found parts of the plane and human remains in the water at a depth of 75 feet.

So far, the searchers have sent 74 body bags containing human remains to police identification experts who on Monday said they had identified their first victim, 29-year-old flight attendant Okky Bisma.

His wife, Aldha Refa, who is also a flight attendant for Sriwijaya Air, shared her grief in a series of posts on social media.

“My husband is a loving, devout and super kind man,” she wrote on Instagram. “Heaven is your place, dear … be peaceful there.”

Anguished family members have been providing samples for DNA tests, and the National Police disaster victim identification unit said it has identified three more victims, including the co-pilot.

Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee said the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board will join in investigating the crash.

The NTSC chairman, Soerjanto Tjahjono, ruled out a possible midair breakup after seeing the condition of the wreckage found by searchers. He said the jet was intact until it struck the water, concentrating the debris field, rather than spreading it out over a large area as would be seen with a midair event.

Tjahjono said the plane had continued to send altitude data until it descended to 250 feet above the water’s surface.

As in many countries, the aviation industry in Indonesia has been badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic, with travel restrictions and sharp passenger declines. According to Transportation Ministry data, the 26-year-old jet didn’t fly for almost nine months last year, from March 23 to Dec. 19.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration sent an airworthiness directive requiring operators of various Boeing 737 aircraft models, including the 737-500, to carry out engine checks before they can be flown again after being out of service, Director General of Air Transportation Novie Riyanto said in a statement.

He said the plane was inspected on Dec. 2, including checks for engine corrosion, and was declared airworthy by the ministry on Dec. 14.

The plane made an initial flight without passengers on Dec. 19 and resumed commercial flights on Dec. 22, according to ministry data.

The disaster has reignited concerns about safety in the aviation industry, which grew quickly after the economy was opened following the fall of dictator Suharto in the late 1990s. The United States banned Indonesian carriers from operating in the country in 2007, lifting the action in 2016, citing improvements in compliance with international aviation standards. The European Union lifted a similar ban in 2018.

Sriwijaya Air has had only minor safety incidents in the past, though a farmer was killed in 2008 when a plane went off the runway while landing due to a hydraulic issue.

In 2018, a Boeing 737 MAX 8 jet operated by Lion Air crashed, killing 189 people. An automated flight-control system played a role in that crash, but the Sriwijaya Air jet did not have that system on board.


By NINIEK KARMINI and ANDI JATMIKO Associated Press

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