Lack of Tools Hinders Search For Crashed Jet’s Cockpit Recorder

By Harry Suhartono | November 16, 2018

A delay in securing equipment needed to find recordings of the pilots’ final conversations on the doomed Lion Air jet is hampering Indonesian authorities search for clues to the nation’s worst air disaster in two decades.

The National Transportation Safety Committee expects to resume Sunday the search for the cockpit voice recorder of the Boeing Co. 737 Max jet, which crashed Oct. 29 in the Java Sea off Jakarta, Deputy Chairman Haryo Satmiko said in a text message on Wednesday. The agency will deploy a sub-bottom profiling system along with a remotely operated vehicle with side scan sonar to scour the site of the crash.

The crew was previously scheduled to resume the search on Thursday but the shipment of the sub-bottom profiling system from Singapore was delayed, according to Soerjanto Tjahjono, chairman of the safety committee.

Indonesian investigators have warned that the pinger of the cockpit voice recorder may have broken off from the device due to the impact from the crash. The flight data and cockpit voice recorders – both of which are often referred to as black boxes even though they are painted orange – hold information on a plane’s electronics and systems, and also the pilots’ conversations to aid accident investigations.

“Whatever equipment we have been using in the past are no longer useful as the pings are no longer there,” Tjahjono said by phone Wednesday. “We have to use new technique to basically scour the seabed.”

The recordings could provide crucial evidence to explain why a new, sophisticated airliner with 189 people on board crashed into the ocean at more than 600 miles an hour shortly after take off. The high-speed breakup of the plane and mud on the ocean floor that may have covered the parts pose challenges for investigators.

“The cockpit voice recorder could give important clues to the investigators as it would allow them to judge how the pilots handled the aircraft in its final moments,” said Gerry Soejatman, an Indonesian aviation analyst. “Did they panic or where there any procedures that could be improved in the future.”

While the investigation is far from complete, Indonesian authorities believe than an erroneous sensor prompted a computerized safety system to aggressively push the jet into a dive. That prompted Boeing Co. and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to weigh whether to issue a software fix for the 737 Max.

The maintenance on the plane and the pilots’ performance may also become factors in the accident and finding the cockpit voice recorder is key to unraveling the last moments before the crash.

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