World News

Black Box From Lion Air Crash Is Recovered After ‘Desperate’ Search

Posted November 1, 2018 9:14 a.m. EDT

BANGKOK — An Indonesian Navy diving team retrieved one of the flight recorders from Lion Air Flight 610 on Thursday from the depths of the Java Sea, raising hopes that investigators will be able to solve the mystery of what led a brand-new Boeing jet to fall from the sky this week.

The navy team located the device at a depth of around 30 meters (about 100 feet) in waters northeast of the Indonesian capital, Jakarta. On Wednesday, search teams had heard pings from a locating beacon attached to the data recorder, but strong ocean currents stopped them from recovering the device.

Speaking from a ship where the device was being transported to Jakarta, the leader of the diving team, Senior Chief Petty Officer Hendra, told reporters that divers had to dig into the seabed to recover it. Although the machine was covered in mud, it was intact.

“We were desperate,” said Hendra, who uses just one name.

There are two so-called black boxes on each plane, and they are actually bright orange. One records conversations in the cockpit, while the other tracks crucial data, like airspeed, altitude and fuel flow.

Later on Thursday, the navy confirmed that it had been the flight data recorder that had been recovered.

Without the flight recorders, investigators despaired of figuring out what caused Lion Air Flight 610, bound from Jakarta to the small city of Pangkal Pinang on Monday morning with 189 people on board, to crash into the Java Sea. The weather en route was fine, and the plane had only begun flying in August for Lion Air, a low-cost carrier with a history of safety issues.

Speculation about what caused the crash has centered on possible problems with the plane’s transmission of airspeed data. The day before the crash, the same plane had experienced unreliable airspeed readings, which could have been the result of a malfunction of instruments that measure data needed to fly the plane.

Such an information glitch does not necessarily doom a plane, but it can catalyze a deadly sequence of events. That is what is believed to have happened when Air France Flight 447 plummeted into the Atlantic Ocean in 2009 after a coating of ice addled readings from its pitot tubes, the external probes affixed to airplanes to monitor airspeed data.

Lion Air, which is part of a company that controls the majority of Indonesia’s domestic aviation market, was told Wednesday by the Transportation Ministry to suspend its technical director and the ground crew that serviced the plane in the hours before the plane’s takeoff Monday.

Investigators want to know whether the problem with inaccurate airspeed readings that occurred on Sunday’s flight was truly resolved, as maintenance logs seen by aviation experts indicate.

Representatives from Boeing are scheduled to meet with Transportation Ministry officials Thursday. The plane, a 737 Max 8, is one of the most advanced and newest aircraft on offer. While there is no indication that there is a systemic flaw with the plane model, Indonesia ordered an inspection of all Max 8 jets operated by domestic carriers.

Lion Air has suffered at least 15 major problems since it began operations in 2000, ranging from fatal crashes to airplane collisions. But the airline has expanded quickly, in part because of the urgent need for air travel in an island nation spread out across the Equator.

For years, Indonesia’s aviation record was so poor that Western nations blacklisted the country’s carriers. But both the United States and European Union have since lifted their bans on Indonesian airlines.

On Thursday, Transportation Minister Budi Karya Sumadi said that the licenses of four Lion Air personnel had been suspended, including that of the company’s director of maintenance and engineering and the fleet maintenance manager. A day earlier, Budi said the government was evaluating the safety systems of low-cost carriers in Indonesia.

“Low-cost carriers are a necessity,” he said. “It’s not that low-cost carriers are in the wrong, it’s that we want to increase their safety.”