What Can The Russian Plane's Black Box Tell Us?

Russian and Egyptian investigators are currently working to investigate the cause of the crash of flight KGL-9268, as its black box has been found. The crash, which resulted in the deaths of its 224 passengers, occurred 23 minutes into the plane's flight from Sharm el-Sheikh to St. Petersburg, after its pilot reported technical errors and allegedly began attempting an emergency landing. Despite reports that technical issues were a serious problem for the plane's pilot, the extremist group ISIS claimed responsibility for the plane crash. Its claim has largely been disputed by Russian and Egyptian officials and analysts, who have pointed out not only the extremist group's lack of credibility, but also the fact that at the altitude at which the plane was flying, it could not simply have been "shot down."

The cause of the crash remains mysterious, but on Saturday evening, the discovery of the plane's second black box among the plane's wreckage, which was uncovered roughly 60 miles south El-Arish in North Sinai, could potentially reveal a lot about the circumstances of the crash. Earlier on Saturday, Egyptian officials said one black box had been found, and confirmed at a news conference later that day that both had been recovered, according to The Telegraph. The importance of the aircraft's black boxes, especially after claims from ISIS, could hardly be overstated. Sharif Ismail, the Egyptian prime minister, stated on Saturday: "The black box will be the one that will reveal the reasons for the crash."


The recovery of the plane's black boxes could greatly aid investigation of the crash, but as of Sunday afternoon, officials have yet to reveal any findings. Until they do, it's important to understand what a plane's black box exactly is, and what it can tell us about the flight.

According to National Geographic, an airplane is required to contain a cockpit voice recorder and a flight data recorder, which are, together, known as the plane's "black box." The primary purpose of the black box is to help crash investigators to determine the cause of the plane's crash. The black box is specifically helpful in cases of terrorist attacks, when it is unlikely that the plane's pilot will have time to radio a message detailing the situation, and most debris could potentially be destroyed, leaving little evidence for investigators to work with.

Most black boxes have the capacity to operate under extreme conditions, such as 1,110°C fires and temperatures as cold as -55°C. In this case, as the aircraft crashed onto solid ground, the black box's ability to remain intact in water and transmit from as deep as 14,000 feet served little purpose. Black boxes, which, incidentally, are actually bright orange in color for investigators to find them easily, also record a minimum 25 hours of flight time, offering investigators no shortage of material to analyze.

The black box's cockpit recorder might only capture sounds, but from these sounds, experts can discover a lot about the conditions of the aircraft. For example, from simple cockpit recordings, investigators could pick up on engine noise, stall warnings, and other emergency sounds. Different sounds could even potentially reveal the speed the plane was traveling, details about the state of the engine, and from dialogues between the pilot and staff, investigators can ultimately develop a sense of chronology.

Meanwhile, the black box's flight data recorder indicates time, altitude, airspeed, and the plane's direction, as well as details about the flaps on each wings, auto-pilot, and fuel gauge. This data enables investigators to develop computer video reconstructions and other visuals to develop clearer understanding of the cause of a plane's crash.

It might take some time to synthesize a clear image of what caused KGL-9268's crash using all of the recordings and data from its black boxes. But regardless, the aircraft's black boxes could potentially answer all of our questions about the tragic and mysterious plane crash, and hopefully put to rest distasteful conspiracy theories.