Two weeks after the initial disappearance of the plane into the choppy waters of the Java Sea, a team of navy divers have found the black boxes from AirAsia Flight 8501. (UPDATE: Officials have confirmed that the flight recording data has indeed been discovered.) The discovery may shed additional light on the final moments of the aircraft that crashed on December 28, just 40 minutes into its journey from Surabaya, Indonesia, to Singapore. Transmission from the black boxes will likely aid investigators in determining to what extent bad weather played a role in the plane crash that killed the 162 passengers and crew aboard. Initial attempts at retrieving the boxes will begin on Monday, as diving teams attempt to navigate their way around the underwater wreckage.
Unpredictable weather and the generally unforgiving conditions of the Java Sea have presented considerable challenges for search parties, who have battled poor visibility and intense wind and rain for the last several days. Black boxes have a battery life of around 30 days, during which the devices emit pings that often lead to their discovery. Earlier on Sunday local Malaysian time, AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes tweeted that initial pings had been detected by investigators, but warned followers against a premature celebration. Later, however, confirmation from three separate vessels affiliated with the recovery effort seemed to confirm the black boxes existence.
The news comes as something of a silver lining to the third major tragedy that befell a Malaysian-based airline over the course of 2014. Hopefully, with the flight data and pilots' words that the black boxes should contain, officials will be able to provide some much-needed answers to the families of those onboard. On Saturday, the tail of the aircraft was found and lifted using a balloon system, where it was then transported to Pangkalan Bun, a nearby municipality. From there, the wreckage will be surrendered to Indonesia's National Transportation Safety Committee for further examination.
Divers had initially expected to find the black boxes along with the tail parts, but the devices had apparently become dislodged during the crash. However, the search team ultimately located the boxes a mere kilometer (0.6 miles) from the original position of the plane's tail, though they are trapped beneath the body of the wreckage. In a statement, Tonny Budiono, a senior ministry official, said, "The navy divers in Jadayat state boat have succeeded in finding a very important instrument, the black box of AirAsia QZ8501," and those involved in the search effort seem hopeful that its recovery will help determine the exact cause of the crash, and perhaps prevent a similar tragedy from occurring again.
According to the Indonesian Transport Ministry, AirAsia was not permitted to fly its chosen route on December 28 from Indonesia to Singapore, saying that the airline lacked the proper licensing for the journey. AirAsia has vehemently denied these charges, though they have since been banned from allowing pilots to take the same trek. The Ministry has also suspended a number of other airlines for allegedly failing to obtain licenses to fly certain routes. Altogether, five airlines and dozens of trips have been suspended as a result.
Thus far, 48 of the 162 bodies have been recovered in the Java Sea, but many more are expected to remain trapped in the cabin. Though divers were initially hopeful that a large piece of wreckage detected near the pings from the black box were from the cabin, they later confirmed that it was a wing and parts of the engine. The vast majority of the passengers were Indonesian — the seven foreigners included one Singaporean, one Malaysian, one Briton French co-pilot Remi Plesel, along with a South Korean couple and their 11-month-old baby. The bodies of the couple were found on Sunday, but their child remains unaccounted for.
While it seems that the black boxes of Flight QZ8501 will be recovered, a number of other planes have not been so lucky, including the ill-fated Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared on March 8, 2014, and has yet to be discovered. The black box from that aircraft was never found, and a number of aviation and safety experts have long called for improvements to the devices that would allow for easier access and discovery in the case of an ocean crash.
Possible advances include "enabling them to float and stream data to ground stations in real time," Bloomberg reports. In an e-mailed statement to the news outlet, Peter Knudson, a National Transportation Safety Board spokesman, said the board "is currently exploring what the next steps might be," which may comprise potential safety recommendations to the Federal Aviation Administration.
Hopefully, the addition of such measures will allow for the continued improvement of air transportation across the globe.
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