PANGKALAN BUN, Indonesia: Indonesian divers on Tuesday retrieved the cockpit voice recorder from beneath the wreckage of an Air Asia plane that crashed into the Java Sea as the airline’s boss vowed to overcome the “toughest times” he has known.
It came a day after the plane’s other black box, the flight data recorder, was recovered. The devices should provide investigators with vital information about what caused the accident.
Flight QZ8501 went down on December 28 in stormy weather as it flew from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore with 162 people on board.
Just 48 bodies have so far been recovered, with many believed to be in the main section of fuselage, which has not yet been found.
Indonesia’s meteorological agency has said that the bad weather likely caused the Airbus A320-200 to crash but a definitive answer is impossible without the data recorders.
Rescuers have faced a lengthy, difficult search often hampered by bad weather but a key breakthrough came at the weekend when they finally detected “ping” signals from the black boxes.
On Tuesday an official involved with the search, who requested anonymity, confirmed that the cockpit voice recorder “has been found and lifted from the sea”. The official added that the device had been taken to the navy ship Banda Aceh.
The device had been about 32 meters (105 feet) under water, beneath a wing. It was not far from the first black box but took longer to retrieve as it was trapped under heavy wreckage.
The flight data recorder monitors information such as airspeed, while the cockpit voice recorder stores radio transmissions and sounds in the cockpit. Both are located near the rear of the plane and designed to survive underwater.
The accident is the first major setback for Malaysia-based Air Asia, which has enjoyed a 13-year run of success.
In a message to customers, flamboyant boss Tony Fernandez said that “the past few weeks have been the most difficult weeks of my life since starting Air Asia”.
But he pledged to get through the crisis: “Even in our toughest times, we will continue to be the world’s best and be better for you.”
– Hunt for main body –
S.B. Supriyadi, a rescue agency official coordinating the hunt for the plane, said the international search effort, which has included US and Chinese ships, would now focus on finding the main body of the aircraft.
“We must get to the fuselage and retrieve the rest of the victims,” he said. “We will try hard to recover them and return them to their families.”
The flight data recorder, which officials have said is in good condition, was flown to Jakarta on Monday night.
Indonesia’s National Transport Safety Committee said the boxes would undergo a lengthy analysis in the capital. Suryanto Cahyono, a senior investigator from the committee, told AFP that it would take about a week to download the data before analysis could begin.
He said French experts from Airbus were in Jakarta to help with the analysis, and experts from countries whose citizens were involved in the crash would also assist.
The committee has said a preliminary report on the accident will be produced within a month, and a final report after a year.
Officials on Monday revealed dramatic new details of the accident, saying a rapid change in pressure caused the plane to break apart as it hit the water.
“It exploded because of the pressure,” Supriyadi told reporters in Pangkalan Bun on Borneo island, the search headquarters.
“The cabin was pressurized and before the pressure of the cabin could be adjusted, it went down — boom. That explosion was heard in the area.”
The tail of the plane, with its red Air Asia logo, was lifted out of the water on Saturday using giant balloons and a crane. It was brought by tugboat on Sunday to a port near Pangkalan Bun.
All but seven of those on board the flight were Indonesian.
The bodies of a South Korean couple were identified on Sunday, but their 11-month-old baby remains unaccounted for.
The other foreigners were one Singaporean, one Malaysian, one Briton and a Frenchman — co-pilot Remi Plesel. Their bodies have not been recovered.
While the cause of the crash is unknown, the disaster has once again placed Indonesia’s chaotic aviation industry under scrutiny.