Indonesia closes in on black box location

By AFP

Jakarta • Indonesian investigators said they were homing in on the black box from a crashed jetliner after locating its “pings” yesterday, two days after the jet crashed shortly after take-off with 189 people on board.

Retrieving the black box will be key to unlocking why the Boeing 737-MAX, one of the world’s newest and most advanced commercial passenger jets, nosedived into the Java sea so soon after leaving Jakarta.

Authorities picked up the box’s signals some 30m-40m below the surface of the water off Indonesia’s north coast, where the plane crashed on Monday.

“We have not found the black box’s location, but it’s in the area, within a 3km radius,” Soerjanto Tjahjono, head of Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee, told Kompas TV.

“Usually, the black box location is near the main wreckage.”

The box contains flight data that shows the speed, altitude and direction of the plane, while the cockpit voice recorder keeps track of conversations and other sounds in the cockpit.

Dozens of divers were taking part in the 1,000-strong personnel recovery effort along with helicopters and ships, but authorities have all but ruled out finding any survivors.

The development comes as Boeing officials were due to meet with Lion Air yesterday, after Indonesia ordered an inspection of the US plane maker’s 737-MAX jets.

Indonesia Transport Minister Budi Karya Sumadi took the unusual step of ordering the temporary removal of Lion Air’s technical director and several other staff who cleared the flight, citing government authority over the aviation sector.

He later stressed that the measure meant to free up the technical director to help with the crash probe.

Aviation experts said it is too early to determine what caused the accident.

But Lion Air’s admission that the plane had an unspecified technical issue on a previous flight — as well as the plane’s abrupt nosedive just 12 minutes after takeoff — have raised questions about whether it had any faults specific to the newly released model, including a speed-and-altitude system malfunction.

“The bigger picture here is that you’ve got a lot of American carriers flying the same aircraft,” Stephen Wright, aviation expert at the University of Leeds, told AFP.

“Is there (a problem) that could affect other aircraft?”

The crash has also resurrected concerns about Indonesia’s patchy air safety record which led to a now-lifted ban on its planes entering US and European airspace.

Lion Air co-founder Rusdi Kirana, now Indonesia’s ambassador to Malaysia, said in a 2015 interview that “my airline is the worst in the world, but you don’t have a choice”.

Founded in 1999, the budget carrier capitalised on a boom in Indonesia’s aviation industry, but has been plagued by safety woes and complaints over unreliable scheduling and poor service. — AFP