Divers retrieved one black box and located the other underwater Monday from the AirAsia plane that crashed more than two weeks ago, a key development that will help investigators unravel what caused the aircraft to plummet into the Java Sea less than halfway into its flight.
The cockpit voice recorder was found just hours after officials announced the data flight recorder had been pulled from beneath a piece of the aircraft’s wing and brought to the surface, said Suryadi Bambang Supriyadi, operation coordinator at the national search and rescue agency.
However, he said it remained lodged beneath heavy wreckage, and divers were struggling to free it at a depth of 32 meters (105 feet).
Divers began zeroing in on the sites a day earlier after three Indonesian ships picked up intense pings from the area, but they were unable to see the devices due to strong currents and poor visibility.
The two instruments, which emit signals from their beacons, are vital to understanding what brought Flight 8501 down on Dec. 28, killing all 162 people on board. They provide essential information including the plane’s vertical and horizontal speeds along with engine temperature and final conversations between the captain and co-pilot.
The flight data recorder was lodged in debris from the wing at a depth of about 30 meters (100 feet), Supriyadi said. Once it was found, divers concentrated on locating the source of the other ping heard only a few meters (yards) away.
Once the second device is recovered, both boxes will be taken to Jakarta, the capital, for analysis. It could take up to two weeks to download their information, said Nurcahyo Utomo, an investigator at the National Committee for Safety Transportation.
The slow-moving hunt, which has often gone days with little progress, got a much-needed boost over the weekend when the tail was lifted from the seabed. It was the first major wreckage excavated from the crash site, but it was ripped open and the black boxes had detached.
On Sunday, the ships detected two strong signals near each other.
Search efforts have been consistently hampered by big waves and powerful currents created by the region’s rainy season. Silt and sand, along with river runoff, have created blinding conditions for divers.
On Sunday, Henry Bambang Soelistyo, head of the national search and rescue agency, said divers located the wing and debris from the engine. Officials initially were hopeful it was the main section of the Airbus A320’s cabin, where many of the corpses are believed to be entombed.
So far, only 48 bodies have been recovered.
The last contact the pilots had with air traffic control, about halfway into their two-hour journey from Indonesia’s second-largest city, Surabaya, to Singapore, indicated they were entering stormy weather. They asked to climb from 32,000 feet (9,753 meters) to 38,000 feet (11,582 meters) to avoid threatening clouds, but were denied permission because of heavy air traffic. Four minutes later, the plane dropped off the radar. No distress signal was sent. SAPA