Navy divers use a flotation device to retrieve wreckage of the ill-fated Sriwijaya Air Boeing 737-500 passenger aircraft during recovery operations near Lancang Island on January 10, 2021, following the January 9 crash of flight SJ182 into the Java Sea minutes after takeoff.
(Photo by ADEK BERRY/AFP via Getty Images)

Black Boxes Located at Indonesian Airliner Crash Site; Human Remains Recovered

(CNN) — Rescuers searching for the wreckage of an Indonesian passenger jet that crashed into the ocean with 62 people on board on Saturday say they have located the plane’s black box flight recorder and obtained communications data.

The head of Indonesia’s National Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas) said late on Sunday evening that the two black boxes from Sriwijaya Air Flight 182 are believed have been detected within 150 to 200 meters (492 to 656 feet) of the crash site — and that search and rescue operations are continuing around the clock.

Authorities said Monday that their efforts to recover bodies, the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) and Flight Data Recorder (FDR) were hampered by debris in the water.

“We have two spots that highly suspected as a location of two black boxes. But unfortunately, there is a lot of debris around that spots,” Indonesia Navy Commander Admiral Yudo Margono said Monday.

Margono said a diving team is working to clear out debris, and hope to recover the devices “soon.”

Suryanto Cahyono, head of Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Commission, said Sunday that authorities had picked up intermittent pings being transmitted from the CVR and FDR to a receiver that can “detect and locate the black boxes.”

Cahyono added that the special device will yield a more accurate result in comparison to ping locators or sonar gear that are installed on ships, and said that it is now in the hands of divers from the Indonesian Navy.

The Commander of the Indonesian National Armed Forces, Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto, said that they are “receiving two signals from the black box and are continuing to monitor it.” He added that he hoped to retrieve it soon from the seabed, 23 meters (approximately 75 feet) below the surface.

The Sriwijaya Air plane — a Boeing 737-500 — was heading from Jakarta to the city of Pontianak, on the Indonesian side of Borneo, when it lost contact at 2:40 p.m. local time (2:40 a.m. ET), 11 nautical miles north of Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta International Airport.

Four minutes into the flight, and amid heavy rains, the plane dropped 10,000 feet in less than a minute before disappearing from the radar, according to the global flight tracking service Flightradar24.

Investigators believe that the plane was fully intact when it crashed into the sea owing to the fact that debris from the wreckage has so far been located only in a single, concentrated area, Indonesian National Transportation Safety Committee Chief Suryanto Cahyono said.

“The plane speed when it hits the water is very high, but of course, we have to wait for the investigation to say more about this,” Suryanto said.

Commander Fajar Rohadi, Spokesperson of First Fleet of Indonesian Navy, told CNN on Sunday that the navy had yet to retrieve the large structure of the fuselage, but had retrieved human body parts and pieces of the plane.

Dozens of bags, containing remains of victims, pieces of clothing and aircraft debris located by Basarnas, have so far been handed over to the Jakarta-based disaster victim investigation unit for identification, according to officials.

Police have collected 40 DNA samples from relatives of those on board in order to help identify the remains.

Aviation disaster investigators have obtained communications data from air traffic control and the pilot, according to Captain Ray Nurcahyo, an NTSC investigator.

Three NTSC investigators are at the crash site with search and rescue teams. So far, they have recovered some components and instruments from the flight, including the Ground Proximity Warning System, radio altimeter, emergency landing support and the tail of the plane.

National Transportation Safety Board USA has assigned Michael Hauff, their accredited aircraft crash expert, to fly to Indonesia to investigate.

The focus of the search is between the islands of Laki and Lancang, known as the Thousand Islands chain, about 20 miles northwest of Jakarta. Some 28 ships, five helicopters and two airplanes have been deployed in a joint effort between the Indonesian Navy, Police, Coast Guard and Transportation Ministry.

Prayers for victims

A command post set up at the Kramat Jati Police Hospital in Jakarta to identify the crash victims and search for family members has been working to identify the remains that have been found so far.

Divers retrieved pieces of debris from the site that are the same color as the Sriwijaya Air aircraft, Air Chief Marshal Tjahjanto said at a press conference from the John Lie Warship.

A plane registration number, wheels from the landing gear and life vests have also been uncovered, Tjahjanto said, adding that visibility and conditions in the water were good.

On Sunday, Indonesia President Joko Widodo offered his condolences and urged people to pray for crash victims.

“We will do our best to find and save the victims, and together, let’s pray that they can be found,” he said at the Presidential Palace, according to Reuters. “In the name of the government and Indonesian people we would like to express our condolences on what has happened.”

The missing plane was carrying 50 passengers — 43 adults and 7 children — as well as 12 crew members, according to Indonesia’s Minister of Transportation Budi Karya Sumadi. He extended his condolences for those who died in the incident.

Family members have been gathering at the victim identification center in Jakarta and at a crisis center in Pontianak, waiting for news of their loved ones. On Monday, police identified the remains of one of the crew members, 29-year-old Okky Bisma.

Among those missing and feared dead are a family of five, according to an aunt of the family who spoke to CNN. The family released a statement saying that the father, 26-year-old Rizki Wahyudi who worked for the Indonesian Forestry Commission, his 26-year-old wife Indah Halimah Putri, their 7-month-old son, as well as his mother and cousin, were on the flight that crashed.

Married couple Muhammad Nur Kholifatul Amin and his wife Agus Minarni, were also on board the crashed flight, according to the brother of one of the victims who spoke to CNN.

Ratih Windania, who was four months’ pregnant, was visiting family members in Jakarta with her 2-year-old daughter Yumna, 8-year-old nephew Athar Rizki Riawan, uncle Tony Islmail and aunt Rachmawati, according to Riawan’s father Iwan.

Also on the plane was 30-year-old father and businessman Yohanes Suherdi, who was looking forward to returning to his family in Ngarak, a village several hours from Pontianak airport after a work trip to Jakarta.

Fisherman heard explosion

Three fishermen from Lancang Island told CNN they heard an explosion and experienced a sudden large wave around the time the plane went missing.

“I heard very loud explosion. I thought it was a bomb or a big thunder. We then saw the big wave, about 2 meters high, hitting our boat,” said Hendrik Mulyadi.

Hendrik’s colleague, Solihin, described the sound as “a bomb on the water.” They said it was dark and raining at the time.

The men said they didn’t see a plane crash into the sea, but smelled fuel and spotted debris. The men said they returned to shore to report what they experienced to the police.

The plane, registered PK CLC, was a 26-year-old Boeing 737-500, according to Flightradar24. Sriwijaya Airlines CEO Jefferson Irwin Jauwena said the plane was in good condition before it took off.

In a statement, Boeing said: “Our thoughts are with the crew, passengers, and their families. We are in contact with our airline customers and stand ready to support them during this difficult time.”

Sriwijaya Air, a low-cost airline and Indonesia’s third-largest carrier, transports more than 950,000 passengers per month from its Jakarta hub to 53 destinations within Indonesia and three regional countries, according to the company’s website.

In June 2018, it was removed from the European Union’s list of banned air carriers, 11 years after it was placed on that list.

History of accidents

This weekend’s crash is the latest to plague Indonesia’s burgeoning airline sector.

In October 2018, Lion Air Flight 610 crashed into the Java Sea in Indonesia after taking off from Jakarta, killing all 189 people on board. The Boeing 737 Max 8 plane was scheduled to make a one-hour journey to Pangkal Pinang on the island of Bangka.

The improper design and certification of the Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft, coupled with an overwhelmed flight crew battling a malfunctioning system they could not properly identify, led to the crash, according to an October 2019 report by Indonesian authorities.

The Boeing 737-500 plane that crashed on Saturday does not have the flawed cockpit software that contributed to two fatal crashes of the 737 Max plane.

In 2014, Indonesian AirAsia Flight 8501 claimed the lives of all 162 people on board after crashing into the Java Sea, while flying from Surabaya to Singapore.

And in the year before that, Lion Air was involved in two accidents. A Boeing 737 missed the runway on landing and crashed into the sea near Bali, forcing passengers to swim or wade to safety, while another Boeing 737 collided with a cow while touching down at Jalaluddin Airport in Gorontalo on the island of Sulawesi.

In 2007, the European Union banned all 51 Indonesian airlines from its airspace after a Garuda Indonesia plane with 140 people on board overshot the runway in Yogyakarta in March and burst into flames, killing 21 people on board.

Standards have since improved, however, with all Indonesian airlines cleared from that blacklist by June 2018.

Indonesia, an archipelago nation of more than 13,000 islands, has seen a boom in domestic aviation in recent years, with passenger traffic tripling between 2005 and 2017, according to Australian consultancy the CAPA-Center for Aviation.

The country of 270 million people rely heavily on air transport to commute between islands across the archipelago, which stretches over more than 3,000 miles, around the same distance between London and New York.

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