PANGKALAN BUN, INDENESIA: Indonesian divers on Tuesday retrieved the cockpit voice recorder from the wreckage of an AirAsia 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 give investigators 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 the fuselage, which has not yet been found.
Indonesia´s meteorological agency has said 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 breakthrough came at the weekend when they finally detected “ping” signals from the black boxes.
On Tuesday divers lifted the second black box to the surface and took it to the navy warship Banda Aceh, said Tatang Kurniadi, head the National Transport Safety Committee, which will investigate the accident.
“100 percent of the things we need are now in our hands,” he told reporters.
The device had been about 32 metres (105 feet) under water, buried under wreckage. It was not far from the first black box but took longer to retrieve as it was trapped under the remains of the aircraft.
The device was brought to Pangkalan Bun town, the search headquarters, before being transferred to a plane and flown to Jakarta. Officials say both black boxes are in good condition.
The flight data recorder holds a wealth of information on many of the plane´s instruments, 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.
Authorities have said their priority is now to find the main body of the jet. Officials have said in recent days that a sonar scan has shown a large object that could be the fuselage but divers have not managed to reach the area to confirm what it is.
“We will still look for the main body, hopefully we can find it,” Rear Admiral Widodo, the commander of the navy´s western fleet, told reporters.
´Most difficult weeks´
The accident is the first major setback for Malaysia-based AirAsia, which has enjoyed a 13-year run of success.
In a message to customers, flamboyant boss Tony Fernandes said that “the past few weeks have been the most difficult weeks of my life since starting AirAsia”.
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.”
In another positive development for the investigation, divers on Tuesday spotted one of the aircraft´s engines, which has a control unit that records data about performance, said Nurcahyo Utomo, from the transport committee.
“If something is wrong with the engine, or weird, it will be recorded,” he said.
The flight data recorder was flown to Jakarta on Monday night.
The transport committee said the black boxes would undergo a lengthy analysis in the capital after the data is downloaded, which would take about a week.
French experts from Airbus were in Jakarta to help with the analysis, and experts from other 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.
The tail of the plane, with its red AirAsia 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 on Borneo island, the search headquarters.
All but seven of those on board the flight were Indonesian. The foreign nationals were from South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Britain and France.
While the cause of the crash is unknown, the disaster has once again placed Indonesia´s chaotic aviation industry under scrutiny.