Indonesian Searchers Locate Crashed Jet’s Black Boxes, Recover Body Parts

Ronna Nirmala and Ahmad Syamsudin
Jakarta
2021-01-10
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Indonesian Searchers Locate Crashed Jet’s Black Boxes, Recover Body Parts Indonesian Red Cross officers spray disinfectant on four bags containing body parts recovered from sea after the crash of Sriwijaya Air flight 182, at the Tanjung Priok port in Jakarta, Jan. 10, 2021.
Ronna Nirmala/BenarNews

Indonesian search teams pinpointed signals Sunday from the black boxes of a passenger jet that crashed soon after takeoff from Jakarta a day earlier, and they recovered body parts and debris believed to be from the plane, officials said.

Sriwijaya Air flight 182, a Boeing 737-500 with 62 people on board, vanished from radar about four minutes after departing from Soekarno-Hatta International Airport on Saturday, and is believed to have plummeted into Java Sea waters near the Indonesian capital.

The aircraft’s flight-data recorder and cockpit-voice recorder – known as “black boxes” – were located after searchers detected pings from them, said Air Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto, Indonesia’s military chief.

“We can monitor two signals from the black boxes and we have been able to mark the coordinates,” he said. “We hope that they can be retrieved soon.”

Data from the recorders can help crash investigators determine what caused the 26-year-old plane to go down during a flight to Indonesian Borneo.

Data from the Swedish tracking service Flightradar24 showed the plane suddenly lose speed and altitude about four minutes after take-off.

The Aviation Safety Network, a website, said the Indonesian airliner had climbed to Flight Level 110 – an altitude of 11,000 feet (3,350 meters) – “before entering into a rapid descent.”

The crash of the plane from Sriwijaya Air, an Indonesian budget carrier, was the fourth major air crash in the archipelago-nation in the past six years, including another one involving a Boeing 737 in late 2018.   

Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo on Sunday urged authorities to investigate the incident thoroughly as he conveyed a message to the families of the passengers and crew aboard the doomed flight.

“I, on behalf of the government and the people of Indonesia, would like to express condolences for the tragedy,” he said. “My prayers and sympathies are with the families and relatives of the passengers and crew members.”  

Flight SJ-182 was carrying 50 passengers and 12 crew – all Indonesian nationals – when it crashed Saturday afternoon while en route to Pontianak on Borneo Island.

Sriwijaya Air said the flight had been delayed for 30 minutes because of poor weather.

The mother of Angga Fernando Afrion, one of the passengers, said she had urged him not to make the trip to Pontianak, where he worked on a coal barge.

Angga had been in Jakarta to be with his wife, who gave birth to their first child last week.

“I told him not to go back yet to Kalimantan. I was worried [about the baby],” Angga’s mother, Afrida, told BenarNews.

Angga’s cousin, Ibnu, said he still held out hope that Angga was still alive.

“We hope there will be a miracle, and he survived,” Ibnu said.

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Indonesian Navy divers haul up wreckage from Sriwijaya Air flight 182 during a search and rescue operation at sea near Lancang Island, Jan. 10, 2021, after the Boeing 737-500 crashed shortly after taking off from Jakarta's main airport on Jan. 9. [AFP]

During the day on Sunday, divers and search teams collected three bags of aircraft parts and five bags of body parts from the sea, according to the National Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas).

At least 81 boats, 12 helicopters and nearly 2,600 personnel were involved in the search, said Sarman, the operations director for Basarnas.   

“We will continue search operations into the night, but it will be limited to ships equipped with underwater equipment such as multi-beam echo sounders and remotely operated vehicles,” Sarman told reporters.

Asked if anyone could have survived the crash, Rasman replied: “We pray for the best.”

Late Saturday, officials said the plane had likely plunged into the sea between Laki and Lancang island in the Thousand Islands chain off Jakarta’s coastline.

Police have started taking DNA samples and collecting ante-mortem data from relatives of the victims for identification purposes, said Brig. Gen. Rusdi Hartono, the national police spokesman.

“So far, the team has taken 21 DNA samples and received seven body bags,” Rusdi said, adding that more than 300 personnel would be involved in efforts to identify the victims.

Nurcahyo Utomo, an investigator at the National Transport Safety Committee, said his team had obtained raw radar data and a recording of the pilot’s last communication with air-traffic controllers.

“The team has also conducted interviews with air-traffic officers who were in charge yesterday at the time of the accident,” he told reporters, but did not give details.

A lightning and atmospheric researcher at the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) reported that a cumulonimbus cloud was in the area at around the time the plane lost radio contact with the tower.

“Any plane that encounters it will experience strong turbulence,” Deni Septiadi, with the BMKG, said in a statement.

There was moderate to heavy rainfall with lightning at the time, according to data from the agency.

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Members of a search and rescue team inspect a bag containing parts believed to be tires from crashed Sriwijaya Air flight 182, at the Tanjung Priok port in Jakarta, Jan. 10, 2021. [Ronna Nirmala/BenarNews]

Dubious record for aviation safety

Saturday’s crash was the second major accident involving an Indonesian airline in just over two years.

In October 2018, a Boeing 737 MAX belonging to Indonesia’s largest budget carrier, Lion Air, crashed into the Java Sea, killing all 189 people on board.

The aircraft’s faulty new anti-stall system was blamed for the crash, as well as that of another 737 Max in Ethiopia that killed 157 people in March 2019.

In June 2015, 139 people were killed, including 17 on the ground, when an Indonesian Air Force transport plane crashed near the Medan-Saewondo Air Base.

Indonesia, the world’s largest archipelagic nation, experienced a boom in low-cost carriers after the aviation industry was deregulated in the early 2000s.

In 2018, the European Union lifted a ban on Indonesian airlines, which was imposed in 2007 after a string of deadly air accidents.

Several Indonesian airlines, including flag carrier Garuda, were taken off the EU’s banned list back in 2009 after steps were taken to improve safety.

In 2017, the International Civil Aviation Organization ranked Indonesia’s aviation safety as above the global average, with a compliance rate of 81.15 per cent.

Although the Sriwijaya plane was 26 years old, its age may not have been factor in the crash, according to an aviation observer, Arista Atmadjati, of Arista Indonesia Aviation Center (AIAC).

“The important thing is that the maintenance is not compromised. These planes are still widely used in Latin America, the United States, parts of Europe, Russia, up to today,” Arista told BenarNews.

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In his view, the number of air accidents in recent years did not mean that Indonesia’s aviation safety had necessarily deteriorated.

“The accident two years ago was mainly Boeing’s fault because of its software problem, similar to what happened to the Ethiopian Air [flight]. Boeing was negligent,” Arista said, referring to the Lion Air accident that occurred months before the crash of the 737 Max plane in Ethiopia.

He noted that the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) had put Indonesia’s aviation safety in Category 1, which means that its airlines are allowed to fly to the United States.

“All Indonesian airlines are now allowed to fly to Europe and the U.S., and that status has not been revoked by the FAA,” Arista said.

“The most important thing is that the government must be strict in terms of maintenance audits, technician license checks and random checks on the ground.

Sulthan Azzam contributed to this report from Padang, Indonesia.

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