PANGKALAN BUN, INDONESIA // Indonesian divers Monday retrieved the flight data recorder of the AirAsia plane that went down in the Java Sea a fortnight ago with 162 people on board, a crucial breakthrough that should help explain what caused the crash.
The recorder, one of two black boxes containing vital information, was brought to the surface at 7:11 am (0011 GMT), said national search and rescue chief Bambang Soelistyo, after a lengthy, frustrating search often hampered by bad weather.
“We succeeded in bringing up part of the black box that we call the flight data recorder,” Soelistyo told reporters in the capital Jakarta.
He said that it was found under the wreckage of a wing and added that divers were still hunting for the second black box, the cockpit voice recorder.
National Transport Safety Committee senior investigator Mardjono Siswosuwarno told AFP that the black boxes would be sent to Jakarta and analysed at the committee’s laboratory.
The flight data recorder monitors factors such as airspeed and heading, while the cockpit voice recorder stores radio transmissions and sounds in the cockpit.
Flight QZ8501 crashed on December 28 en route from Indonesia’s Surabaya to Singapore. Indonesia’s meteorological agency has said that stormy weather likely caused the Airbus A320-200 to go down but a definitive answer is impossible without the data recorders.
Forty-eight bodies have been recovered so far, but the weather has hampered efforts to locate all the victims and the wreckage.
On Sunday, Indonesia’s transport ministry said the black boxes had been located under the plane’s wreckage after officials earlier said strong ping signals had been detected near an object believed to be the main body of the plane.
S.B. Supriyadi, a director with the national search and rescue agency, said that initial analysis of the wreckage so far recovered indicated that the plane exploded on impact with the water.
“It exploded because of the pressure,” he told reporters in Pangkalan Bun town on Borneo island, the search headquarters.
“The cabin was pressurised and before the pressure of the cabin could be adjusted, it went down -- boom. That explosion was heard in the area.”
The search has involved US, Chinese and other international naval ships.
Supriyadi said many bodies were believed trapped in the cabin, so reaching that part of the wreckage was also a top priority.
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.
All but seven of those on board the flight were Indonesian.
The bodies of a South Korean couple were identified on Sunday, but their 11-month-old baby remains unaccounted for, Indonesian authorities said.
The other foreigners were one Singaporean, one Malaysian, one Briton and a Frenchman -- co-pilot Remi Plesel. Their bodies have not been recovered.
While the cause of the crash is unknown, the disaster has once again placed Indonesia’s chaotic aviation industry under scrutiny.
Indonesian officials have alleged Indonesia AirAsia did not have a licence to fly the route on the day of the crash, although the airline rejects the claim.
Indonesia’s transport ministry quickly banned AirAsia from flying the Surabaya-Singapore route.
On Friday it suspended dozens more routes operated by five other domestic airlines for similar licence violations.
* Agence France-Presse