‘Pings’ may be clue to black boxes

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Published: Sunday 11th January 2015 by The News Editor

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A day after the tail of the crashed AirAsia plane was fished out of the Java Sea, the search for the missing black boxes intensified with more pings heard in two different locations.

Three Indonesian ships detected the signals, said Indroyono Soesilo, coordinating minister for Maritime Affairs. They were located about 1.5 miles north west of where the aircraft’s rear was discovered.

“The two are close to each other, just about 20 yards,” Soesilo said. “Hopefully, they are the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder.”

Other officials cautioned it was too soon to know whether the sounds were coming from the black boxes, which detached from the tail when the plane plummeted into the sea on December 28, killing all 162 people on board.

The Commission for Transportation Safety stopped a remote-operated vehicle from being deployed to probe the area where the pings were heard, fearing it could potentially cause damage to the boxes. Instead, the sites will be examined by divers, said Muhammad Ilyas, head of oceanic surveys at Indonesia’s technology agency.

Sonar has also detected a large object in the same vicinity as the pings. Suryadi Bambang Supriyadi, operation director of the country’s national search and rescue agency, said he is hopeful it is the main section of the Airbus A320’s cabin.

“If that is true, then maybe many bodies are still there,” he said, adding that divers would be sent in to search.

So far, only 48 bodies have been recovered. Search efforts have been consistently hampered by bad weather.

The tail’s excavation was a major success in the slow-moving hunt for victims and wreckage from Flight 8501. The red metal chunk from the tail, with the words AirAsia clearly visible across it, was brought to the surface yesterday using inflatable balloons.

But the find was tinged with disappointment when the black boxes were not found still attached. Their beacons emit signals for about 30 days until the batteries die, meaning divers have about two weeks left before they go silent.

The debris from the tail was brought up from a depth of about 100 feet and towed to a ship, where it was hoisted onto the deck. The vertical stabiliser was still largely intact, but the attached jagged fuselage was ripped open and tangled by a mess of wires.

AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes expressed optimism.

“Let’s hope today is a major breakthrough day and we can find (the) main fuselage,” he wrote in a Twitter post. Many believe most of the bodies are likely entombed inside the aircraft on the seabed.

Several other large objects have been spotted in the search area by sonar, but they have not yet been explored underwater.

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 issued.

Published: Sunday 11th January 2015 by The News Editor

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