Russian plane crash probe focuses on voice recorder

Indonesian investigators on Wednesday expressed hope that the newly found cockpit voice recorder from a Russian airliner would help answer why the plane crashed into a mountain.

The new Sukhoi Superjet 100 slammed into Mount Salak, a dormant volcano south of the capital Jakarta, last week with the loss of all 45 people aboard.

Indonesian special forces and Russian experts had combed the densely forested mountain for days looking for its "black boxes" as questions mounted about whether technical failure or human error caused the Sukhoi to crash.

The cockpit voice recorder tapes pilots' conversations between themselves and with air traffic control. Another black box, which records vital aircraft functions, remains missing.

"The flight data recorder has not been found. What was found was the CVR," said Daryatmo, head of the national search and rescue agency, who goes by one name. "We are asking rescuers to continue the search."

Ketut Parwa, head of Jakarta's search agency, said near the crash site that the voice recorder was found late on Tuesday around 100 metres (330 feet) from the Sukhoi's severed tail.

The plane, helmed by a veteran Russian pilot, disappeared from radar screens on May 9 shortly after taking off from Jakarta. It was supposed to be on a brief exhibition flight to showcase the new plane to prospective buyers.

The newly located black box appeared charred from the crash but officials could not say yet whether it had suffered any damage.

The voice recorder has been handed over to Indonesia's National Transportation Safety Committee (KNKT), which is leading the investigation with the help of more than 70 Russian experts.

"In general, black boxes are tough and can withstand impact," KNKT chief Tatang Kurniadi told AFP.

"We hope the CVR will shed light on what led to the crash. We hope we can get crucial information, mainly communications by the pilot and other people during the last moments," he said.

"We will need up to three weeks to process the data, if the condition is good."

The twin-engine jet is Russia's first post-Soviet civilian aircraft and was to be the new mascot for the nation's aviation industry. A joint venture with Italy's Alenia Aeronautica, it made its first commercial flight last year.

A Russian fact-finding committee has said there are indications that safety standards were violated in the demonstration flight. Russian officials said that a full investigation into the cause of the crash could take up to a year.

Key to the mystery is why the pilot requested permission to descend from 10,000 feet (3,000 metres) to 6,000 feet before the plane crashed into Mount Salak, which rises to 7,200 feet.

Indonesia's transport ministry has confirmed that a control tower in Jakarta gave the pilot permission to descend as the plane approached a military base, where mountains reach up to around 3,000 feet.

Online photos of an earlier demonstration flight on the same day show relaxed passengers smiling on board, being treated to champagne, as well as cheerful Russian and Indonesian crew members posing outside the jet.

Rescuers said the dismembered bodies of the 45 crash victims were strewn across a section of the mountain, with some falling into a deep ravine.

Their remains have been flown to Jakarta in body bags for DNA identification, and the search mission is continuing.

"The operation on the ground is still ongoing. We have a few more body bags that need to be flown to Jakarta," the rescue mission's Colonel Anton Mukti Putranto said Tuesday.

The victims included eight Russians as well as a Frenchman and a US national. The rest were Indonesian.

by Alvito Bagaskara © 2012 AFP

Source: AFP
Date: May 16, 2012