AirAsia plane exploded as it hit sea, says Indonesia

A team of Indonesian navy divers has located both black boxes from an AirAsia airliner that crashed two weeks ago, which is believed to have exploded as it hit the sea.

Indonesian officials announced on Monday that the first black box, the flight data recorder, had been retrieved from the Java Sea for analysis. Hours later they said the cockpit voice recorder had been located but not yet brought to the surface.

Flight QZ8501 crashed on 28 December on its way from Indonesia’s second-biggest city of Surabaya to Singapore, killing all 162 people on board.

The plane lost contact with air traffic control in bad weather less than halfway into its scheduled two-hour flight.

“At 7:11, we succeeded in lifting the part of the black box known as the flight data recorder,” Fransiskus Bambang Soelistyo, the head of the National Search and Rescue Agency, told reporters at a news conference. The data recorder was found under the wrecked wing of the plane.

Later his colleague Suryadi Bambang Supriyadi, the agency’s operation co-ordinator said the cockpit recorder had been located, but was stuck under heavy wreckage, which divers were working to lift.

Officials hope the black boxes will reveal the cause of the crash. The national weather bureau has said seasonal storms were likely a factor.

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.”

Investigators said the flight data recorder would most likely be taken to the capital, Jakarta, for analysis and that it could take up to two weeks to download the data.

However, the information could be accessed in as little as two days if the devices are not badly damaged.

Soelistyo did not provide any details of the condition of the flight data recorder.

Over the weekend, three vessels detected “pings” that were believed to be from the black boxes’ emergency locator transmitter. But strong winds, powerful currents and high waves hampered search efforts.

Indonesian navy divers took advantage of calmer weather in the Java Sea on Monday to retrieve the flight recorder and search for the fuselage of the Airbus A320-200.

Forty-eight bodies have been retrieved from the Java Sea and searchers believe more will be found in the plane’s fuselage.

Relatives of the victims have urged authorities to make finding the remains of their loved ones the priority.

“All the ships, including the ships from our friends, will be deployed with the main task of searching for bodies that are still or suspected to still be trapped underwater,” Soelistyo said, referring to the multinational force helping with the search and recovery effort.

Indonesia AirAsia, 49% owned by the Malaysia-based AirAsia budget group, has come under pressure from authorities in Jakarta since the crash.

The transport ministry has suspended the carrier’s Surabaya-Singapore licence for flying on a Sunday, for which it did not have permission. However, the ministry has said this had no bearing on the crash of flight QZ8501.

President Joko Widodo said the crash exposed widespread problems in the management of air travel in Indonesia.

Separately on Sunday, a DHC-6 Twin Otter operated by Indonesia’s Trigana Air crashed on landing at Enarotali Airport in Paniai, Papua.

Strong winds caused the aircraft to roll over, domestic news website reported, with no injuries to the three crew members on board. The plane was not carrying any passengers.