AirAsia Black Box Signal Leads to Wreckage


Much speculation is spreading around the crash of AirAsia Flight QZ 8501. The unknown locations of the black boxes despite the signals pinged from them has raised flags about what lead to the wreckage of the AirAsia flight from Surabaya to Singapore. There is some speculation that weather events were the cause, but nothing concrete can be determined until the data is salvaged.

The jet, along with the 162 passengers, crashed on Dec. 28, not even one hour after take off. Since the fall, little could be done until both an American destroyer (the Sampson) and a research ship affiliated with the Agency for Assessment and Application of Technology in Indonesia detected pinging from the jet’s cockpit flight data.

However, regardless of the joint detection of the wreckage, the deputy chief of operations for the National Search and Rescue Agency, Tatang Zainuddin explained that the exact coordinates of the black boxes have not been identified. Attempts to salvage the data have not yielded any information other than the fact that the recorders are not in the tail of the fallen jet, which is the standard for most commercial aircrafts.

However, while the black boxes have eluded the divers, they have recovered 48 sets of remains from the total 162 passengers thus far. Among those recovered, 27 have been rightly identified, two of which belonged to Marwin Sholeh and Martinus Djomi. Other attempts at the mission were stalled due to harsh weather, but AirAsia has confirmed that search teams are now beginning an operation to raise the tail of the plane. The Airbus A320-200’s tail was last determined to be 20 miles away from the plane’s last recorded location and 90 feet below the surface.

The rising difficulty around finding the AirAsia black boxes amid the wreckage, even with their signals leading the way, has given new life to the argument for ejectable data recorders for flights. The topic will no doubt be discussed a great degree at the next International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) safety conference one month from now.

The ejectable data boxes can be launched from a plummeting aircraft and float on water, lowering the need of recovery missions and the problems that salvage crews are now facing. They are already incorporated into military aircrafts and several helicopter models, but there are heavy costs to implement them into commercial jets, plus the required testing to ensure compatibility. The benefit with the ejectable models is that they are capable of downloading data in real-time, as some experts believe.

With all the improvements that could come with the commercial use of the military-grade data recorders, their development could not only cut costs on rescue operations, but could potentially prevent disasters like this from happening. Mike Poole, one of the leading Canadian authorities on data recorders said that black box systems, signals and all, are highly dependable, and that it is rare not to recover fixed recorders, as may well be the case with the wreckage salvaging, but AirAsia and other airlines should consider the possibility that ejectable recorders could lead to. In the meantime, the recovery effort continues.

By Matthew Austin Bowers

New York Times

Photo by Thai Transportation Photo – Flickr License