First out of two plane black boxes finally recovered

On the 4th day of search operations for the missing Sriwijaya Air SJ182, Indonesian navy divers successfully retrieved the plane’s flight data recorder from the Pulau Seribu (Thousand Islands) area in the Java Sea, where the plane’s tragic crash is presumed to have happened.

A flight data recorder is one of two black boxes of an airplane. SJ182’s was retrieved at 2.50PM local time on 12th January 2021, after days of searching.

The plane’s black boxes are crucial to investigating why it crashed

sj182 black box found
Indonesian divers pose for a picture with the flight data recorder minutes after it was retrieved
Image credit: AFP

Black boxes are integral parts of an aircraft that can reveal key information on its movements and its crew, especially in accidents such as the crash of Sriwijaya Air SJ182.

Modern airplanes in fact have two black boxes: the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder.

The flight data recorder is usually placed in the tail of an aircraft, as this part of the plane is more likely to survive a crash. It records things such as engine power, flight path, speed, altitude, and vertical accelerations. From the flight data recorder, officials will be able to work out if the crash of Sriwijaya Air SJ182 was caused by engine failure or human error.

A lesser-known fact about the flight data recorder is that though called a black box, it’s in fact not black in color. Flight data recorders are often painted in bright, fluorescent orange so they can be easily detected in accident zones.

On the other hand, the cockpit voice recorder records the audio environment of the plane, such as the conversations and announcements made by the pilots. If SJ182’s cockpit voice recorder is found, it can provide insight into what the pilots said or acted on before the crash occurred.

The search for the cockpit voice recorder is underway

black box sj182
A flight data recorder. Image for illustration purposes only.
Image credit: Metrotimes 

As the search for the cockpit voice recorder is underway, the challenge that the Indonesian navy faces now is to find it without any guidance. This is because they do not have any beacons to guide them to retrieve the cockpit voice recorder as they did with the flight data recorder.

rescuers sj182 crash
Image credit:

Previously, two beacons had provided signals on the location of the black boxes, and these signals had been detected last week. Since then, the beacons have also been found and retrieved along with the flight data recorder, making the search for the cockpit voice recorder more challenging.

The Indonesian navy also faces another challenge: to clear the debris that is covering the cockpit voice recorder, making it difficult to reach. We hope the search for this second black box will go smoothly.

1 victim has been identified, more human body parts are being recovered

sj182 plane crash rescuers
Image credit: Kompas

As more bags of human body parts are being retrieved from the crash site, identification of the victims is also under way.

okky bisma and wife
Crash victim Okky Bisma, pictured with his wife
Image adapted from @ockybisma

As of the time of writing, 1 victim, flight attendant Okky Bisma, has been identified. His right hand was retrieved by divers, and as his fingers were still intact, it was easy to identify him through fingerprinting.

May the search process be smooth and victims soon be laid to rest

Currently, the victim identification process is being done at the police hospital at Kramat Jati, South Jakarta. Trauma healing posts have also been set up in both Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Jakarta and Supadio International Airport Pontianak for the families of victims. 

We hope for more victims to be found and identified soon, so their families can respectfully lay them to rest.  

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Cover image adapted from: AFP & Kompas

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