AirAsia 8501: two weeks later, still looking for the voice recorder

Jan. 11, 2015: It’s now been two weeks and two days (local time) since AirAsia Flight 8501 crashed into the Java Sea. It took nearly two weeks just to locate the tail section of the airplane, which was raised. The flight data recorder was recovered Jan. 12 local time but the cockpit voice recorder is still missing.

Greg Feith, a former crash investigator for the US National Transportation Safety Board, wrote Sunday on his Facebook page, “ADS-B data was used to narrow the search area for the main wreckage. Info from both black boxes will finally provide a factual foundation that the airplane likely ended up in a high speed descent, probably a spiral descent, and impacted the water in an out-of-control situation and not an attempted emergency landing. With the main wreckage scattered, the airplane likely broke-up and skipped across the surface. We should know soon as the info is developed and provided by the NTSC.”

This once again adds more reason that the time has come for real-time flight tracking and for real-time flight data recorder transmission. Having these installed would have sent rescuers immediately to the last location of the airplane, which, had there been survivors, would have had a chance of being rescued.

AirAsia, on its own, was beginning to install flight tracking but 8501 had not been upgraded yet.

If FDR transmission were in effect, we’d already have a good understanding of what happened, though not necessarily “why.” Information emerging from accidents may be crucial in adopting procedures or correcting errors to prevent future accidents. The fact that the flight data and cockpit voice recorders haven’t been recovered yet only illustrates the hazards of continuing to do business the old fashioned way. In this day and age of advanced technology, the industry needs to change. Regulators continue the tombstone mentality of dragging their feet.

Fortunately, AirAsia took a voluntary step on flight tracking and now Qatar Airways are in the process of installing real-time flight tracking and FDR transmission in some of its airplanes. Canada’s FirstAir already has installed flight tracking on its fleet.

 

9 Comments on “AirAsia 8501: two weeks later, still looking for the voice recorder

  1. Bloomberg Newsroom this morning has it that the FDR has been retrieved ?

  2. “This once again adds more reason that the time has come for real-time flight tracking and for real-time flight data recorder transmission. Having these installed would have sent rescuers immediately to the last location of the airplane, which, had there been survivors, would have had a chance of being rescued.”

    Maybe.

    And yet in this same post a (presumed) expert is quoted as saying the likelihood was the plane went into the water out of control. In such a situation, is there really that great a likelihood of survivors? Further, given the weather, there wasn’t much rescuers could do to get to the site in a particularly timely fashion.

    I understand there can be a strong desire to DO. SOMETHING. but again, has there been a crash of an airliner in the last 30 years where there were survivors who survived the initial impact but not the 24 to 48 hours it would take to get to the site? Especially where there was no mayday from the flight crew prior to the accident? That is the sort of scenario required for real-time, automagic, satellite-based tracking to save lives from the crashes themselves.

    Anything else is simply don’t care how, I want it now.

    And to make the case that the real-time, automagic, satellite-based tracking will save future lives depends on the odds of having a second accident from the same cause in the time it takes to find the wreckage and black boxes of the first. Again, has there been anything like that in the last 30 years?

    • Yemenia Flight 626 crashed into the sea in June 2009. But it didn’t receive the kind of attention AF447 did which went down the same month.

      AFAIK, no emergency distress call was issued by the pilots and the weather was a bit turbulent. A lone 12 year old survivor was found clinging onto a piece of wreckage with no life vest, for 13 hours after the crash which happened in the middle of the night .

      That is truly death defying odds. The survivor also stated that she heard other people in the water with her at the time but were not found when rescuers arrived.

    • “This once again adds more reason that the time has come for real-time flight tracking and for real-time flight data recorder transmission. Having these installed would have sent rescuers immediately to the last location of the airplane, which, had there been survivors, would have had a chance of being rescued.”

      Sorry, I also have to take issue with this.

      The last location *WAS* already known – when ADS-B went down, so would real-time data transmission – that would have made absolutely zero difference in this case.

      • Just to be clear: an ejected data recorder, on the other hand, *could* have helped with search and rescue since it should provide a surface beacon to home in on.

        (Plus the added benefit of quicker / better chance of data recovery for the investigation.)

  3. Repots indicate the FDR will be deciphered by the Indonesians.

    Are they capable of doing that type of work?

    While the ELTs are very suspect, the FDRs (other than the still missing MH370) have to date been recovered.

    So while implementing new systems the old FDR and CVR should be kept as backups until a solid base or alternative that stays on the aircraft is derived.

    Add to this the pingers seem not to have been picked up until recently and their performance should also be a part of this and the other crashes.

  4. Airbus is pushing ahead with its plan to equip A380s and A350s with deployable black boxes. EASA has greenlighted Airbus to start working on it while they are amending necessary certifications.

    http://news.yahoo.com/airbus-equip-long-haul-jets-floatable-black-boxes-190709349.html

    A key part of this new system is to have each of the two black boxes record both, the flight data AND cockpit conversations, but one being deployable while the other remains fixed.

    I think this is good use of redundancy while avoiding the need for additional equipment and maintenance costs.

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