Yesterday, search efforts for the wreckage of the Boeing 737 that crashed in the sea off Jakarta on October 29, 2018, indicated investigators may be zeroing in on the fuselage of the plane. Their main focus was to recover what will be crucial sources of information in the investigation: flight data and cockpit voice recorders revealing the aircraft’s final moments. In a break-through in those efforts, today, on November 1, 2018, Indonesian officials announced that a "black box" recorder from Flight JT610 has been found by divers.

On October 30, 2018, asked about the cause of the crash, an official with Indonesia‘s National Transportation Safety Committee, Soerjanto Tjahjono, said any confirmation of the cause would have to wait until the recovery of the aircraft’s cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder, or the so-called „black boxes“.

“We will collect all data from the control tower,” said Tjahjono. “The plane is so modern, it transmits data from the plane and that we will review too. But the most important is the black box,” he was quoted as saying by The Hindustan Times.

On October 31, 2018, several media sources reported that Indonesian investigators searching for the flight recorders of the crashed Flight JT610 have heard underwater "pings" presumably coming from the submerged aircraft. The quest was to confirm the origin of the signals as indeed coming from the wreckage, which would lead to the possible discovery of the devices.

The hunt for the “black boxes”: one down, one more to go

An Indonesian search and rescue team reportedly picked up the “ping” signal on October 30, 2018. The head of Indonesia‘s National Transportation Safety Committee, Ir. Suryanto, told local television outlet TV One that "pings" had been detected no further than 3 kilometers (1.86 miles) from the eight current search points, CNN reports.

The following day, on October 31, 2018, Hadi Tjahjanto, commander of Indonesia's Armed Forces, told the same broadcaster he believed they have located a part of the fuselage. Search ships would be deployed to one particular search point, which they think the signals could be coming from. Divers would be sent to the location to confirm the origin of the signal.

In a major break-through in the hunt, on November 1, 2018, news emerged that divers found one of the flight recorders. One of the divers, identified as Hendra, said the box had been buried in debris on the floor of the Java Sea (the area where the Lion Air plane crashed), BBC reports. A navy diver on board one of the many search vessels told Indonesian Metro TV that his team found the orange cylinder containing the recorder among debris on the muddy sea floor, Reuters writes.

The deputy chief of the transportation safety committee, Haryo Satmiko, indicated the discovered device's poor condition as evidence of the "extraordinary impact" of the plane’s crash. It is not yet clear whether the finding came as a result of the picked-up “ping” signals.

According to Reuters, despite initial reports, which indicated the damaged device was the flight data recorder, authorities did not know for certain whether the “crash survivable memory unit” was indeed from the flight data recorder or, actually, the cockpit voice recorder, since portions of it were missing.

Indonesian authorities were to immediately begin examining the recovered device. "Tonight we will move as quickly as possible to download what is in this black box," Satmiko said in a press conference. Under normal conditions, the data should only take two hours to download, he remarked, but it seems analyzing the data could take several weeks – up to six months. Meanwhile, the world awaits for the discovery of the second recorder.

The search for the wreckage: still on-going

"We need to find the main wreckage," those were the words of Bambang Suryo Aji, operational director at Indonesia's National Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas), just hours after the Lion Air crash, BBC reported on October 29, 2018. On that same day, CNN cited Aji saying that aside of smaller pieces of aircraft debris, rescue workers had found debris appearing to be the plane's tail.

Speaking on board navy ship KRI Rigel on October 30, 2018, navy official Colonel Haris Djoko Nugroho told TV One that a 22-metre (72.2 feet) long object had been found in waters about 32 meters (105 feet) deep. A side-scan sonar was being used by the navy to identify the object and divers would also be sent to the location, Reuters writes. The Rigel has been searching for the fuselage of the crashed plane in an area about 5 nautical miles from the site where the aircraft was last contacted.

With the discovery of one of the “black boxes”, another official with Indonesia’s transportation safety committee, Muhammad Syaugi, said part of the plane's landing gear had been found. "We have found bigger parts of the plane than we have seen in previous days," he was quoted as saying by BBC. Nevertheless, to date, the main body of the Boeing 737 has not been discovered ever since the plane plunged into the Java Sea, north-east of Jakarta. Hopes are fading of finding a large section of the plane's fuselage intact. Just as they have of finding any survivors.

The scope of the search operations

As of October 29, 2019, search and rescue teams have been working at the crash site about 34 nautical miles northeast of the coast in the Java Sea. Divers have been searching in coastal waters that are about 32 meters (105 feet) deep, CNN reports, forced to deal with strong currents. Energy pipelines in the area have also hampered search operations.

“The plane crashed into water about 30 to 40 meters deep and we’re still searching for the remains of the plane,” spokesman for Indonesia’s Search and Rescue Agency, Yusuf Latif, was quoted as saying by The Hindustan Times.

Initially, the focus of the search was an area within 5 nautical miles of where the crashed plane lost contact. That was expanded to 10 nautical miles on October 30, 2018, and to 15 nautical miles on October 31, 2018, Reuters cited an officer with the search and rescue agency as saying.

Underwater drones, as well as sonar technology, or underwater "pinger locators", have been deployed to the crash site. However, underwater footage released by the search and rescue agency showed relatively poor visibility. “The visibility is not good as its very overcast,” a Special Forces officer was quoted as saying by Reuters.

According to Didi Hamzar, an official from the agency, a group of 100 divers are now focusing on five locations where debris has been identified by sonar, CNN reported on October 31, 2018. Various sources indicate that at least 300 rescuers, including military, police and local fishermen, have been involved in the search and rescue operations, assisted by a total of 35 vessels.

Another entity to offer a helping hand is Boeing, which said in a statement it is “providing technical assistance at the request and under the direction of government authorities investigating the accident.” Also onboard is the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) which said on October 29, 2018, it is providing assistance in the investigation into the crash, Reuters reports.

There is no substantial explanation for what could have caused the crash, however the Boeing 737 did experience technical problems on a flight the day before the crash. Another indication for investigators will be the fact that just before contact with Flight JT610 was lost, the pilot had asked air traffic control for permission to turn back to the airport.

Although granted permission, the plane did not turn back. Pilots did not signal emergency. Some experts have suggested that the reason for this might have been the rapidity of the unfolding situation, in which the pilots simply would not have had time to perform these actions.

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Latest update from Indonesia’s National Search and Rescue Body (Basarnas) confirms rescuers have gathered over 50 body bags. Authorities have also confirmed the identity of one of the deceased passengers.