(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board is sending a lead investigator and three technical experts to assist the Indonesian government’s probe into Saturday’s crash of a Sriwijaya Air passenger jet carrying 62 people.
The group will be joined by representatives of Boeing Co., General Electric Co. and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, the NTSB said in a statement. GE is part of the CFM International Inc. consortium that made the plane’s engines. Air-accident investigations are run by the country in which the crashes occur, but investigators from the nation where the plane and its components were built can participate.
The plane was a Boeing 737-500. It had been in storage due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has led airlines around the world to park away their aircraft due to a lack of flying demand. In Indonesia, which has about 850,000 Covid-19 cases and just had its deadliest day of the outbreak, available seat capacity on domestic airline routes is 32% below pre-pandemic levels, according to OAG Aviation Worldwide.
Data from FlightRadar24 show the jet was first flown again commercially on Dec. 20, on the same route as it was going on Saturday, its fifth trip of the day. Flight 182 was headed to Pontianak on the island of Borneo. Four minutes after takeoff, air-traffic controllers noticed it wasn’t on its assigned track and radioed the crew. Within seconds, the aircraft disappeared from radar.
The jet’s flight-data recorder was brought ashore on Tuesday from the crash site in the Java Sea. Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee expects to be able to download the contents of the recorder in two to five days, news portal Detik said Wednesday, citing NTSC Chairman Soerjanto Tjahjono.
The other black box, which captures pilot communications and sounds from the cockpit, hasn’t yet been retrieved. The locator beacons of the black boxes were detected soon after the crash, but efforts to collect the flight recorders were hampered by muddy waters and debris from the jet scattered in the sea. The beacons on both boxes were dislodged by the force of impact.
Black boxes help reveal what happened in air crashes as they capture sound in the cockpit and monitor flight data. The aircraft in this instance was a nearly 27-year-old 737-500, not the much newer Boeing 737 Max. The Max was grounded globally after two crashes, including a Lion Air flight in October 2018 that also plummeted into the Java Sea.
While black boxes that have been submerged require special handling to dry out electronic components, and they may have suffered damage in the high-speed impact, there is a 99% chance that investigators will be able to retrieve data from them, said James Cash, who was the NTSB’s specialist on the devices before retiring.
Sriwijaya Air Flight 182 plunged more than 10,000 feet in a matter of seconds shortly after taking off from Jakarta at 2:36 p.m. The flight was delayed for 56 minutes, according to FlightRadar24, as heavy rain lashed the Indonesian capital. Soekarno-Hatta International Airport’s official weather report about 10 minutes before the afternoon crash said there was light rain with a cloud ceiling starting at 1,800 feet.
Weather has been a factor in several crashes in Indonesia, one of the world’s fastest-growing aviation markets. It also has one of the worst safety records. Another crash in the Java Sea occured in December 2014: an AirAsia Group Bhd. jet with 162 people on board. Still, both pilots of the Sriwijaya Air flight were experienced and the carrier has a solid safety record.
The Indonesian government will grant the representatives from the NTSB, FAA, GE and Boeing a waiver allowing them to enter the country during its coronavirus-related travel ban, a person familiar with the matter said Tuesday. The restrictions state foreigners are barred from entering the country before Jan. 28.