Red tape, funding problems hamper Lion Air black box search

Red tape, funding problems hamper Lion Air black box search
Indonesian investigators said budgetary constraints and the need for approvals had limited efforts to raise the main wreckage and find the cockpit voice recorder.
PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA - Bureaucratic wrangling and funding problems have hampered the search for the cockpit voice recorder of a crashed Lion Air jet, prompting investigators to turn to the airline to foot the bill in a rare test of global norms on the probe's independence.

Weeks of delays in the search for the second "black box" may complicate the task of explaining how 189 people died when the Lion Air Boeing 737 Max crashed into the Java Sea on Oct 29.

Indonesian investigators told Reuters budgetary constraints and the need for approvals had limited efforts to raise the main wreckage and find the cockpit voice recorder (CVR), thought to hold vital clues to Indonesia's second-worst air disaster.

"We don't have further funds to rent the ship," a source at Indonesia's transport safety committee (KNKT) said, in reference to specialised equipment needed for the search.

"There is no emergency fund for us, because there is no legal basis," the source said on condition of anonymity.

"We have already asked the coordinating minister for the economy, but there is no regulation and it would need to be discussed by the Parliament," the source added.

The clock is ticking in the hunt for acoustic pings coming from the L3 Technologies Inc cockpit voice recorder fitted to the jet. It has a 90-day beacon, according to an online brochure from the manufacturer.

Safety experts say it is unusual for one of the parties to help fund an investigation. Under United Nations rules, such probes must be conducted independently to maintain trust in any recommendations made to prevent future accidents.

There are also broader concerns about the resources available for such investigations worldwide, coupled with the threat of agencies being dragged into separate legal disputes.

A rare exception was the costly search for black boxes of an Air France jet in the Atlantic in 2009, parts of which were funded by the airline and Airbus after a failed two-year effort.

The Lion Air jet crashed in relatively shallow water of 30m-35m, but only the data recorder has been found as the remaining device lies among oil pipelines, requiring an expensive self-positioning vessel without an anchor.

A Lion Air spokesman said a chartering contract had been signed and a specialised ship would arrive once all international regulatory approvals were obtained.

Even though the airline is helping to fund the search, officials from the KNKT will oversee all operations on board.

Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati said she was not aware of a lack of funding for the CVR search operation.

LAST TRACE

The voice recorder could help answer questions over whether the crew responded correctly to potentially faulty sensor data and any role that a newly modified anti-stall system on the 737 Max may have played.

The flight data recorder was recovered three days after the crash, giving insight into aircraft systems and crew inputs, though the cause has yet to be determined.

The need for an adequate support ship has been highlighted ever since tests on Nov 12 suggested the CVR's locator beacon was broken, KNKT head Soerjanto Tjahjono told Reuters.

The search requires a heavy-duty supply vessel with a large enough deck and crane capacity to help recover the main fuselage wreckage as well as support a remotely operated underwater vehicle, deputy chief Haryo Satmiko said.

He estimated the search would cost about 25 billion rupiah (S$2.34 million) every 10 days and cited the need to obtain "administrative progress" on funding as the main obstacle over the last month.

Potential funding sources had included the Finance Ministry, the aviation regulator and Lion Air's insurers, he said.

A source at Lion Air said its insurers had been reluctant to pay for the search and so the airline had stepped in.

The Lion Air spokesman referred questions to insurer Asuransi Tugu Pratama Indonesia, a subsidiary of government-controlled oil company Pertamina.

The insurer was not immediately available for comment.

Lion Air plane carrying 189 people crashes into sea shortly after take-off from Jakarta

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    Chief of Indonesia's Lion Air flight JT610 search and rescue operations Muhammad Syaugi looks through recovered belongings believed to be from the crashed flight at Tanjung Priok port in Jakarta

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    A pair of infant shoes is pictured among recovered belongings believed to be from the crashed Lion Air flight JT610 at Tanjung Priok port in Jakarta.

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    There were 189 people on board flight JT610 of budget airline Lion Air when ground staff lost contact with the Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft early on Monday, 13 minutes after it had left the airport in Jakarta, the capital.

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    Rescue team members arrange the wreckage, showing part of the logo of Lion Air flight JT610, that crashed into the sea

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    A crying mother shows a graduation picture of her son, Agil Nugroho Septian, who was a passenger on Lion Air flight JT610, that crashed into the sea, at her house in Tegal, Indonesia, October 29, 2018.

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    Lutfiani shows an undated picture of her husband, Deryl Fida Febrianto, a passenger on Lion Air flight JT610, that crashed into the sea, at her house in Surabaya, Indonesia, October 29, 2018.

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    A witness in the Karawang district said he had heard an explosion from the beach around the time the aircraft went down.

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    Sangeeta Suneja, mother of Bhavye Suneja, a pilot of Lion Air flight JT610 which crashed into the sea, reacts as she leaves for Jakarta, in New Delhi

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    Gulshan Suneja, father of pilot Bhavye Suneja.

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    Sony Setiawan (C) speaks to journalists at Pangkal Pinang airport in Bangka Belitung province on October 29, 2018, following his arrival on another airline after missing his pre-planned flight on Lion Air flight JT 610 which crashed off the coast north of Jakarta. - Setiawan was due to board the ill-fated Boeing-737 MAX but was held up on his commute to Soekarno-Hatta airport by Jakarta’s notorious traffic congestion.

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    A forensics team carries bodies of the victims of Lion Air flight JT610 to Sukanto National Police Hospital, East Jakarta, on Monday. In a statement, Lion Air said human remains had been collected in 24 body bags after sweeps of the crash site, which is about 15 km (nine miles) off the coast to the northeast of Jakarta.

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    Rescue team members carry a body bag with the remains of a passenger.

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    Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati hugs a relative of a victim of the Lion Air flight JT610 crash.

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    The Indonesian authorities have mounted a search and rescue operation for a Lion Air plane which crashed into the sea shortly after take-off from Jakarta on Monday (Oct 29) morning.

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    There are 189 passengers and crew on board the plane, including two infants, one child, two pilots and six cabin crew.

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    The plane plunged into Karawang Bay, West Java province, Mr Muhammad Syaugi, head of the national search and rescue agency, told a press briefing.

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    The waters at the crash site are around 30m to 35m deep.

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    "On the sea surface, we found debris… The location is two nautical miles from where the plane lost contact," he told reporters.

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    The crash site is near a facility of state-owned oil company Pertamina in West Java province. A video taken from a Pertamina vessel near the crash site showed oil patches on the water surface.

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    Officials said the plane had requested a return to base before finally disappearing from the radar.

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    Local TV footage also showed wallets and mobile phones that had been retrieved from the waters.

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    The head of Indonesia's national transportation safety committee (KNKT) Dr Soerjanto Tjahjono told reporters that the Boeing 737 Max 8 plane that crashed entered service in August this year and had clocked only about 800 flight hours.

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    When asked on the cause of the crash, Dr Soerjanto said: "We can't presume anything before finding the blackbox and also the recording from the (air traffic control) tower."

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    An Indonedian boatman takes pictures as debris from the ill-fated Lion Air flight JT 610 floats at sea in the waters north of Karawang, West Java province.

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