AVIATION
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AirAsia flight QZ8501

AirAsia plane likely exploded before hitting water, official says

Changes in air pressure cited as divers retrieve one of the plane's black boxes, locate the other

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 January, 2015, 1:07am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 January, 2015, 1:07am

The AirAsia plane that crashed two weeks ago in Indonesia probably "exploded" before hitting the water due to changes in air pressure, a senior government official said.

"My analysis is, based on the wreckage found and other findings, the plane experienced an explosion before it hit the water," Suryadi Bambang Supriyadi, operations coordinator at the National Search and Rescue Agency, told reporters.

He said the left side of the plane seemed to have disintegrated, pointing to a change in pressure that could have caused the explosion.

It comes as divers retrieved one black box yesterday and located the other underwater - a key development that will help investigators unravel what caused the aircraft to plummet into the Java Sea. The cockpit voice recorder was found hours after officials announced the flight data recorder had been pulled from beneath a piece of the aircraft's wing and brought to the sea's surface.

Supriyadi said the voice recorder was located about 20 metres away from the data recorder, but it remained lodged beneath heavy wreckage, and divers were struggling to free it at a depth of 32 metres.

Searchers began zeroing in on the location a day earlier after three Indonesian ships picked up intense pings from the area, but they were unable to see the devices due to strong currents and poor visibility.

The two instruments, which emit signals from their beacons, are vital to understanding what brought Flight QZ8501 down on December 28, killing all 162 people on board. They should provide essential information about the plane and all of the conversations between the captain and co-pilot for the entire duration of the flight.

Once the second device is recovered, both boxes will be taken to Jakarta, Indonesia's capital, for analysis. The slow-moving hunt, which has often gone days with little progress, got a boost over the weekend when the Airbus A320's tail was lifted from the seabed. It was the first major wreckage excavated from the crash site, but the black boxes were not inside as hoped.

Search efforts have been consistently hampered by big waves and powerful currents created by the region's rainy season. Silt and sand, along with river runoff, have created blinding conditions for divers.The last contact the pilots had with air traffic control, about halfway into their two-hour journey from Indonesia's second-largest city, Surabaya, to Singapore, indicated they were entering stormy weather.

They asked to climb from 9,753 meters to 11,582 meters to avoid threatening clouds, but were denied permission because of heavy air traffic. Four minutes later, the plane dropped off the radar. No distress signal was sent.

Additional reporting from Reuters