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AirAsia Probe Looks at Plane, Human Error on Lack of Blast Noise

Tuesday, 20 Jan 2015 07:22 AM

(Bloomberg) -- Indonesian authorities listening to the cockpit-voice recorder of AirAsia Bhd. Flight 8501 heard no explosion, leading them to rule out terrorism and look at human or aircraft error as the cause of the jet’s crash.

The airliner’s voice recorder shows only that the pilots were talking in the cockpit, so there’s no evidence of terrorism bringing the plane down, Nurcahyo Utomo, an investigator with Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee, said today. An initial report on the loss of the Airbus Group NV A320 plane with 162 people on board will be issued by next week, according to investigators.

“There’s a possibility of airplane malfunction, a possibility of the human factor,” Utomo said. “There’s no explosion like in MH17 in Ukraine,” the Malaysian Airline System Bhd. flight thought to have been shot down over the eastern European country in July.

Decoding the information stored in the flight-data recorder and cockpit-voice recorder, together known as the black box, and piecing together debris will help investigators understand what caused the plane to go down. The Airbus single-aisle jet went off radar Dec. 28 while flying to Singapore from Surabaya, Indonesia, after the pilot sought permission to change course because of clouds in his path.

Flight Data

The flight-data recorder was retrieved earlier this month in good condition and taken to Jakarta for investigation. The device holds information such as the plane’s altitude and speed. The cockpit-voice recorder captures conversations between the ground and the pilots and sounds within the cockpit.

Investigators use information from the recorders to reconstruct the final moments before a crash and sometimes come up with recommendations to prevent other disasters. Investigators also want to see the plane’s fuselage, yet to be lifted from the seabed, to assess the damage, Utomo said.

Flying at 32,000 feet (9,750 meters), the pilot of QZ8501 had asked to climb to a higher altitude, citing clouds, officials have said. By the time air traffic controllers responded some two minutes later, there was no reply from the plane. There were storms along the airliner’s flight path, yet other planes managed to fly through the same area at the same time without incident.

“Don’t blame the weather,” said Utomo. Listing to the recorder, investigators heard communication between other aircraft and air traffic control that overlapped with the AirAsia pilots, which was “disturbing because the voices are loud.”

Permit Lack

The AirAsia flight took off on a Sunday, without a Transport Ministry permit to fly that day. The government has since suspended the license of AirAsia for that route, found other airlines in breach of permits and removed officials involved from the ministry, state air-navigation operator AirNav Indonesia and state airport company PT Angkasa Pura 1.

The airline made an administrative error in flying QZ8501 on Sunday, AirAsia Indonesia Chief Executive Officer Sunu Widyatmoko said Jan. 13. The carrier didn’t inform the Directorate of Air Aviation on the schedule revision, he told parliament in a hearing.

--With assistance from Rieka Rahadiana in Jakarta.

To contact the reporter on this story: Fathiya Dahrul in Jakarta at fdahrul@bloomberg.net To contact the editors responsible for this story: Anand Krishnamoorthy at anandk@bloomberg.net Neil Chatterjee, Tom Lavell

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2015-22-20
Tuesday, 20 Jan 2015 07:22 AM
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