Lion Air Jet Black Box Found as Airline Suspends Managers

(Bloomberg) -- Search teams in Indonesia retrieved the flight data recorder of the Lion Air plane that plunged into the Java Sea this week, as the carrier suspended some executives following the nation’s worst air disaster in two decades.

The breakthrough, tweeted by Indonesia’s Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology, comes more than three days after the Boeing Co. 737 Max 8 jet with 189 on board lost contact a few minutes after take off from the nation’s capital on Oct. 29.

Lion Air Jet Black Box Found as Airline Suspends Managers

The crash set off a hunt for the wreckage and the so-called black boxes that could help solve the mystery. The devices monitor a plane’s electronics and mechanical systems as well as store the conversations of pilots.

“Time needed to complete the download of the black box can be as short as two hours if the black box condition is good,” Ony Soerjo Wibowo, an investigator at the National Transportation Safety Committee, known as KNKT, told reporters. Data on the ill-fated plane gathered by the committee prior to the recovery of what Wibowo called a crash survivable memory unit indicated that there were technical issues.

The tragedy has raised questions about the safety record of a country whose airlines were for years judged too dangerous to fly over Europe. Prior to the accident, the first for a 737 Max 8, the plane had experienced problems on a previous flight with the sensors used to calculate altitude and air speed, according to a spokesman.

Indonesia’s transport ministry on Thursday ordered Lion Air to immediately relieve its director of maintenance, managers in charge of quality control and fleet maintenance, and an engineer to facilitate a smooth investigation. It is too early to determine what led to the disaster, the carrier’s owner Rusdi Kirana has said.

The aircraft dropped from an altitude of about 4,850 feet (1,479 meters) in about 21 seconds, in what appears to be a high-speed dive into the water at about 350 miles an hour -- far above the typical rate for a descent.

The latest suspensions follow measures announced on Wednesday. The transport ministry ordered an audit of Lion Air’s maintenance, repair and overhaul unit and the suspension of its director for maintenance and the engineer who cleared the flight even after issues were reported.

Lion Air Jet Black Box Found as Airline Suspends Managers

The government has vowed “strict sanctions” on Lion Air if a probe by the safety board proves negligence on the part of the airline, the ministry said on Wednesday. The ministry also ordered freezing of the license of suspended employees for 120 days.

“The government wants to discuss with Boeing to see if there’s any mismatch between this aircraft type and the competency of the pilots,” Transport Minister Budi Karya Sumadi told reporters in Jakarta on Thursday.

The ministry will intensify inspection of all aircraft in service and will ground planes found with technical issues that can’t be solved, Sumadi said.

The nation’s domestic airline market has boomed in recent years to become the fifth largest in the world. Local airline traffic more than tripled between 2005 and 2017 to 97 million people, according to the CAPA Center for Aviation, and is dominated by flag carrier PT Garuda Indonesia and Lion Air Group.

Carriers have struggled with safety issues partly as a result of the pace of that expansion, as well as issues intrinsic to a region of mountainous terrain, equatorial thunderstorms and often underdeveloped aviation infrastructure. Lion Air was among Indonesian airlines that were banned by the EU from 2007 through 2016, according to the Aviation Safety Network database maintained by the Flight Safety Foundation.

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