Indonesia Ends Lion Air Victims' Search as Black Box Ping Fades

(Bloomberg) -- Indonesia’s national rescue agency ended a search for victims of the Lion Air plane that crashed into the Java Sea about two weeks ago, while those trying to locate the cockpit voice recorder face a new challenge as an electronic signal from the device fades.

The task of finding victims or their remains has been left to local teams, Muhammad Syaugi, head of the National Search and Rescue Agency, said in a statement Saturday. Separately, a new underwater locator with better sensitivity to detect the ping from the so-called black box is ready for deployment to help the search.

“The ping sound is getting hard to detect and is disappearing,” Haryo Satmiko, deputy chief of Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee, said in a text message Saturday. “We suspect the cockpit voice recorder is covered by mud because the flight data recorder, when it was found, was about a half meter deep buried in the mud.”

Indonesia Ends Lion Air Victims' Search as Black Box Ping Fades

If the new locator fails, the safety committee will deploy a ship with mud-suction ability to try to recover the voice recorder.

The recovery of the voice recorder would help investigators piece together the final moments before flight JT610 dove into the sea with 189 people on board on Oct. 29. Preliminary findings based on information from the data recorder, which has been recovered, indicated a technical snag related to faulty airspeed reading.

That prompted Boeing Co., the maker of the plane, to alert operators of the 737 Max aircraft worldwide that the airflow sensor can provide false readings in certain circumstances.

Indonesia Ends Lion Air Victims' Search as Black Box Ping Fades

Indonesia’s domestic airline market has boomed in recent years to become the fifth-largest in the world. Local air 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.

Local 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.

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