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Indonesian Crash Investigators Find 'Needle in Haystack'

Dredging ship pulls up Sriwijaya Air Flight 182's memory module
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 31, 2021 9:44 AM CDT

(Newser) – On Jan. 9, a Boeing 737-500 crashed into the Java Sea, diving more than 10,000 feet in under a minute. It wasn't until March 30 that a potentially vital clue was found—and at the 11th hour. The New York Times reports the cockpit voice recorder's memory module was found, undamaged, Tuesday evening and transported to shore Wednesday. Sriwijaya Air Flight 182 went down only minutes after departing from Indonesia's Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, and this component may contain the pilot and co-pilot's words as the plane went down. The Times explains the cockpit voice recorder is one of two elements we refer to as black boxes; the other is a data recorder, and it was found after just three days. Getting to the memory module proved a much more difficult feat.

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Divers were able to find the cockpit voice recorder fairly quickly, but the memory module had broken away from it, reports NPR. The dive team kept at it for six weeks before different approaches were tried. Last week, that included bringing a dredging ship to the scene. The ship worked as a sort of vacuum, sucking up a layer of mud as much as 3 feet deep from the seafloor and then sifting through it. As the head of Indonesia's National Transportation Safety Committee put it, "It was like trying to find a needle in a haystack." And they managed to do so at the last minute: Officials planned to stop use of the ship Wednesday if the module hadn't been found. A preliminary report based on the data flagged an imbalance in thrust between the two engines that might have forced the plane into a roll. But without the memory module, investigators have an incomplete picture. They expect to retrieve the data from it in three to seven days. (Read more plane crash stories.)

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