AirAsia Flight QZ8501: Both ‘Black Boxes’ Retrieved From Wreckage

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Indonesian crew of the Crest Onyx ship prepare to hoist recovered wreckage of AirAsia flight QZ8501 at port in Kumai on Sunday, Jan. 11, 2015. (Credit: Adek Berry/AFP/Getty Images)

Divers recovered the cockpit voice recorder from the submerged wreckage of AirAsia Flight QZ8501 on Tuesday, reports said, in another step forward for the investigation into the disaster.

Retrieving the device, which is designed to record all sounds on a plane’s flight deck, is expected to help investigators understand what went wrong aboard Flight QZ8501, which went down in the Java Sea last month with 162 people aboard.

The news agency Agence France-Press and local broadcaster Metro TV cited Indonesian officials saying the voice recorder had been recovered. CNN wasn’t immediately able to confirm the comments independently.

On Monday, searchers recovered the plane’s other so-called black box, the flight data recorder, which stores a vast amount of information about the aircraft’s performance, including air speed and cabin pressure.

The flight data recorder tells investigators what happened on a plane, but the cockpit voice recorder tells them why, said Mardjono Siswosuwarno, a senior official at Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee, which is leading the investigation into the disaster.

“The why is mostly in there,” he said of the voice recorder, which captures conversations between pilots, as well as other sounds in the cockpit.

Analysis of data to take months

Both devices will be taken to a lab in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital for analysis.

Downloading the data only takes about an hour, Mardjono said, but interpreting the information requires much more time.

He said he expected a preliminary report to be released within a month of the crash, which happened on December 28 as Flight QZ8501 was headed toward Singapore from the Indonesian city of Surabaya.

But the final report will take months, he added.

The agency’s final report into Adam Air Flight 574 — which crashed in Indonesian waters on New Year’s Day, 2007, killing all 102 people on board — came out more than a year after that disaster.

Mardjono said the plane’s flight data recorder was in good condition after being pulled out of the water from under the debris of a wing on Monday.

Did plane break apart on impact?

The recovery of the flight recorders took place after the plane’s tail was lifted from the waves on Saturday.

Observers have suggested that the locations of the different parts of debris indicates the plane broke apart when it hit the water, not when it was still at a high altitude.

One Indonesian search official, who goes by the single name of Supriyadi, said the debris patterns suggest the aircraft “exploded” on impact.

But the country’s transportation investigators said it was premature to say what had happened, and one expert questioned the search official’s choice of words.

“The word ‘exploded’ I think maybe loses a little bit in translation,” said David Soucie, a former Federal Aviation Administration safety inspector. “I think really what he’s meaning is a rupture from the impact itself.”

“As with any hollow object hitting something very hard, the pressure differential between the outside and the inside is very significant and it’ll actually tear apart the aircraft on the top, Soucie told CNN. “That may be what he’s referring to.”

Fuselage, many bodies still missing

Search teams, which have repeatedly had to contend with bad weather conditions during their work, are still looking for Flight QZ8501’s fuselage.

Some officials have suggested that many of the remains of the people on board the plane are likely to be found with the fuselage.

A total of 48 bodies have so far been recovered from the sea, some of them still strapped into seats. Authorities have identified most of them.

A large majority of the people on Flight QZ8501 were Indonesian. There were also citizens of Britain, France, Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea.