Black box of crashed Lion Air flight 610 retrieved

Divers recovered a flight recorder Thursday from the wreckage of a Lion Air jet in the Java Sea, a crucial discovery that may help investigators determine how a new plane fell out of clear skies in one of the worst commercial air disasters in recent years.

The crashed plane had a technical issue with its airspeed and altitude readings during its previous flight from Bali to Jakarta, but it was fixed by the airline.

The doomed jet went down from 4,850 feet (1,479 meters) altitude in just 21 seconds, according to data compiled by FlightRadar24, a flight-tracking system. It will reportedly be examined by the National Transportation Safety Committee.

Although it is now nearly certain that everyone on the plane died, relatives are desperate to find traces of their loved ones.

A massive search effort has identified the possible seabed location of the crashed Lion Air jet, Indonesia's military chief said on Wednesday, as experts carried out the grim task of identifying dozens of body parts recovered from a 15 nautical mile search area.

More than 60 body bags containing human remains have been sent to police medical experts for identification since the search began, but as of Thursday only one victim has been identified and buried.

"We hope tonight we can drop anchor and release the ROV (remotely operated underwater vehicle) again and I am sure we will find a black box given the strong indication, and, not far from there, the main body of the plane", Tjahjanto said.

The results from a preliminary investigation will be made public after 30 days, another KNKT official said.

Initial reports said the plane's flight data recorder had been found but a transport safety official quoted by Reuters news agency said later it was unclear whether the damaged device was the flight data unit or the cockpit voice recorder.

Lion Air has ordered 50 of the MAX 8 planes and one of its subsidiary airlines was the first to operate the new generation jet past year.

It will also focus on four Lion Air staff, including its technical director, who the transport ministry said it has suspended on Wednesday, amid speculation that the aircraft had not been airworthy.

A witness in the Karawang district said he had heard an explosion from the beach around the time the aircraft went down.

Robbi Gaharu told CNN the plane left the holiday hotspot some two hours later than scheduled and problems with the aircraft became apparent soon after takeoff.

In 2014, an AirAsia crash in the Java Sea during stormy weather killed 162 people. Its aircraft have been involved in at least 15 safety incidents and it has been placed under tougher worldwide safety restrictions than other Indonesian airlines.

Indonesian airlines were barred in 2007 from flying to Europe because of safety concerns, though several were allowed to resume services in the following decade. The ban was progressively lifted, starting in 2009.

The budget carrier has been involved in a number of incidents including a fatal 2004 crash and a collision between two Lion Air planes at Jakarta's Soekarno-Hatta airport. It has been expanding aggressively in Southeast Asia, a fast-growing region of more than 600 million people.

  • Rogelio Becker