Indonesia team finds crashed Sukhoi's black box

Alvito Bagaskara
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An Indonesian military officer displays the charred black box of the Russian Sukhoi Superjet 100

An Indonesian military officer displays the charred black box of the Russian Sukhoi Superjet 100, Russia's first post-Soviet civilian aircraft, at the search and rescue base in Cijeruk near Mount Salak

A search team in Indonesia found Tuesday the black box of a Russian jet that could explain how a veteran pilot crashed the new plane into a dormant volcano last week, killing all 45 aboard.

"We found the black box at around 10 this morning (0300 GMT)," Ketut Parwa, head of the search operation, told reporters late Tuesday near the crash site at Mount Salak in western Java.

"It was found around 100 metres (328 feet) from where we located the tail."

The team of Indonesian searchers and Russian experts had combed the densely forested mountain for days looking for the black box as questions mounted about whether technical failure or human error caused the Sukhoi jet to crash.

The plane lost radio contact and disappeared from radar screens last Wednesday shortly after taking off from Jakarta on what was supposed to be a 40-minute exhibition flight to showcase the Sukhoi Superjet 100.

Analysts have said the mountainous terrain in western Java was difficult even for the most experienced pilots if they were unfamiliar with the area.

The black box, coloured bright orange for visibility, appeared charred in the crash and will be handed over to the National Committee for Transportation Safety, which is leading the investigation with the help of more than 70 Russian experts.

Officials did not say whether the black box was damaged or if that would hinder the probe.

The twin-engine jet is Russia's first post-Soviet civilian aircraft and was to be the new mascot for the nation's aviation industry, tarnished by ageing planes that even the country's own airline Aeroflot no longer uses.

The aircraft is a joint venture between Sukhoi and Italy's Alenia Aeronautica, which made its first commercial flight last year.

Questions are swirling over why the plane crashed with an experienced pilot at the helm.

A Russian fact-finding committee has said there were indications that safety standards were violated.

Key to the mystery is why the pilot requested permission to descend from 10,000 feet (3,000 metres) to 6,000 feet before the plane disappeared from radar screens and slammed into Mount Salak, which rises to 7,200 feet.

The transport ministry confirmed last week that a control tower in Jakarta gave the pilot permission to descend as the plane approached a military base, where mountains reach around 3,000 feet.

Photos of the plane's earlier demonstration flight posted online by a Russian blogger show relaxed passengers smiling on board, being treated to champagne, as well as Russian and Indonesian crew posing outside the jet.

A French and US national were also on board the flight.

Rescuers said dismembered bodies of the 45 crash victims were strewn across a section of the mountain, with some falling into a deep ravine.

Victims' remains were flown to Jakarta in body bags for DNA identification, although the search mission was still being carried out.

"The operation on the ground is still ongoing. We have a few more body bags that need to be flown to Jakarta," said the search mission's Colonel Anton Mukti Putranto.

Russian officials said that a full investigation into the cause of the crash could take up to a year.