Searchers homing in on black box

Operations now focused on recovering bodies
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THE team looking for victims and wreckage of a SilkAir jetliner that crashed near here widened their search efforts yesterday and began using sophisticated sonar equipment to search for the plane’s black box.

Communications Minister Mah Bow Tan told reporters at a news conference after visiting the crash site that workers had found some aircraft parts that came from near the section of the Boeing 737-300 where the flight and voice recorders are normally located.

“This indicates that they are slightly closer to locating the black box,” he said.

He added that search operations would also be widened to include a land search and other parts of the Musi River where the plane with 97 passengers and seven crew members on board crashed last Friday.

Lieutenant-Colonel Allen Fernando, the Republic of Singapore Navy’s group task force commander overseeing operations at the crash site, said that seven naval diving teams were combing the area to recover the plane’s wreckage. “We want to recover the bodies on the ill-fated plane and if possible retrieve parts of the aircraft and the flight and voice data recorders,” he said.

He said that divers had already searched the crash site area of 600 metres by 1,200 metres. “I have not found any large objects, including the fuselage tank,” he said. “We have so far found small parts of the aircraft and it looks as if we need to widen our search area.

“This search will last as long as it takes to satisfy the needs of the investigators and public.”

He said that the searchers also began using sonar equipment yesterday to zero in on the plane’s debris, fuselage and black box. The equipment sends out sound waves which, when coming into contact with objects, will transmit the sound into images.

But there were problems, given the strong currents and the fact that visibility underwater was zero.

Rescuers, meanwhile, looking desperately for survivors, saw only body parts floating in various parts of the four-kilometre-wide river.

Brigadier-General Ryamizard, the chief-of-staff of the South Sumatran military command overseeing search operations, said that villagers found some body parts near the river bank early yesterday.

The body parts were all decomposed.

A C-130 Singapore airforce plane yesterday brought two refrigerated containers to preserve the body parts found at the crash site.

Singapore Airlines chairman S. Dhanabalan told reporters at the press conference that the body parts found so far could not be identified.

“The first phase was to try to rescue people if there were any alive,” he said. “I think we have gone past that phase now and we are all very sad to accept the fact that it is very unlikely that there are any survivors.”

He said the present phase of the operation was to try and recover the bodies because many of the relatives wanted to take their bodies back.

“So that is where the focus of the work now is. At the same time, we also have to try and gather evidence to discover the reasons for the accident,” he said.

Mr Mah spent the day being briefed on operations, meeting relatives of the passengers and visiting the site before he returned home last night.

Asked if there would be a mass burial for the victims, he said this would be discussed by the Indonesian and Singapore governments later. “We will need to take into account all the relevant facts including the wishes of next of kin.”

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