Dredger turns up more debris

Crash of SilkAir Flight MI 185 ——————————

Amount of material found so far is extraordinary, considering operating conditions, says Tony Tan

DAY One of dredging the Musi River turned up a lot more of the wreckage from the SilkAir Boeing 737-300 which crashed here two weeks ago.

The debris included human bones and personal effects, passports, identity cards, credit cards and cash belonging to the 104 people who perished in the tragedy.

More than 100 bags of debris were recovered in less than a day – about three to four times more than was found each day when the search was done manually.

More fragments of the aircraft’s engine and body were also picked up, but there was still no sign of the second black box – the cockpit voice recorder.

Dredging started on Wednesday evening, after almost two weeks of manual operations using search ships, sonar equipment and naval divers.

At the crash site yesterday, First Admiral Rosihan Arsyad, the Indonesian western fleet commander heading the search and recovery operation, said: “Now that we are using the dredger, the recovery work is going along a lot faster than before.

“In less than 24 hours, much has been picked up, but the human bones recovered are only small pieces, each about 10 to 15 cms long.”

Although the dredging was expected to last about four days originally, he said that it might now go on for two to three days more.

This was because much of the debris was embedded very deep in the river bed.

“The same area will have to be dredged two or three times, and we are going about three metres under the river bed,” he said.

A second dredger is expected at the site, but it will not be used immediately because one machine is enough to work the 60 m by 60 m area.

The machine, about 20 m wide, scoops up mud and debris, which is then checked manually for human parts and other important fragments.

But the admiral stressed that dredging had its setbacks: “When the divers go down, they tend to be more careful with the debris, but in this case, because machines are used, there would be more damage done.”

“This is why we will continue to use scanners and, if necessary, send the divers down if important pieces like the cockpit voice recorder are detected.”

Deputy Prime Minister Tony Tan yesterday observed the dredging operations and told reporters afterwards: “We will get a considerable volume of wreckage through this operation.”

The search teams also hope to recover the second black box, or cockpit voice recorder, in the next few days, he said, adding that the debris uncovered so far indicated that the ill-fated aircraft had disintegrated.

“That is why no large parts of the plane have been found,” he said.

Dr Tan was briefed earlier on the progress of the investigations.

“The amount of material they have been able to recover in this last two weeks is really extraordinary in the light of the very difficult conditions in which people have had to operate,” he said.

Besides commending Singapore Armed Forces personnel for their efforts in the rescue operations, he also noted that Indonesia had “spared no efforts, providing much resources and manpower”.

“We are grateful and will always remember the Indonesians’ hand of friendship in our time of need,” he said.

Meanwhile, Communications Minister Mah Bow Tan will not be going to Palembang today, as planned earlier.

Replying to media queries, SilkAir said yesterday that Mr Mah and Indonesian Transport Minister Haryanto Dhanutirto had agreed to postpone their meeting for a few days, in view of the dredging work.

“This will allow time for them to better assess the results of the operations and to decide on the next course of action,” it said.

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