Indonesian Search Team Prepares to Airlift Crash Bodies

Indonesian rescuers are seeking the so-called black box flight recorder as they search for victims from the Russian Sukhoi SuperJet 100 plane that crashed into a mountainside three days ago with 45 people on board.

Bad weather is hampering efforts to airlift victims from a makeshift helipad about 2,000 meters (6,600 feet) above sea level on Mount Salak in West Java. Rescuers may have to continue by ground, said Sunarbowo Sandi, operational director at Indonesia’s National Search & Rescue Agency. Five body bags have been flown to Jakarta.

“The black box is one of our targets,” Sandi said by telephone today. “Much of what we found so far is part of the plane’s vertical stabilizer at the back of the fuselage, while the black box is inside the cabin.”

Information stored in the recorder may help investigators determine why the plane slammed into Mount Salak during a demonstration flight on May 9. The crash of Russia’s first new passenger jet in more than two decades threatens President Vladimir Putin’s plan to revive his nation’s aerospace industry.

The 90-seat Sukhoi SuperJet was designed with Western partners and equipped with cutting-edge systems to compete with aircraft built by Bombardier Inc. (BBD/B) and Embraer SA. (EMBR3) It was on an Asian promotional tour and had already ferried potential customers and media on flights in Myanmar, Pakistan and Kazakhstan. It was scheduled to move on to Laos and Vietnam.

Recorders Spotted

The data and voice recorders were spotted and photographed, Russia’s Deputy Industry and Trade Minister Yuri Slyusar said in a statement earlier today. Sandi said rescuers haven’t retrieved the black box yet.

About 600 military, police and other personnel have been deployed in the search and as many as nine helicopters are on standby, said Gagah Prakoso, a spokesman at the rescue agency.

Femi Adi, a Bloomberg News reporter, is believed to have been among the passengers on the plane.

The search’s main focus remains on finding the victims and returning them to Jakarta, Bambang Ervan, a spokesman at the Indonesian transport ministry said.

“After that we can start with the ground investigation at the crash site,” Ervan said by telephone today. “For now, investigators have begun collecting facts and information at the airport.”

Descend to 6,000

The crash came after the crew asked air-traffic control for permission to descend to 6,000 feet from 10,000 feet, according to Daryatmo, head of the Indonesian rescue agency. The pilots didn’t explain the change of course. The weather was slightly rainy and there were no obvious signs of trouble, Daryatmo said. Mount Salak rises to a height of 7,254 feet.

The plane was allowed to descend to 6,000 feet as it was at a safe distance from the mountain, Ervan said today. He declined to provide more details on the flight’s chronology.

Indonesia will lead the investigation with help from the Russian transport safety agency, Tatang Kurniadi, who heads the National Transportation Safety Committee, said May 10.

The plane had no technical defects before the crash, Mikhail Pogosyan, head of Moscow-based Sukhoi owner United Aircraft Corp., said yesterday at Halim Perdanakusuma airport, from where the aircraft took off.

The crash was probably caused by human error, Russia’s acting Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin told reporters in Nizhny Tagil, a Ural Mountains city, on May 10. Sukhoi has said the jet was commanded by a “very experienced crew.”

The SuperJet has a “great future,” Rogozin said. Russia’s Industry and Trade Ministry sees no need to suspend flights, Interfax said May 10, citing a ministry statement.

The twin-engine aircraft is spearheading attempts to revive an aerospace industry that has languished since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. The plane, which can carry about 100 people, was developed with Finmeccanica SpA (FNC)’s Alenia Aeronautica SpA. It has a maximum operating range of 4,578 kilometers (2,845 miles).

To contact the reporter on this story: Berni Moestafa in Jakarta at bmoestafa@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Tighe at ptighe@bloomberg.net

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