Air Algerie Voice-Recorder Damage Is Hurdle in Crash Probe

The cockpit-voice recorder from the Air Algerie jetliner that came down in Mali last week is damaged, complicating the hunt for information on the cause of a crash that killed all 116 people on board.

The voice recorder and flight data recorder, popularly known as “black boxes,” were flown to the offices of French accident investigator BEA after being recovered from the impact site on the fringes of the Sahara.

“BEA investigators were able to rapidly extract data from the flight data recorder,” the agency said yesterday. “The cockpit recorder sustained damage upon impact, and work on this recorder is being pursued to extract the data.”

The plane’s pilots had sought permission to turn back because of bad weather before losing contact, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told journalists yesterday. Hearing their conversations might provide clarity on efforts to cope with the weather, while the recording could also contain alarm chimes and noises from the MD-83 jetliner, a model introduced by McDonnell Douglas before the company’s purchase by Boeing Co.

It may take days or even weeks for the BEA to fully access the voice recorder, Remi Jouty, the agency’s chief, said today on French radio station Europe 1. The device was “smashed” in the crash, though the BEA is “reasonably optimistic” about extracting information, he said.

Heavy Rains

The Data recorder should meanwhile provide insight on dozens of data parameters, including the plane’s position and altitude, engine performance, the settings of flight control surfaces and how the autopilot is programmed.

Among the 110 passengers and six crew were 50 French citizens, with a French military force deployed on the Serval peace-keeping operation in Mali sending 14 trucks and armored vehicles to the wreckage north of the border with Burkina Faso, from where the flight had departed for a journey to Algiers. The retrieval of bodies has been complicated by heavy rains.

The plane’s loss capped a week of aviation disasters that began with the downing of a Malaysian Air Boeing Co. 777 over eastern Ukraine on July 17 following a suspected missile strike, killing 298 people, and included the July 23 loss of an ATR-72 turboprop in Taiwan, which left 48 dead.

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