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Indonesian Divers Recover Flight Data Recorder Amid Plane Crash Debris


Shifting our focus overseas now. Divers in Indonesia say they've located the black box from a commercial jet that crashed over the weekend. Authorities there say all 62 people on board were killed. It was an older model of the Boeing 737, not a 737 Max. NPR's David Schaper has more.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: The plane took off from Jakarta's international airport Saturday afternoon in a heavy rainstorm. According to the tracking service Flightradar24, it climbed to just under 11,000 feet in four minutes, but then suddenly went into a steep descent, plummeting more than 10,000 feet in less than 30 seconds.

ANTHONY BRICKHOUSE: Well, that is definitely abnormal.

SCHAPER: Anthony Brickhouse is a former plane crash investigator for the NTSB and now a professor of aviation safety at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

BRICKHOUSE: So the fact that they dove at that clip is obviously concerning. And then it's something that investigators will focus in on.

SCHAPER: Todd Curtis is a former Boeing safety engineer and now runs AirSafe.com. He says such a steep, fast dive indicates the pilots lost control rather quickly.

TODD CURTIS: A large jet transports like the 737, they don't have the maneuverability of, let's say, a fighter aircraft. If you start going in a very, very high velocity toward the ocean, you can't pull the aircraft out of the dive.

SCHAPER: And Curtis says what's left of the plane will hold important clues.

CURTIS: Debris has been recovered from the ocean surface and from the floor of the ocean. That debris could indicate what the sequence of events was when it came to the airplane breaking up.

SCHAPER: This particular Boeing plane was 27 years old. But Curtis says that might not matter.

CURTIS: For large airliners like the 737, age is not really a consideration. What is the thing that determines whether or not an aircraft can be flown at low risk is whether or not it's properly maintained.

SCHAPER: Former crash investigator Anthony Brickhouse says the flight data and cockpit voice recorders will also hold vital clues.

BRICKHOUSE: They give us information as to what was happening on a specific aircraft in the minutes before the accident happened and, actually, during the accident.

SCHAPER: While investigators may release preliminary findings on what may have caused the plane to crash in the coming days and weeks, it could take them a year or longer to reach any final conclusions.

David Schaper, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANTUIGO'S "MONUMENTAL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.