Salvage teams have reportedly discovered the flight recorders from the Russian Sukhoi Superjet that crashed in Indonesia, killing 45 onboard. The devices are hard to reach as they lie at the bottom of a ravine 500 metres deep.
United Aircraft Corporation has not officially confirmed the reports, saying no information regarding the black box has reached them, according to Itar-Tass news agency.
Professional climbers taking part in the operation will try to lift the recorders on Monday. Once they are recovered, the devices will be sent to Jakarta for decoding.
It may take some time for investigators to retrieve the data from the flight recorders, which Indonesian authorities confirm will be carried out in Indonesia.
Transportation Minister E.E Mangindaan has said officials there will spearhead the investigation backed up by 78 Russian specialists.
The Russian-built Sukoi-100 Superjet disappeared from radars shortly after take-off on Wednesday during a demonstration flight. On Thursday, the plane’s wreckage was discovered on the side of the dormant Mount Salek volcano.
Of the 45 who were on board, salvage teams have so far recovered 16 bodies from the site, but they don’t expect to find any survivors.
The identification of the bodies is underway, but the process could take up to six months given the scale of the tragedy.
“The death toll is very big and there are only body parts left behind and, as such, it is very difficult to find and identify the remains of every casualty,” said the head of Jakarta’s Agus Prayitno hospital.
The salvage mission has been hampered by poor weather – something which is also being considered as a factor in the crash.
Possible human error is also being suggested as a cause. Experienced pilot Ronny Rosnadi told Indonesian news website Kompas.com that the pilot of the Sukhoi Superjet had violated altitude regulations.
Rosnadi says the pilot dropped to 6,000 feet during the flight, a violation of the minimum obstacle clearance altitude (MOCA) in mountainous areas which is around 11,000 feet.
The plane had been flying at 10,000 feet, but the pilot reportedly made a request to ground control to drop to 6,000 feet.
The Sukoi Superjet is the first aircraft to be built in Russia for commercial use since the fall of the Soviet Union and was on a tour of five Asian countries, carrying out demonstrations to potential buyers.
Over 170 orders have been placed for the jet around the world so far, although there are worries that the crash may have scuppered potential deals with Indonesian airlines.
Aviation expert Chris Yates told RT that the impact on Sukhoi’s commercial success will be temporary “depending on the accident reports”.
He doubted the possibility of a technical failure, underlining the fact that the Sukhoi superjet “only started flying last year in commercial service, a very modern aircraft, with all the navigation, all the safety equipment on board, that you would normally expect in a jet that is so new, so modern.”