23rd Oct 2016

Ukraine investigators race to recover flight recorders

  • Investigators want to recover flight recorders on MH 17 (Photo: Zach Stern)

The race to locate the black box, flight deck recorder, and the cockpit recorder is underway as investigators make their way to the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines flight 17 in eastern Ukraine.

Kiev dispatched a team to the crash site in the rebel-controlled area but it has yet to arrive as of early afternoon Friday (18 July).

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Russian-backed separatists have cordoned off a 20 square kilometre security zone and announced they will co-operate with Ukrainian authorities.

The team’s priority is to first secure the site.

Media reports that the recording devices are gone have raised concerns the data could be lost or distorted.

Manipulating the evidence on flight recorders is extremely difficult, say aviation crash experts.

“It is very hard evidence and it is almost impossible to tamper with,” said one EU source.

The black box on the Boeing 777 flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur records over 1,000 different parameters.

The cockpit recorder, aside from recording the voices of the pilots, is also equipped with an acoustic microphone tasked to detect abnormal sound waves like explosions.

Reports suggest an advanced Russian-made surface-to-air Buk missile system may have downed the plane, killing everyone on board.

Ukraine-led investigators will need to sift through the crash site to confirm all the debris belongs to the plane.

Rules under the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) require a sovereign state to take the lead in the probe but Ukraine does not have full control of its eastern territory.

Ukraine has asked experts from Eurocontrol, the Brussels-based European air traffic control body, German-based European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), and ICAO to join the team.

Americans from Boeing, who built the aircraft, and Britons from Rolls Royce, who built the engines, will also be dispatched as well as observers from the Netherlands and Malaysia amongst others.

The probe is likely to take more than a year although a preliminary report setting out the initial facts is expected within a month or so.

The EU, for its part, has no role in the investigation.

Flying over a conflict zone

Around a quarter of airlines diverted flights around Ukraine a few days before the Malaysian flight crashed near the Russian border on Thursday.

On Monday, Ukraine authorities had extended and raised the flight safety zone to 32,000 feet, up from the initial 26,000 feet imposed on 1 July.

The Boeing had been instructed to cruise at 33,000 feet by Ukrainian air traffic control before it disappeared late afternoon.

Up until the crash, some 350 daily commercial flights were criss-crossing the conflict zone within the Ukrainian-set safety altitude.

Between 100 to 150 of those flights were European, going back and forth to Asia. The rest were domestic and regional.

“There were no national international aviation warnings which indicated any danger whatsoever to the airspace through which the Malaysian aircraft was flying,” noted another EU source.

Flight diversions from Ukraine mean air traffic has increased from 10 to 15 percent over Bulgaria, Poland, Romania, and Turkey.

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