PANGKALAN BUN, Indonesia — Divers retrieved one of the black boxes Monday from the AirAsia plane that plummeted more than two weeks ago into the Java Sea, a major breakthrough in the slow-moving hunt to recover bodies and wreckage.
The flight data recorder was found under part of the plane’s wing and brought to the surface early in the morning, said Henry Bambang Soelistyo, head of the national search and rescue agency.
Divers began zeroing in on the site a day earlier after three Indonesian ships picked up intense pings from the area, but they were unable to see it due to strong currents and poor visibility, said Suryadi Bambang Supriyadi, operation coordinator at the national search and rescue agency.
He earlier said the black box was lodged in debris at a depth of about 30 meters (100 feet), but Soelistyo did not provide additional details about the discovery.
Searchers will continue to scour the seabed to try to locate the other black box, the cockpit voice recorder, which is believed to be emitting a separate signal between 2 to 20 meters (22 yards) away, he said.
“Hopefully, it can be retrieved within hours today,” Supriyadi said from Pangkalan Bun, the town closest to the site on Borneo island. He added that diving conditions were not favorable.
The two instruments are vital to understanding what brought Flight 8501 down on Dec. 28, killing all 162 people on board. They provide essential information including the plane’s vertical and horizontal speeds along with engine temperature and final conversations between the captain and co-pilot.
The flight data recorder will be taken to Jakarta, the capital, for analysis. It could take up to two weeks to download its information, said Nurcahyo Utomo, an investigator at the National Committee for Safety Transportation.
Officials recovered the aircraft’s tail on Saturday, the first major wreckage excavated from the crash site. They were hopeful the black boxes were still inside, but learned they had detached when the plane crashed into the sea. On Sunday, the ships detected two strong signals near each other.
Search efforts have been consistently hampered by big waves and powerful currents created by the region’s rainy season. Silt and sand, along with river runoff, have created blinding conditions for divers.
On Sunday, Soelistyo said divers located the wing and debris from the engine. Officials initially were hopeful it was the main section of the Airbus A320’s cabin, where many of the corpses are believed to be entombed.
So far, only 48 bodies have been recovered. Three more were identified Sunday, including Park Seongbeom, 37, and his wife, Lee Kyung Hwa, 34, from South Korea, said Budiyono, who heads East Java’s Disaster Victim Identification unit and, like many Indonesians, uses only one name.
He said they were discovered Friday on the seabed, still strapped to their seats. Their baby has not yet been found, but the infant’s carrier was still attached to the man.
The last contact the pilots had with air traffic control, about halfway into their two-hour journey from Indonesia’s second-largest city, Surabaya, to Singapore, indicated they were entering stormy weather. They asked to climb from 32,000 feet (9,753 meters) to 38,000 feet (11,582 meters) to avoid threatening clouds, but were denied permission because of heavy air traffic. Four minutes later, the plane dropped off the radar. No distress signal was sent.