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In 2010, when the Mangaluru plane crash happened, the Black Box was recovered only after three days of intense search.

A flight data recorder also known as a blakc box is not actually black, but orange in colourImage for representation
news Air Crash Saturday, August 08, 2020 - 10:48

The Black Box from the Air India Express Flight from Dubai to Kozhikode that crashed on landing at the Kozhikode International Airport has been recovered and will be pertinent to understand the cause and what happened before the flight crashed. At least 18 people including the pilot and co-pilot were killed after the Air India Express IX 1344 flight carrying 190 passengers, reportedly skid off the tabletop runway while landing and plunged 30 feet and split into two after crashing into a wall. 

The exact cause of the crash is yet to be ascertained and this is where the Black Box or the flight data recorder plays an extremely important role.

Now that the Black Box from the Air India Express flight has been retrieved, the preliminary investigation will take at least 48 hours. The Aviation accident investigation team will look into the details. In some cases, the Black Box will have to be sent to the airline company in the United States of America to decode the Black Box. The entire investigation may take a couple of weeks to complete.

Explaining the importance of a Black Box, Group Captain KVSN Murthy who is a former Indian Airforce Pilot and also a two-time gallantry award winner said, “The Black Box is crucial as it will give the investigation team the complete details. It will help reconstruct the story. It will reveal all the parameters. The height, the speed, the thrust, the acceleration, details about whether the pilot was overriding the automated system, every minute detail is revealed once the Black Box is recovered. Moreover, the conversation is also recorded, and this will reveal a lot about the accident.”

What is a black box?

Flight data recorders (FDR) store important data about a plane, which is often important in investigating air crashes. Unlike the name Black Box suggests, the box isn't actually black, but is bright orange so that is easier to locate during crashes. They are also designed to withstand extreme weather conditions such as extremely high temperatures, deep waters and high pressure or impact. They reportedly can work even when pilots go off the radar.

A former pilot with expertise in difficult-terrain flying told TNM that the Black Box is placed near the tail of the aircraft, and this is because it is the safest part of the aircraft and usually takes least impact in a crash, compared to the cockpit, etc.

“Because a flight carries so many lives, by law it is required to have a Black Box that can record all the important data that can be retrieved in cases of a crash,” she added.

The Black Box has two components: The Flight Data Recorder (FDR) and Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR). The FDR stores all the data of the flight that includes the trajectory, rate of descent, speed, level of fuel, altitude, engine thrust, etc, and where the flight was at every point in the past few hours.

“It gives you every parameter of the airplane and the configuration at each point. Was the flap taken out, when was the landing gear taken out, was it taken out late, or did a part of it get damaged, it records everything of the aircraft,” she added.

The CVR, on the other hand, records everything happening inside the cockpit - from the pilot’s conversations with the Air Traffic Control to conversations with the cabin crew, etc.

This will help ascertain if the Air India Express pilot was finding it difficult to land the aircraft, what the visibility was and whether he conveyed any issues to the ATC and vice versa. As per reports, this helps understand if a crash was a mechanical glitch, human error or any other cause.

All this information is stored on a memory board house in a metal block inside the box, which will have to be retrieved and decoded. Thirteen hours of data is usually recorded in the box, but in cases of crashes, the last half an hour worth of data is what is retrieved to understand the cause of the crash.  

Read: Watch: Flight radar shows Air India Express circled twice before landing in Karipur

Several theories are already doing rounds with regard to what could have possibly led to the accident. One of them is that the pilot could have been high on approach. Dismissing these claims as baseless, Group Captain Murthy, who trained under the pilot said, “The Instrument landing system (ILS) is used until the plane is about to land. Only before landing the pilot takes over the control. The computerised system will not allow you to override it usually. The claim that the pilot was high on approach is baseless and it is too early to comment.” 

The tail wind is another theory that is being widely discussed. To this Group Captain Murthy said, “For example if an aircraft is at 100 km/hour and the tail wind component is 20 kms/hour, then the flight’s velocity will be 120 km/hour when it lands. The presence of a tail wind component means that the velocity of the aircraft will be higher, and this will require more runway length. As per my understanding, it doesn’t seem to be a fault with the landing gear, because if that was the case the pilot would have surely diverted the flight to another airport without taking a risk considering this is a tabletop runway.”     

In 2010, when the Mangaluru plane crash happened, the Black Box was recovered only after three days of intense search. “In the Mangaluru plane crash, the aircraft plunged off the table top and fell into the jungle terrain. The fall had disintegrated the aircraft into several pieces. The area below the table top was jungle terrain which made it even more difficult to carry out the search operations. In the Air India Express crash, the aircraft had only split into two parts. The tail-end where the recorders and the Black Box is stored seemed intact from the visuals and hence it won’t be as difficult to retrieve the Black Box as in the Mangluru aircraft crash”, added Group Captain Murthy.

Reminiscing his days from the National Defence Academy, Group Captain Murthy fondly remembered Wing Commander Deepak Vasant Sathe as one of his instructors at the academy. He said, “Wing Commander Sathe was a very experienced Captain. He was a thorough professional. He was a recipient of  the President’s Gold Medal and was also bestowed the Sword of Honour. It is rarely that you achieve both of these. He was not only good at studies but was also an all rounder.”

Also read: 'Plane hovered in air for minutes before crashing’: Passengers recount Karipur air crash

Capt Deepak Sathe, pilot in Air India crash, had flown MiG-21 fighter aircrafts

'Back to home': Air-India Express passenger who died posted just before take-off

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