Dozens of Russian experts combed a remote mountainside in Indonesia yesterday, searching for the flight recorders of a Sukhoi jet that slammed into a dormant volcano killing everyone on board.
Indonesian authorities said they had located the Superjet’s tail, where the black boxes are mounted.
“The search and rescue teams have just spotted the tail of the plane about 300m from the -mountain peak and they are trying now to reach it,” said Daryatmo, head of the national search and rescue agency, who goes by one name.
As more body bags containing victims of Wednesday’s crash arrived in Jakarta, Indonesian Ministry of Transport spokesman Bambang Ervan said a team of 41 Russians plus several hundred Indonesians were at the site.
Reaching the site, which is 80km south of Jakarta, and -retrieving scattered body parts and debris in jungle terrain on the near-vertical mountain has posed an extreme challenge for rescuers.
Authorities said more Russians were trekking to the site and that a total of 73 Russians would take part in the operation.
The Sukhoi Superjet 100 -disappeared from radar during what was supposed to be a short demonstration flight to tout Russia’s first post-Soviet civilian aircraft.
Officials have confirmed that there were no survivors on the plane carrying at least 45 people, mostly Indonesian airline representatives and eight Russians.
Questions are swirling over why the plane crashed with an experienced pilot at the helm.
A Russian fact-finding committee has said there were indications that safety standards were violated.
Key to the mystery is why the pilot requested permission to descend from 3,048m to 1,829m before the plane disappeared from radar screens and slammed into Mount Salak, which rises to 2,196m.
The transport ministry confirmed on Saturday that a control tower in Jakarta gave the pilot permission to descend as the plane approached a military base, where mountains reach about 914m.
“Based on a report from the control tower, we know the pilot made the request to descend to 1,800m, and yes, the control tower gave him permission to do so,” the ministry’s director general for aviation Herry Bakti said.
“He was approaching the Atang Senjaya military base, which is a safe place to fly low, and we know that he did in fact descend to 6,000 feet [1,829m].”
Bakti said it was unclear what happened after that.
Sukhoi’s representative company in Indonesia, Trimarga Rekatama, has apologized for confusion surrounding its manifest, claiming at first that 50 passengers were on board, but revising the number down to 45.
Local rescue officials said the plane was -carrying 46.
Photographs of the plane’s earlier demonstration flight posted online by Russian blogger Sergey Dolya show relaxed passengers smiling on board, being treated to champagne, as well as Russian and Indonesian crew posing outside the jet.
One French and US national were also on board the flight.