Last updated: 01:58 PM ET, Thu June 16 2016

Egyptair 804’s Cockpit Voice Recorder Has Been Recovered, What’s Next?

Impacting Travel | Paul Thompson | June 16, 2016

Egyptair 804’s Cockpit Voice Recorder Has Been Recovered, What’s Next?

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

On Thursday morning, news broke on many media outlets that at least one of the “black boxes” from EgyptAir flight 804 had been located and recovered from the plane’s wreckage at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea. The Airbus A320 disappeared from radar and crashed on May 19 with 66 passengers and crew on board.

After recent tragedies such as Malaysia Airlines 370, most of us know by now that the black boxes are not black, but a fluorescent orange. This is to make them easier to locate at the crash site. Professionally, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) does not refer to them as black boxes, but by their actual equipment names — Flight Data Recorder (FDR), and Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR).

READ MORE: REPORT: EgyptAir Flight 804 Wreckage Found

How do FDRs and CVRs work? Think of them as a DVR that records your favorite TV shows. The FDR records every movement of the plane. It keeps record of over 1,000 streams of information — every single switch flip, button push and even malfunction alarms. The CVR records the pilot’s conversations throughout the flight. On most planes, these boxes are located in the tail section of the plane, simply because the tail is most likely to remain intact if a plane goes down. After a crash, the FDR and CVR are vital in helping investigators reconstruct how the plane went down.

The plane’s wreckage is recovered, and then reassembled as much as possible. Once all of the data is analyzed, investigators compare it to the recovered wreckage to complete their final Aviation Accident Report.

When a plane crashes into the ocean, investigation is particularly tedious. In addition to the task of finding the wreckage, timely recovery of the FDR and CVR becomes imperative. The boxes are designed to emit a “ping” that can be heard and tracked by submersible search vehicles, but the battery powering that ping is designed to only last about a month. For this Egyptair flight, the deadline was approaching quickly. However, for the 2009 crash of Air France 447, its FDR and CVR weren’t found and recovered until nearly two years later.

Air France 447 marked the first time that a modern passenger jet had simply disappeared from radar without any communication or distress call from the flight crew. It happened again on March 8, 2014, when Malaysia Airlines flight 370 also disappeared while flying between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing.

READ MORE: EgyptAir Crash Latest Blow to Already Fragile Egyptian Tourism Industry

EgyptAir 804’s Cockpit Voice Recorder will be sent to Egypt for analysis, according to the Bureau d’Enquetes et d’Analyses (the French NTSB). With the recovery of the CVR, we can expect the FDR to be recovered soon as well. Once that happens — assuming the data remained intact — investigators will create a model of what happened, by pairing the voice transcripts with the flight data. Egyptian authorities said the CVR was damaged, but "was able to salvage the part that contains the memory unit, which is considered the most important part of the recording device.”

At this point, we don't know if the plane broke up in mid-air, or if it hit the water intact. Modeling usually does not take very long, but it could be a year or more before the final accident report is released.  


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