News Column

MH17 Black Boxes on Way to U.K. for Analysis

July 22, 2014

Peter Walker, theguardian.com

The black boxes from flight MH17 are making a long journey from eastern Ukraine to a building set in woodland just outside Farnborough airport in Hampshire, the headquarters of the UK's Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB).

There, experts from the AAIB considered one of the world's pre-eminent specialists in air crash analysis will download the data from the two instruments, the voice data recorder and the flight data recorder. This process will not take long.

A spokesman for the Department for Transport, of which the AAIB has been a part since 2002, said: "They're confident that, depending on the level of damage, they will be able to retrieve the information within 24 hours and they'll feed it back into the investigation. We're not able to go into detail about anything else."

This task, while vital, will be only a tiny part of the overall work to determine exactly what caused the Malaysian Airlines flight to come down, killing 298 people.

The voice recorder carries two hours of cockpit audio recording. Analysts looking into crashes will examine not just what the pilot and co-pilot say but also any telltale clicks as instruments are engaged, as well as possible sounds of an explosion. On the assumption that MH17 was hit by a missile it seems unlikely the pilots' actions played any role, but everything must be analysed.

The data recorder, which like the voice instrument is encased in a protective shell of metal and insulation, collects an entire flight's worth of information from dozens of sensors, which on modern planes can total several terabytes of data.

While downloading the information should be a speedy process, it is likely to take weeks for it to be analysed in tandem with examination of the remnants of the aircraft.

The full report on the crash of Air France 447, the Airbus A330 that came down in the Atlantic en route to Rio de Janeiro, was published a year after the recorders were recovered from the bottom of the ocean.

MH17's recorders were in the hands of pro-Russia rebels before they were handed to Malaysian investigators. Experts say it would be extremely difficult to tamper with the data, and the memory cards used in the recorders have serial numbers matched to those on the recorders so they cannot be secretly substituted.

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Original headline: MH17 black boxes head to Farnborough for analysis



Source: (c) 2014 Guardian Newspapers Limited.


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