IAC SAYS OPERATION TO LIFT A-320 FLIGHT RECORDERS "UNPRECEDENTED"
by Dmitry Nezdorovin

ITAR-TASS News Agency
May 24, 2006 Wednesday

The Interstate Aviation Committee said the operation to find and lift
flight data recorders from the Armenian Airbus-320 passenger plane that
crashed into the Black Sea at the beginning of May was "unprecedented."

"I have been working at the Interstate Aviation Committee for 20 years
and haven't heard of any operation that ended successfully under such
harsh conditions as on the Black Sea bed," committee head Tatyana
Anodina said on Wednesday.

In her words, about 2,000 planes of the Airbus-320 type are operating
around the world, and everybody wants to get full and objective data
about the accident as soon as possible.

According to Anodina, two black boxes from the crashed plane record
conversations in the cockpit and plane system data. "Unfortunately
the voice recorder was seriously damaged but the data recorder,
according to preliminary information, is in excellent condition.

Recordings will be analysed in Russia, using equipment from France
where the Airbus-320 airliner was designed," she said.

With the second black box lifted from the seabed last night, the
operation to find and recover the flight data recorders was completed.

Transport Minister Igor Levitin said the operation was "unique."

"Never before have Russian specialists lifted sunken objects from
such depths in the aggressive hydrogen sulphide environment," he said
on Wednesday.

"The Russian equipment that was used has no analogues and therefore
work in this direction must continue," he added.

The minister expressed condolences to the families of the plane crash
victims. "A sour feeling remains because we have not been able to
lift anything from the seabed but black boxes," he said.

The first flight data recorder was lifted on Monday. It had taken
about 20 hours to identify and lift the flight data recorder, a
Transport Ministry official told Itar-Tass.

"The black box was found on Sunday at about 7.50 p.m. Moscow time
(1550 GMT) at a depth of 500 metres, but its version did not match
the one French specialists were looking for. It had a different size
and weight.

During the night, the images of the black box from the seabed were
transmitted to France where Airbus officials confirmed it belonged
to the crashed plane.

Specialists then started reprogramming the manipulator that was to
be used for lifting the black box. The lifting proceeded in three
stages and involved not only the robot but also a network in which
the recorder was placed.

"The black box was lifted in the net from the seabed to 17 metres
from the surface, where a diver picked it up to prevent it from being
carried away by currents," the official said.

The black box was found in an area of three meters by five metres at
a depth of 500 metres. It lay under 50 centimeters of silt.

The first "black box" was lifted from the seabed at about 3.05 p.m.

(1105 GMT). "The flight data recorder was found under a layer of
soil. The operation to lift it began at 09:00 Moscow time and lasted
six hours. The 'black box' has been sent to Moscow for deciphering.

The second data recorder may be not far from the place where the
first one was found," the operational headquarters told Itar-Tass.

Anodina, said, "The found flight data recorder is badly damaged because
of strong impact and because of lying in an aggressive environment."

She said data from the recorder would be analysed by a standard
procedure that will involve officials from Armenia, France, and Russia.

There were three flight data recorders aboard the plane but no signals
from the third one have ever been registered, which suggests that
its radio beacon was knocked off during the crash.

The operation to lift the flight data recorders started last Tuesday
but was interrupted by a strong side wind that constantly carried
away the ship, which is operating the RT-1000 apparatus, which is
conducting the search for the flight recorders.

Silt on the seabed complicated the work, covering the video camera
and the searchlights. The team had to raise the apparatus several
times to clean them. It takes 40 minutes for the apparatus to sink
and as much to come back to the surface.

Flight data recorders used on aircraft of the Airbus-320 type withstand
the depth of up to 6,000 meters for 30 days, experts from the French
air crash investigation bureau said.

They said that flight recorders' radio beacons keep working during
a 30-day period.

One of the flight data recorders registers flight parameters, including
the speed, height and direction of the flight and the autopilot
operation, each second. The other gadget records conversations in
the cockpit.

Each flight recorder weighs 10 kilograms, including a seven-kilogram
armoured casing for the gadget. The casing can withstand water pressure
at a depth of 6,000 meters, the temperature of 1,100 degrees Celsius,
and the compression of 2.2 tonnes.

The bureau retrieved flight recorders from the depth of over 1,000
meters in the Red Sea in January 2004, when an Egyptian plane crashed
near the Sharm-el-Sheikh resort. The rescuers were using a Scorpio
deep-water apparatus.

Of 113 people who were abroad the plane, 51 bodies have been found
so far.

The Airbus A-320 of the Armenian airline Armavia plunged into the
Black Sea as it was making a landing manoeuvre in the early hours of
May 3. The accident claimed the lives of 113 people.