NTSB recovers ‘black box,’ efforts continue
ANAHUAC — One of the data recorders that could shed light on Saturday’s crash of a jet in Anahuac’s Trinity Bay was recovered Friday, according to federal officials, but a flight data recorder and the identifiable remains of one of the crew are yet to be found.
The National Transportation Safety Board announced publicly at around noon that divers had recovered the cockpit recording device that contains the communications between the pilots and ground control during the flight. The agency said the device was being transported to Washington, D.C., to be evaluated.
Just before the discovery was announced, Chambers County Sheriff Brian Hawthorne was with local media reviewing the debris field left by the Atlas jet carrying cargo for Amazon and the U.S. Postal Service.
“We’ve recovered very little of the actual plane so far,” Hawthorne said. “We have one of the engines on a barge, but it is really spread everywhere due to the impact. The storms we had on Tuesday didn’t help.”
Since recovery efforts began, the remains of Capt. Sean Archuleta and First Officer Conrad Jules Aska were identified. Hawthorne said dive teams have recovered body parts in the last few days, but have still been unable to make a DNA match with Capt. Ricky Blakely, who is believed to be dead.
In the middle of Trinity Bay, barges were set up periodically around the scattered crash zone to help teams load debris for later review. Some officers waded through the knee-deep water, feeling around in the silt for items.
Hawthorne said dive teams from three different agencies were pulling 12-hour shifts rummaging through brackish water with zero visibility.
A piece of landing gear and one of the Boeing 767’s engines were yards away near an abandoned duck blind, but most of the debris field was concentrated around a muddy bar pocked with trails from airboats. A piece of the plane’s exterior was dug into the mud, displaying a portion of Amazon’s logo to the foggy bay.
A video of the crash released by Anahuac ISD Friday shows the plane making an apparent nose dive into the bay, killing all three people aboard.
The Federal Aviation Administration lost radar and radio contact with the plane when it was about 30 miles southeast of Bush airport, the agency said. Soon after, the aircraft plummeted 11,750 feet in about 30 seconds, data from FlightAware.com show.
NTSB requires most aircraft to have two devices, also referred to as block boxes, to help reconstruct accidents. The still missing flight data recorder from the crash would give investigators data on the plane’s functions, altitude and other measures to create a digital reenactment.
At least one of the families of the victims was still on the scene Friday, waiting for more information. Hawthorne said he had taken two trips to the site with families via airboat to help give them a sense of closure.
“I’ve never really had to do something like that before, but I’m glad I did,” Hawthorne said. “Once you get out there and see it, you get the idea of how it happened. You realize there was no way someone could survive that.”
While the federal investigation into why the jet crashed could go on for over a year, Hawthorne said his office expects to be here for at least another month. He said the extent of their presence here could be pulled back depending on how long it takes to find the other black box and the remains of Blakely.
“I feel very good about where we are headed, and I think we could make some more progress soon,” Hawthorne said Friday afternoon.