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The black box and its crucial role in airplane crash investigations

In crashes involving commercial airplanes, the black box provides invaluable data that help investigators figure out what happened.

Traveling by air is popular with many people here in Houston for the reason that they can travel anywhere they want to go and arrive in hours rather than days. However, airplane travel is not without its risks and recent crashes in Asia have reminded people that things can go wrong.

When a plane crash is suspected, one of the first things that investigators search for is the black box. This box holds two components- the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder. Each piece of equipment plays a vital role in helping investigators piece together the events leading up to the plane's crash.

Recording the plane's actions

According to CNN the black box of an AirAsia plane was recently retrieved after the commercial aircraft crashed into the sea off of the coast of Indonesia. Data from the black box indicates that strong winds and weather may have caused the plane to climb at a faster than normal rate. Scientific American states that the airplane may have then lost speed and its engines could have stalled.

This data would have been retrieved from the flight data recorder. National Geographic Channel explains that the flight data recorder stores information about the plane's movements such as:

  • How fast the plane was traveling
  • The direction the plane was flying in
  • Movement of the different wing flaps
  • Fuel gage data
  • How high the plane was
  • Whether the plane was on autopilot

Additionally, flight data recorders also record the times at which these actions occurred. This allows investigators to input this data into a system that connects it together and creates a video of what may have happened.

Listening to the sounds

As part of the investigation concerning the AirAsia jet, investigators also listened to the recordings captured by the cockpit voice recorder. This equipment stores the previous two hours of the flight and is designed to not only record the communication taking place between pilot and co-pilot, but noises occurring in the background. When the black box is found, trained investigators listen closely to this recorder to understand what the plane's engine was doing.

For example, a recorder might pick up a stall warning sound or may reveal that the engine wasn't operating correctly. A recorder can also help investigators determine whether flight crew was aware that something was wrong before the plane went down.

Proof of negligence

While the data from the black box can help investigators determine what led to the plane crash, it can also be used as evidence to prove negligence on the part of the airline. In the case that a person from Houston was on a flight which crashed due to mistakes made by the crew or from mechanical failure, the person's family could use the information revealed by the black box to seek compensation. Therefore, it may be a good idea to speak with an attorney who is experienced in aviation law.

Keywords: airplane, crash, accident

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