Garuda Flight Voice Recorder Sent onto Seattle

Air safety officials have suffered a setback in the investigation into last week's plane crash that claimed 21 lives, revealing they are unable to download recordings of pilots' conversations in the lead-up to the disaster.

Last night, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau sent one of its investigators and the cockpit voice recorder to Seattle in hopes US specialists could access the data.

The recording could provide crucial clues into what caused the Garuda jet to crash at Yogyakarta, Indonesia last Wednesday.

Five Australians journalist Morgan Mellish, diplomat Elizabeth O'Neil, Allison Sudradjat from AusAID and police officers Mark Scott and Brice Steele were among the 21 passengers who died.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said yesterday the Australian victims' bodies would be brought home on a Royal Australian Air Force plane, most likely on Wednesday.

Their families some of whom visited the crash site yesterday would return separately.

Prime Minister John Howard said the families caught up in the tragedy should get some relief now the victim identification process was complete and it was possible to bring those who died home.

In a letter to Mr Howard, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said Indonesian people's thoughts and prayers were with all Australian victims of the crash.

One of the survivors 34-year-old journalist Cynthia Banham was still in a critical but stable condition in Royal Perth Hospital where she had further surgery yesterday to treat burns and spinal injuries.

Two black boxes had been retrieved from the charred wreckage of the Boeing 737 and brought to Canberra on Friday.

Officials spent the weekend trying to download data stored on memory chips, designed to withstand shocks and scorching temperatures.

Bureau executive director Kym Bills said yesterday they had successfully recovered useful information from the flight data recorder.

This was designed to document more than 200 engineering parameters such as the aircraft's altitude, descent rate, speed and operation of the brakes.

"The recovered data covers the previous 53 hours and 28 minutes of the aircraft flight including substantial data from the accident flight as well as 31 previous flights," he said.

"The ASTB has ... provided the National Transportation Safety Committee in Indonesia with 30 pages of initial ... data and plots including the aircraft speed, vertical acceleration, flap settings and the wind experience during the accident sequence."

The flight data recorder sustained more damage in the crash than the cockpit voice recorder which captured conversations, radio calls and alarms.

The bureau had worked with the cockpit voice recorder's manufacturer, Honeywell, to try to download the data.

"We've got a large range of equipment here but this one is unusual and has been unable to be downloaded," he said.

"That doesn't mean it can't be downloaded, but it's something that the manufacturer is going to have to help with."

Pilot error and faulty brakes have been blamed for the plane crash.

A spokesman for the Indonesian embassy in Australia said there had been speculation about the cause of the crash, showing a tendency by some to prejudge the outcome of the ongoing official investigation.

The Indonesian Government strongly regulated the aviation industry and Garuda was considered one of the safest airlines in that country.

"We have to see it in a proper perspective that accidents however unfortunate and however tragic can happen anywhere," he said.

Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation executive director Peter Harbison said Garuda was "not a bad airline" from a safety point of view.

"Over the last 30 years, its record is probably equivalent to any others in the whole region, Qantas excepted of course which has a remarkable record," Mr Harbison told Meet the Press.



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