Debris recovered from the Sriwijaya Air SJ 182 crash site
Debris recovered from the Sriwijaya Air SJ 182 crash site sits on the dockside at Tanjung Priok Port in Jakarta. Image Credit: Bloomberg

JAKARTA: Indonesia's air accident investigator is probing whether a problem with the autothrottle system, that controls engine power automatically, contributed to the Sriwijaya Air crash on Jan. 9 that killed all 62 people on board, an official said on Friday.

National Transportation Safety Committee (KNKT) investigator Nurcayho Utomo said a problem with the Boeing 737-500's autothrottle system was reported after a flight a few days earlier.

"There was a report of malfunction on the autothrottle a couple of days before to the technician in the maintenance log, but we do not know what kind of problem," he told Reuters.

"If we find the CVR (cockpit voice recorder) we can hear the discussion between the pilots, what they talked about and we will know what is the problem." It remains unclear whether a problem with the autothrottle system contributed to the crash, Utomo said, adding he could not recall any other issues raised in the maintenance log.

It is acceptable for a plane to fly with an autothrottle system that is not working because pilots can control it manually instead, he said.

Sriwijaya said he was unable to comment on technical matters involving the investigation before an official statement was made by KNKT. A preliminary report is expected to be issued within 30 days of the crash, in line with international standards.

The plane's flight data recorder (FDR) has been recovered and read by investigators but an underwater search for the CVR's memory unit at the crash site in the Java Sea is continuing.

Citing sources close to the investigation, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) on Thursday reported the FDR data showed the autothrottle system was not operating properly on one of the plane's engines as it climbed on departure from Jakarta.

Instead of shutting off the system, the FDR indicated the pilots tried to get the stuck throttle to function, the WSJ said. That could create significant differences in power between engines, making the jet harder to control.

Ends search for victims, debris

Authorities on Thursday ended the search for remaining victims and debris from a Sriwijaya Air jet that nosedived into the Java Sea, killing all 62 people on board.

Transportation minister Budi Karya Sumadi said retrieval operations have ended after nearly two weeks, but that a limited search for the missing memory unit from the cockpit voice recorder will continue.

The memory unit apparently broke away from other parts of the voice recorder during the crash. Divers retrieved its battered casing and cover last week near the location where the flight data recorder was recovered three days after the accident.

The Boeing 737-500 jet crashed on Jan. 9, minutes after taking off from Jakarta, the capital.

Searchers have recovered plane parts and human remains from an area between Lancang and Laki islands in the Thousand Island chain just north of Jakarta.

"After much consideration, we have to close the search and rescue operation today,'' Sumadi told reporters. "However, we are committed to continue efforts to find the cockpit voice recorder."

The government will provide a ship to take relatives to the crash site for a memorial ceremony on Friday morning, Sumadi said.

So far, 43 victims have been identified from more than 300 body bags containing human remains sent to the National Police's disaster victim identification unit.