Investigators remove black boxes from Auckland-bound LATAM plane that dropped suddenly

New Zealand authorities were able to remove the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder from the Boeing 787-9 that experienced a "technical event" on Monday's LATAM Airlines Flight 800, a spokesman for NZ's transport safety body has told CNN.

They hold data crucial to understanding what caused the Boeing jet to suddenly drop during the flight from Australia to New Zealand, causing dozens of passengers to be treated for injuries.  

The technical glitch and subsequent investigations come at a fraught time for Boeing. The US manufacturer has faced harsh criticism for a series of recent safety and quality issues in its aircraft.

A series of investigations

Chile's directorate general of civil aeronautics (DGAC) is leading the investigation into the black boxes as the plane was registered in the country. New Zealand's Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) will also contribute an investigator to the process.

The union representing the flight's crew said on Wednesday it would investigate. The LATAM Cabin Crew Union (STCLA) said in a statement to CNN on Wednesday it is "gathering records of its colleagues who were injured" during the incident.

According to a statement published by LATAM Airlines, at least 10 passengers and three crew members were injured when the plane experienced a "technical event". However, emergency medical services provider Hato Hone St John Ambulance in Auckland said approximately 50 people were treated for injuries upon arrival, including one person in serious condition.

The LATAM Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner plane that suddenly lost altitude mid-flight a day earlier, dropping violently and injuring dozens of terrified travellers, is seen on the tarmac of the Auckland International Airport in Auckland on Tuesday.
The LATAM Airlines Boeing 787 Dreamliner plane that suddenly lost altitude mid-flight a day earlier, dropping violently and injuring dozens of terrified travellers, is seen on the tarmac of the Auckland International Airport in Auckland on Tuesday. Photo credit: Getty Images

Pilot may have temporarily lost control of the jet

One of the passengers aboard the Chilean Boeing 787, Brian Jokat, told CNN the pilot checked on the passengers and explained he had temporarily lost control of the jet.

"I immediately engaged with him and said, 'What was that?' And he openly admitted, he said, 'I lost control of the plane. My gauges just kind of went blank on me,'" Jokat said.

STCLA said it is awaiting the results of the investigation "not only to know what happened, but also to be able to ask the company for any necessary improvements".

CNN contacted LATAM Airlines on Wednesday but has not received a comment.

"Aviation is a complex activity, it involves significant risks and must be done safely, so carrying out our work with appropriate conditions is also guaranteeing the safety of aviation," STCLA said in its statement.

Nightmare for Boeing

Analysis of the LATAM Airline flight's black box data could shed light on Boeing's role in the flight's sudden drop.

Boeing is in crisis after a series of mid-flight disasters in recent months have led to intense scrutiny of its quality standards.

In January, a door plug blew off a new Boeing 737 Max operated by Alaska Airlines, leaving a hole in the side of the plane mid-flight. Investigators from the US National Transportation Safety Board said evidence showed four bolts that are meant to hold the door plug were missing.

On Wednesday, in a letter to a Senate committee probing Boeing, the National Transportation Safety Board said its investigation has been held back by the manufacturer's lack of a paper trail for key evidence.

The most serious problem Boeing faced in recent years: two fatal crashes of its 737 Max jet due to a design flaw in the plane.

Meanwhile, in February, the Federal Aviation Administration flagged safety issues with engine anti-ice systems on the 737 Max and larger 787 Dreamliner. 

The FAA said on Monday it has given Boeing until late May to produce a plan to remedy issues identified in a federal audit and other reviews, including a safety culture survey of employees and a separate panel report that found workers concerned about retaliation for reporting safety concerns.