In late December, the crash of a three-engine Tupolev Tu-154 military aircraft bound for Syria that had just taken off from the Russian city of Sochi underscored why investigators rely so heavily on data from flight recorders when accidents occur. Although some form of technical malfunction or pilot error is suspected, no cause had been pinpointed as of early January. But prompt retrieval of the stricken aircraft’s flight recorders enabled investigators to quickly establish that no ...

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