AirAsia jet's tail to be lifted tomorrow: official

Jakarta/Singapore: Rescuers plan to start lifting the AirAsia jet's tail from the seabed in the Java Sea using a balloon tomorrow, a top Indonesian official said today, raising hopes of retrieving the black box crucial to solve the mystery of the fatal crash.

Divers braved high waves to reach the Airbus A320-200's tail, expected to contain the crucial data recorders that could unravel the mystery of the December 28 crash, but failed to penetrate the wreckage due to strong currents and poor visibility.

"The weather prevented the operation to lift the tail today," search and rescue agency coordinator Supriyadi told reporters in Pangkalan Bun, the town closest to the site.

"The operation using (a) balloon to lift the tail will start tomorrow," he added.

Persistent bad weather with strong currents, huge waves and high winds delayed efforts to reach the fuselage believed
to contain remaining victims besides the black box. Meanwhile, four more bodies were recovered today by multi-national vessels in the choppy waters, taking the total number of bodies retrieved so far to 44.

Authorities tried to lift the Airbus A320-200's tail out of the water but failed, Channel News Asia reported, citing the National Search and Rescue Agency Republic of Indonesia (BASARNAS).

Searchers spotted the tail section - where the black box is located - 30 kms from the plane's last known location yesterday, a day after divers joined the multi-national hunt.

Divers took advantage of a brief break in today's weather to try to locate the black box, but were unable to make it past currents and 1-metre visibility, said National Search and Rescue chief Henry Bambang Soelistyo.

Expert teams from Indonesia and France were looking at other options, including a crane to lift the tail, he said. The black box contains the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder, crucial to determine the cause of the crash that claimed all 162 lives on board the ill-fated AirAsia Flight QZ8501, en route from Indonesia's Surabaya city to Singapore.

Search authorities yesterday confirmed that a signal was detected in the tail or the rear section of the plane. The black box has not been found yet and may have been dislodged from the tail section, but "it will be nearby", lead investigator Nurcahyo said.

"Pings" from the black box are not being detected as there is "disruption in the area", Nurcahyo said, adding the search operation's top priority will be recovering bodies, and then retrieving the black box.

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