Biggest part appears to be jet’s body and officials are confident of finding bodies of 162 passengers and crew members who were strapped in their seats; strong currents prevent divers from entering the waters to get a visual of the fuselage
Pangkalan Bun: Indonesian officials said yesterday that they were confident that wreckage of AirAsia Flight 8501 had been located after sonar equipment detected four massive objects on the ocean floor. The biggest piece, measuring 18 metres long and 5.4-metre wide, appeared to be part of the jet’s body, said Henry Bambang Soelistyo, chief of the National Search and Rescue Agency.
Dead bodies of victims of AirAsia Flight 8501 are lifted to Indonesian navy vessel KRI Banda Aceh at sea off the coast of Pangkalan Bun, Indonesia, yesterday. pic/ap
Though strong currents and big surf have prevented divers from entering waters to get a visual of the suspected fuselage, officials are hopeful they will find many of the 162 passengers and crew who were aboard the plane still strapped in their seats inside.
So far, after nearly a week of searching, only 30 bodies have been found floating in the choppy waters.
The Airbus A320 crashed on December 28, halfway into a two-hour flight from Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-largest city, to Singapore. Minutes before losing contact, the pilot told air traffic control that he was approaching threatening clouds, but was denied permission to climb to a higher altitude because of heavy air traffic.
It remains unclear what caused the plane to plunge into the Java Sea, though bad weather appears to have been a factor, according to a 14-page report released by Indonesia’s Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency.
“Flight 8501 appears to have been trapped in bad weather that would have been difficult to avoid,” the report said.
While the plane’s black boxes — the flight data and cockpit voice recorders — are yet to be located, the discovery of the wreckage, especially if it is largely intact, would greatly benefit the investigation.
The objects on the seafloor were discovered on Friday and Saturday, and an Indonesian Geological Survey vessel was used to assess their dimensions, Soelistyo said.
In addition, chunks of debris found in the target search area measured up to 12 metres long. Other suspected plane parts were seen scattered on beaches during an aerial survey, Soelistyo said.
Indonesian authorities announced the grounding of AirAsia flights from Surabaya to Singapore, with the Transport Ministry saying the airline did not have a permit to fly on Sundays. However, Singapore’s Civil Aviation Authority said on Saturday that from its end, the airline had been approved to fly the route daily. The discoveries so far include an emergency exit door and slide, as well as a backpack with food and a camera inside.
As part of the investigation into the crash, autopsies will be carried out on some of the bodies, including the pilot and co-pilot, whose remains have not yet been recovered, said Budiyono, who heads East Java’s Disaster Victim Identification unit and, like many Indonesians, uses only one name.
Vessels involved in the search for debris included at least eight sophisticated navy ships from Singapore, Russia, Malaysia and the US equipped with sonars for scouring the seabed to pinpoint the all-important black boxes and the wreckage. A second US Navy ship arrived Saturday to help in the search.
For family members, the wait has been agonising, with local media covering every development and theory, many of which have proved to be untrue — including a false report that a body was found wearing a life jacket, which would have indicated passengers had time to prepare for the impact or miraculously were able to put them on after hitting the water. With more corpses arriving in Surabaya, some relatives said they were simply worn out. But they were encouraged by reports that parts of the plane had been detected and hoped that everyone on board would be retrieved. “Let’s hope the news is true,” said Ongko Gunawan, whose sister was on the flight with her husband and their child. “We need to move on.”