Jakarta/Singapore: Doomed AirAsia jet's black box which is crucial for solving the mystery surrounding the crash may take a week to be found, an Indonesian official said today, as searchers raced against time and weather to recover bodies and plane wreckage in the Java Sea.
Indonesian Transportation Safety Committee member Antonius Toos Sanitioso said finding the wreckage of the Airbus A320-200 carrying 162 people would not be easy if the bad weather off Pangkalan Bun persists.
"It may take about a week to retrieve the flight recorder and that is if the sea was calm and there are no disruptions such as noise or other obstacles," Toos said.
The aircraft would also have to be discovered first before the flight recorder can be retrieved, he said, suggesting there was still doubt over the plane's exact location in the sea.
Clear skies in the morning over the Java sea increased hopes of searchers to locate the wreckage of the Singapore- bound AirAsia Flight QZ8501 that went missing on Sunday after taking off from Surabaya, Indonesia. But within a few hours, the weather worsened again.
S B Supriyadi, another search and rescue official, said the weather worsened in the afternoon, with heavy rain grounding helicopters, but ships were continuing operations.
Sunarbowo Sandi, search and rescue coordinator in Pangkalan Bun, said he is hopeful divers would be able to explore the wreckage site.
"It's possible the bodies are in the fuselage. So it's a race now against time and weather," Sandi said.
"I am hoping that the latest information is correct and aircraft has been found," airline boss Tony Fernandes tweeted.
"Please all hope together. This is so important." The search area for the wreckage has been doubled to 13,500 square nautical miles, Malaysia's Chief of Navy Abdul Aziz Jaafar said in a tweet.
Frantic efforts are on to locate the plane's fuselage with Singapore's navy deploying an unmanned underwater vehicle capable of surveying the seabed to try to help pinpoint the wreckage and the black box while Indonesia is using a minesweeper and a private survey ship for the purpose.
Aircraft capable of detecting metal has also been deployed. "We are focusing on finding the body of the plane," Indonesia air force spokesman Rear Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto told reporters.
"There was something like a dark shadow once seen from a plane, but it cannot yet be proven as wreckage," he said.
Another body was retrieved some 70km from the shores of Pengkalan Bun this morning, taking the total number of bodies retrieved so far to eight.
The plane was carrying 155 passengers -- one British, one Malaysian, one Singaporean, three South Koreans, 149 Indonesians -- and seven crew members -- six Indonesians and a French co-pilot. Seventeen of the passengers were children.
The mystery still remains over why the plane lost contact with air traffic control and what happened afterwards.
The Autonomous Underwater Vehicle from Singapore has started scanning the seabed and another ship from Singapore, MV Swift Rescue, has also arrived at the assigned search area and begun operations.
Indonesian authorities say there is a high possibility that the flight's black box and main fuselage might be found in the are where the ships have been deployed. The vessel will be using an underwater telephone in an attempt to pick up signals from the black box.
"The (underwater) vehicle has a sonar system with a 100-square-metre scanning range. The vehicle captures images of objects detected by the sonar," Search and Rescue mission commander Air Vice Marshal Sunarbowo said.
"Images of objects will be projected onto a screen and the form will be visible. Objects and ocean waters show up in different colours," he said.
Sunarbowo, who is also the National Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas) deputy for SAR potential, said Singapore had lent Indonesia the vehicle until recovery was complete.
Meanwhile, Japan has also offered to help in the search operations i. Two destroyers and three helicopters are expected to join the multi-national search mission tomorrow.
Indonesia has deployed 84 search rescue units (SRUs) while 14 SRUs have been provided by teams from Malaysia, Singapore and Australia. Reports said search teams from China, South Korea and United States are also expected to join the operation in Java Sea.
The massive hunt for the plane was severely limited due to heavy rain, wind and thick clouds yesterday.
Malaysian daily 'The Star' yesterday cited a preliminary forensic report having concluded that the first two victims found had died three days ago.
One of the recovered bodies has been identified as Kevin Alexander Soetjipto, a finance student at Australia's Monash University.
The report cited Malaysian navy as saying that Soetjipto was identified though a wallet found along with his body. He would have turned 21 today.
Meanwhile, two bodies have been identified as of a teenager male and a female adult. "Preliminary results of our examination conducted shortly after the arrival of the bodies shows that the male victim was teenager, while the female was an adult," Chief of Police's Disaster Victim Identification team Budiyono said.
The identified bodies would be handed over to the families of the respective victims, an AirAsia official said.
"We took the requests of the victims families into consideration. We will bear all financial expenses involved till the burial of the victims," AirAsia pilot, Captain Siregar was quoted as saying.