After three days of intense search, debris of the missing AirAsia aircraft carrying 162 people was found on Tuesday in the Java Sea off Indonesia but only three bodies have been retrieved so far as the mystery remained over the cause of the crash.
Only three bodies have been retrieved and not 40 as previously stated by naval officials, Indonesia's National Search and Rescue Agency chief Bambang Soelistyo said late on Tuesday, amid fading hopes of finding any survivors.
The bodies -- two women and a man -- were spotted along with debris floating in the Java Sea off the Indonesian part of Borneo, close to the area where contact was lost with the aircraft on Sunday morning.
Bad weather and high waves impeded the search and rescue operation, reported Indonesia's Antara news agency. This also impeded the evacuation process of the lost AirAsia QZ8501 plane in the Karimata Strait near Pangkalanbun, Central Kalimantan.
"Tomorrow (o Wednesday), we will conduct an evacuation process. The recent obstacles are the waves reaching two until three meters in height and bad weather," Soelistyo told a press conference.
A number aircraft and helicopters supporting the search and rescue operation could not be operated due to bad weather over the area where the debris was found, Soelistyo said.
Indonesian navy war ship KRI Banda Aceh 593 is on its way to the area where the debris has been found. The navy vessel will be assisted with some other ships to locate other debris and bodies of passengers that may be found during the night operation.
Among the things that the search team members discovered in Pangkalan Bun, Central Kalimantan, were parts of the aircraft and a blue luggage, he said.
Three bodies of two women and one man were also evacuated to Indonesian navy ship KRI Bung Tomo, Soelistyo said.
The Indonesian navy had earlier reported that 40 bodies had been retrieved by one warship and rescuers were continuing to recover more bodies.
Relatives of the 162 people on board the ill-fated plane hugged each other and burst into tears in Surabaya from where the plane had taken off for Singapore as they watched television footage of bodies floating in the sea.
Indonesian transportation ministry's acting director general of air transportation, Djoko Murjatmodjo, said that the wreckage was discovered in Pangkalan Bun, Central Kalimantan, and belonged to the AirAsia flight QZ8501. "It has been confirmed that it is debris from an aircraft bearing red and white colours," Djoko said, citing that the debris was found by the ministry's rescue team.
Search and rescue operations are on in the area in coordination with Basarnas, Indonesia's national search and rescue agency, he said.
Earlier, an Indonesian air force plane spotted a "shadow" on the seabed believed to be that of the Airbus A320-200, Soelistyo told reporters.
"God blessed us. At 12:50 the air force Hercules found an object described as a shadow at the bottom of the sea in the form of a plane," he said.
AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes, who is an ethnic Indian, tweeted to the families of the victims: "My heart is filled with sadness for all the families involved in QZ 8501. On behalf of AirAsia my condolences."
Search chief Soelistyo said all efforts were now being concentrated on the location where the "shadow" and debris have been found.
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. There were no Indian nationals on board.
Indonesian rescue agency spokesman M Yusuf Latif said that a maritime patrol aircraft from the Indonesian air force first discovered the debris during a search. Ten pieces of debris were found during the search for the ill-fated AirAsia Indonesia.
"We just searched (the location) until 11 am. So, according to estimations, the debris was seen at 10:15 am (local time)," Yusuf told reporters.
The location of the debris matched information from two fishermen in Pangkalan Bun who said that they heard a thud and saw explosions on Sunday morning, he was quoted as saying by the Jakarta Post.
During a news conference by the head of the operation Soelistyo, shown live on Indonesian TV, pictures of the debris were shown including a body floating on the water. Relatives of passengers on the plane watching the pictures were visibly shocked.
All resources were now being sent to the area where the debris was found, and all objects or bodies found would be taken to Pangkalan Bun, Soelistyo said, referring to a nearby town in Central Kalimantan province.
Soelistyo said that ships with more sophisticated technology were being deployed to check whether larger parts of the plane were submerged beneath the debris.
At least 30 ships, 15 aircraft and seven helicopters had joined the search for the AirAsia flight that went missing on Sunday morning after taking off from Surabaya in eastern Java on its way to Singapore.
Images: Family members of passengers onboard missing AirAsia flight QZ8501 cry at a waiting area in Juanda International Airport, Surabaya. Photograph: Reuters