The tail section of the AirAsia jet that went down with 162 people on board 10 days ago was found on Wednesday in the JavaSea, raising hopes of a breakthrough in recovering the plane's crucial black box to determine the cause of the mysterious crash.
"I can confirm that what we found was the tail part from the pictures," Bambang Soelistyo, the head of Indonesia's search and rescue told reporters in Jakarta, adding the search team "now is still desperately trying to locate the black box".
"I can ensure that this is part of the tail with the AirAsia mark on it," he said. Underwater photographs were exhibited showing partial lettering on the wreckage on the seabed compared with a picture of an intact AirAsia Airbus A320-200.
The tail section was found 30 kms from the plane's last known location. The tail is where the black boxes are located. The black boxes are considered the key piece of evidence when it comes to investigating a commercial plane disaster as they provide valuable information, from a plane's air speed to the position of the landing gear, to pilot communications.
The tail was identified by divers after it was spotted by an underwater machine using a sonar scan, Soelistyo said. AirAsia Flight QZ8501 plunged into the water off Borneo island about 40 minutes into a two-hour flight from Indonesia's second-biggest city Surabaya en route to Singapore on December 28.
No survivors have been found while 40 bodies have been recovered so far but officials believe most of the remaining bodies could still be trapped inside the plane's fuselage. Soelistyo said divers were preparing to go back underwater in the same area, which is in one of the priority zones where search efforts have been focused.
Powerful currents and murky water continue to hinder the operation, but searchers managed to get a photograph of the debris about 9 kms from where the flight lost contact after it was detected by an Indonesian survey ship, he said.
Searchers have been scouring the choppy waters of the JavaSea for remains from the commercial jet since it lost contact. AirAsia group chief executive Tony Fernandes confirmed the announcement in a post on his Twitter account.
"I am led to believe the tail section has been found. If right part of tail section then the black box should be there," he tweeted. “We need to find all parts soon so we can find all (our) guests to ease the pain of our families. That still is our priority," he said.
The search area was widened with the establishment of two new sectors as search officials suspect that strong underwater currents could be pushing the debris away from the last point of contact with the plane.
The BBC reported that the tail was not found in the area search teams previously focussed upon, but in the expanded search area and this could explain the theory of debris having floated away.
A huge international operation with aerial searches and more than 30 ships involved has been repeatedly hampered by poor weather. Underwater current was still strong of around 4-5 knots and the visibility was still limited for the sea divers on Tuesday to identify more findings from the seabed where the plane crashed.At the weekend search officials said sonar had
detected what they thought were five large parts of the plane, but strong currents and rough seas would not allow divers to confirm they were from the AirAsia flight.
The cause of the crash is not know, but the plane was flying through stormy weather at the time and had requested permission to change course.
Indonesian aviation officials have said that AirAsia did not have permission to fly the Surabaya-Singapore route on the day of the crash.