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AirAsia crash: Rescuers find 30 bodies, focus on 5 sq km area

By Gurdip Singh
Last updated on: January 02, 2015 21:56 IST
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Rescuers found 30 bodies with 5 of them still strapped to their seats as multi-national teams equipped with sophisticated equipment narrowed the search to a 5 sq km area of the choppy Java Sea where some debris of the ill-fated AirAsia jet have emerged.

AirAsia Flight QZ8501 en route from Indonesia's Surabaya city to Singapore with 162 passengers and crew onboard mysteriously crashed on Sunday.

Rear Marshal Henry Bambang Soelistyo, head of Indonesia's National Search and Rescue Agency, said that 21 of the 30 bodies have been recovered on Friday.

"There are two main tasks in this priority sector: First, to locate the biggest part of the plane's body.”

"The second task is to find the position of the blackboxes, or flight recorders, which will be carried out by the KNKT (National Transport Safety committee) which start working today," he said at a press conference.

Caskets containing the remains of AirAsia QZ8501 passengers recovered from the sea are carried to a military transport plane before being transported to Surabaya. Photograph: Darren Whiteside/Reuters

Col. Yayan Sofiyan, commander of the Indonesian warship Bung Tomo, told local MetroTV that the five of the bodies were found still strapped in their seats.

The Indonesian Navy vessel today detected an object suspected to be the tail of the plane, MetroTV reported.

Indonesia's Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas) director of operations S B Supriyadi said the search was now focused on a 5 sq km area of the sea where debris had been emerging.

"We are focusing on this 5 sq km of the sea where debris kept emerging. We picked up debris on that area earlier, including an escape slide, but then more emerged," he said.

However, strong wind and heavy seas was again hindering search for the fuselage of the plane.

Soelistyo said bad weather was a worry, with forecast of rain, strong winds and high waves till Sunday. He said Friday’s operations was focused on an area of 1,575 nautical square miles, with 29 ships and 17 aircraft engaged in the operation.

Family members of identified passengers of AirAsia Flight QZ8501 cry before receiving their remains at Bhayankara Hospital in Surabaya. Photograph: Sigit Pamungkas /Reuters

The Frog Troops will dive to the bed of the Java Sea as the joint Search and Rescue (SAR) operation team believes that many of the passengers of the AirAsia Flight QZ8501 are still strapped into their seats in the plane wreckage.

"Divers are already on standby at the navy ship Banda Aceh to dive on that priority area to locate the body of the plane," he said. "I hope we'll get a significant result today."

"We will focus on underwater detection," said Soelistyo, as international experts from Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, France and the US equipped with sophisticated acoustic detection gear also joined the search.

Over 90 vessels and aircraft involved in the search and rescue operation, said AirAsia.

Of the 30 bodies recovered so far, eight have been transported to Surabaya.

Three Indonesians, including stewardess Khairunnisa Haidar, passengers Grayson Herbert Linaksita and Kevin Alexander Soetjipto, were identified based on fingerprints and medical records. It came after the identity of passenger Hayati Lutfiah Hami was confirmed.

Indonesian Air Force personnel carry suspected debris after it was delivered by helicopter from a recovery mission for the missing AirAsia flight QZ850 at the airport in Pangkalan Bun, Central Kalimantan. Photograph: Darren Whiteside/Reuters

Two Russian planes with 72 rescue personnel and sonars, diving equipment and drones have arrived in Indonesia to join the multi-national search.

France's BEA crash investigation agency, which attends the crashes of all Airbus planes, was also on the scene with two hydrophones, or underwater acoustic detection devices.

Soelistyo said the search would be stepped up as long as the weather allowed.

"The waves could reach five metres this afternoon. Higher than yesterday," said air force pilot Flight Captain Tatag Onne, who has been flying missions to recover bodies and debris from the sea.

"We look for breaks in the clouds where conditions improve so that we can approach. Yesterday, when we went to collect a body from the sea we couldn’t because the body was being rolled by waves. Sometimes we could see it, sometimes we couldn’t," Onne was quoted as saying by The Straits Times.

The body of one of the victims was handed over to her family on Thursday.

Indonesia Marine divers prepare their gear on deck of a ship before their search and rescue operation for passengers of AirAsia flight QZ8501 at Kumai port. Photograph: Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images

Officials said it could take a week to find the black box of the ill-fated plane.

"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," Indonesian Transportation Safety Committee member Antonius Toos Sanitioso said.

He said an independent investigating team will probe into the tragedy. The focus remains on retrieving the bodies.

The multi-national search mission has also recovered a number of items belonging to passengers and the aircraft, such as two black bags, one grey suitcase, an aircraft ladder and metal debris. 

QZ8501 may have touched down on water safely: Experts

An Indonesian girl lights candles during a prayer for AirAsia flight QZ8501 victims. Photograph: Robertus Pudyanto/Getty Images

The pilot of the crashed AirAsia plane may have pulled off the perfect emergency landing before it sank in the choppy waters of the Java Sea killing all the 162 people aboard, a media report said on Friday.

Experts believe that the absence of any usual crash transmission data means the AirAsia flight QZ8501, on its way from Surabaya in Indonesia to Singapore, could have touched down safely, though the hunt for the black boxes is on.

After leaving Indonesia early on Sunday, the Airbus A320-200 disappeared over the JavaSea during a storm but the emergency transmissions made when planes crash or are submerged in the sea were never emitted, the Mirror reported.

Flight experts now believe it is possible that experienced former airforce pilot Captain Irianto may have safely landed the plane on water — before it was overcome by high waves and sunk to the bottom of the sea. 

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Gurdip Singh
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