AirAsia QZ8501: First bodies returned to airport

  • 31 December 2014
  • From the section Asia
Media captionClive Myrie reports from Surabaya as two of the bodies are returned in coffins

The first two bodies from the AirAsia Flight QZ8501 crash have arrived back in the Indonesian city of Surabaya, where relatives are waiting.

Next of kin have been asked for DNA samples to help identify the victims.

The Airbus A320-200, carrying 162 people from Surabaya to Singapore, disappeared on Sunday and remains were located in the sea on Tuesday.

The authorities say seven bodies have been retrieved, but bad weather is hampering further salvage efforts.

A public memorial will be held in Surabaya on Wednesday evening local time, and the governor of East Java province has told the BBC that all New Year's Eve celebrations have been cancelled.

On board the plane were 137 adult passengers, 17 children and one infant, along with two pilots and five crew.

It is not yet clear what happened to the plane but its last communication was a request from air traffic control to climb to avoid bad weather. The pilot did not respond when given permission.

A three-day search culminated on Tuesday with the discovery of remains including aircraft parts, luggage and the bodies in the Karimata Strait, south-west of the town of Pangkalan Bun in the Indonesian part of Borneo.

AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes said it had now been narrowed, with all assets involved in the search being moved to two areas where the aircraft could be.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Haidar Fauzie holds up a picture of his daughter, a flight attendant on QZ8501
Image caption A tent for taking DNA samples has been set up near the airport at Surabaya

Wind and rain

The bodies were flown to Surabaya's Juanda airport on Wednesday afternoon from a hospital in Pangkalan Bun, where they had been sent from the crash site.

Another five bodies are reported to be on board a ship on their way to a harbour near Pangkalan Bun.

Four of the seven bodies are male and three female, one of them a flight attendant.

One search and rescue agency official, Tatang Zaenudin, said one of the bodies was wearing a life jacket but this has not been confirmed.

Media captionPilot's friend: "He was very professional and experienced and a humble man"

But strong winds and 2m waves have slowed down the recovery of bodies and debris, with helicopters mostly grounded and divers prevented from searching the waters.

Ships already in place are continuing the search. Mr Fernandes said they were expecting to operate round the clock.

The weather is forecast to deteriorate further, with heavy rains until Friday.

Next of kin of passengers and crew have been asked for DNA samples to help identify the bodies when they come in.

The BBC's Alice Budisatrijo in Surabaya says concerns are growing that the remains will be too difficult to identify after more than three days in the water.

Officials in Surabaya said a public announcement would be made as soon as any remains were identified.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Relatives of victims have been regularly praying in the Surabaya crisis centre
Image copyright EPA
Image caption Detailed information will be used to help with identifying victims once they are found and brought ashore
Image copyright EPA
Image caption The search is now focused on the area of sea where the plane is believed to have crashed

On Tuesday Indonesian President Joko Widodo promised a "massive search by the ships and helicopters" with the focus on recovering the bodies.

The call came hours after the first debris was spotted in the sea, along with a shadow under the water.

However, Mr Fernandes described reports that a large object had been detected by sonar as speculation.

"[The searchers] feel more comfortable that they are beginning to know where it is, but there is no confirmation... no sonar... some visual identification, but nothing confirmed," he said.

The Associated Press news agency quoted one official as saying the bodies of victims could end up being washed up on beaches.

"It seems all the wreckage found has drifted more than 50km from yesterday's location," Vice Air Marshal Sunarbowo Sandi said.

Pictures of debris and bodies were shown on Indonesian TV to distraught relatives waiting at Surabaya's Juanda international airport.

Those watching the pictures were visibly shocked, with some collapsing.

The search is being led by Indonesia but is a multinational effort. Singapore has sent ships equipped with sensors to detect pings that may be emitted from the plane's black boxes.

Malaysia, Australia and Thailand are also involved, while the US destroyer USS Sampson has been sent to the zone.

AirAsia previously had an excellent safety record and there were no fatal accidents involving its aircraft.

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