AirAsia QZ8501: Search teams find more bodies at sea

  • 3 January 2015
  • From the section Asia
Media captionThe BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes reports from Kalimantan, where there is a "mood of pessimism" as bad weather hampers the search operation

More bodies have been recovered from the Java Sea, five days after AirAsia flight QZ8501 crashed, bringing the total found so far to 30, Indonesian rescue officials say.

The Airbus A320 disappeared with 162 people on board while flying from Surabaya in Indonesia to Singapore.

Operations to recover victims continue but no survivors have been found.

Specialist equipment has arrived to aid the search for the plane itself and its "black box" flight recorders.

However officials said it could not be used on Friday because of high waves, Reuters reported.

On Saturday, Indonesian search and rescue chief Bambang Soelistyo said two large objects had been found in the search.

"As I speak we are lowering an ROV (remotely operated underwater vehicle) to get an actual picture of the objects detected on the sea floor. All are at the depth of 30 metres," Mr Soelistyo said.

The cause of the crash is not known yet.

In another development, it has emerged that AirAsia did not have official permission to fly the Surabaya-Singapore route on Sunday - the day of the crash - but was licensed on four other days of the week.

The Indonesian authorities are suspending the company's flights on this route with immediate effect pending an investigation, a transport ministry statement said.

'Strapped in seats'

"As of now, the results that I can confirm for you are that the number of dead bodies recovered is 30," the head of Indonesia's search and rescue agency, Mr Soelistyo, said on Friday.

Some were reportedly still strapped into their seats when they were found.

The aircraft's fuselage has still not been located, and it is thought most of the passengers could be inside.

"Waves were between three and four metres today, making it difficult to load bodies onto ships and [move them] between ships," Bambang Soelistyo told reporters.

Some vessels would search through the night, he added. "Tonight we are sending tug boats which should make the [body] transfers easier."

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Recovered bodies are being taken in numbered coffins to Surabaya for identification
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The huge search operation continued for a fifth day on Friday
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Once identified, remains of the crash victims are being released so relatives can hold funerals
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Some wreckage from the Airbus 320 has been retrieved, but the fuselage is still missing

After bodies are recovered from the sea they are transported in numbered coffins for identification in Surabaya, Indonesia's second largest city.

Four people have been identified so far: Hayati Lutfiah Hamid, Grayson Herbert Linaksita, Kevin Alexander Soetjipto and Khairunisa Haidar Fauzi.

Ms Fauzi was a flight attendant with AirAsia. A statement from the airline said the company's boss, Tony Fernandes, flew to Palembang - on the island of Sumatra - on Friday to officially hand over Ms Fauzi's remains and attended her burial.

Mr Fernandes earlier tweeted: "I cannot describe how I feel. There are no words."

Several pieces of debris have been recovered, including what is thought to be part of a wing flap.

Media captionThe BBC's Alice Budisatrijo in Surabaya: "Their main priority is just to get the bodies of their loved ones back"

The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes in Pangkalan Bun - the town in southern Borneo closest to the search area - says there is a growing sense among search teams that their task is going to be harder than initially thought.

Bad weather and churning seas have dashed hopes of finding the plane visually, he says, and teams will now be relying on scans of the sea floor.

Mr Soelistyo said wreckage and bodies were spread over a 5km area of the Java Sea.

The search is focused on an area of 1,575 nautical square miles off Borneo.

'Unbelievably steep climb'

There were 137 adult passengers, 17 children and one infant, along with two pilots and five crew, on the plane - the majority Indonesian.

Media captionKevin Khuana talks to the BBC about his friend Stephanie Gunawan, who was on board AirAsia QZ8501

Some investigators are reported to believe that the plane may have gone into an aerodynamic stall as the pilot climbed steeply to avoid a storm.

Officials have said the plane was travelling at 32,000ft when it requested to climb to 38,000ft to avoid bad weather.

When air traffic controllers consented to allow it to climb to 34,000ft a few minutes later, they got no reply.

A source quoted by Reuters said that radar data appeared to show that the aircraft's "unbelievably" steep climb may have been beyond the Airbus A320's limits.

However, the unnamed source emphasised that more information was needed before a definitive conclusion could be reached.

AirAsia previously had an excellent safety record, with no fatal accidents involving its aircraft.

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