Indonesia vows 'all-out effort' in search for AirAsia victims
PANGKALAN BUN, Indonesia – Indonesian searchers promised an "all-out effort" Thursday, January 1, to locate bodies from AirAsia Flight QZ8501 as international investigators joined the hunt for the ill-fated plane.
Seven bodies have so far been retrieved in the search for the Airbus A320-200, which crashed into the Java Sea with 162 people on board during a storm Sunday en route from Indonesia's second city of Surabaya to Singapore.
Two of the dead – one male and one female – have been identified and will be handed over to relatives after formal confirmation Thursday, police said.
Rough weather Wednesday hampered efforts to locate and retrieve more bodies from the sea off the island of Borneo, but conditions improved briefly Thursday morning.
"The weather is clear today. We're making an all-out effort to search for bodies and locate the fuselage," search and rescue official Sunarbowo Sandi told Agence France-Presse (AFP) from Pangkalan Bun, a town on Borneo with the nearest airstrip to the crash site.
The weather worsened in the afternoon, with heavy rain grounding helicopters, but ships and other vessels were continuing operations, said S.B. Supriyadi, another search and rescue official.
Sandi said foreign experts would join Indonesian transport safety investigators in the search for the wreckage and the black boxes, which are crucial to determining the cause of the crash.
"Ten investigators from the national transport safety committee (KNKT) along with two French and two Singapore investigators will join the search today to locate the fuselage," he said.
"We hope that an underwater beacon will be able to detect the weak signal transmitted by the ELT (emergency locator transmitter)," he added.
The transmitter sends a signal supposed to help rescuers find a plane in the event of an accident.
Dozens of navy frogmen and search-and-rescue divers were in the area and ready to go once the fuselage was located, Sandi told AFP.
The plane is believed to be in relatively shallow water of around 25-32 meters (82-105 feet).
KNKT air safety investigator Toos Sanitioso told AFP they "hope optimistically" to find the plane in the near future but warned it could take at least a week.
"The most important thing is to find the main wreckage first and within that wreckage, we should be able to find the black box," he said.
'First bodies identified'
A US State Department official said Washington would continue to work closely "with technical experts in Indonesia and US Defense Department officials to see how else we can help".
Washington has deployed the destroyer USS Sampson to help with the search, with a second vessel due to join ships and planes from Australia, Singapore, South Korea and Malaysia already helping Indonesia.
National Search and Rescue Agency chief Bambang Soelistyo said Wednesday the fuselage had not yet been found, denying reports that sonar imagery showed the aircraft on the seabed.
During searches Tuesday, which retrieved wreckage giving the first confirmation that the flight had crashed, an air force plane had seen a "shadow" on the seabed believed to be the missing plane. All efforts are now being concentrated there.
Debris found so far includes an exit door, an emergency slide and several suitcases.
Four more bodies in numbered white coffins arrived at Surabaya airport Thursday, where they were carried by military personnel wearing white gloves and face masks.
The coffins were placed in waiting ambulances to be taken to a local hospital which has facilities to store 150 bodies. The two identified dead have already been transferred there.
Police have taken DNA samples and medical data from dozens of relatives of the victims to aid in identification of the bodies, one of whom was a woman in cabin crew uniform.
President Joko Widodo has promised "a massive search" effort, with priority given to recovering bodies.
Before take-off the pilot had asked for permission to fly at a higher altitude to avoid a storm. But his request was not approved due to other planes above him on the popular route, according to AirNav, Indonesia's air traffic control.
In his last communication, the pilot said he wanted to change course to avoid the menacing storm system. Then all contact was lost, about 40 minutes after the plane had taken off.
The missing plane was operated by AirAsia Indonesia, a unit of Malaysia-based AirAsia, which previously had a solid safety record.
Of the 162 passengers and crew on board Flight QZ8501, 155 were Indonesian.
The crash came at the end of a disastrous year for Malaysian air travel.
After the disappearance of Flight MH370 in March, en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 passengers and crew, another Malaysia Airlines flight – MH17 – was shot down over Ukraine in July, killing all 298 on board. – Rappler.com