Bad Weather Stalls AirAsia Wreckage Search; Seven Bodies Recovered

Bad Weather Stalls AirAsia Wreckage Search; Seven Bodies Recovered

By Shashank Bengali and Ahmad Pathoni, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Fighting high winds and choppy waves, recovery teams lifted seven bodies from Indonesian waters Wednesday as naval officials reportedly obtained the first sonar image showing a crashed Indonesia AirAsia jet lying upside down under the sea.

A day after officials confirmed that debris in the Java Sea belonged to Flight 8501, the recovery effort accelerated but was hampered by rough weather similar to what the ill-fated jet encountered on its flight to Singapore on Sunday with 162 people aboard.

“The waves are three meters high (about ten feet) and the wind is 20-24 nautical miles per hour,” Col. Yayan Sofyan, an Indonesian navy officer aboard the Bung Tomo ship, told Metro TV.

“This situation is making it difficult for evacuation.”

Wet conditions and low visibility — common during the ongoing monsoon season in Southeast Asia — have grounded many of the helicopters participating in the multi-nation recovery effort, officials said. Plans to deploy deep-sea “frogmen” divers were scuttled due to “the weather, strong winds and high seas,” said Air Vice Marshal Sunarbowo Sandy, a search official.

Meteorologists said that winds could increase on Thursday to as high as 50 mph, possibly prolonging the agonizing wait for relatives who had gathered in the Indonesian city of Surabaya, the flight’s originating point, to identify bodies.

Early Wednesday, recovery crews pulled the body of a flight attendant, identified as Khairunnisa, still clad in AirAsia’s signature bright red uniform. (Many Indonesians go by only one name.) Two others also had been identified through personal information found on their bodies but the others had not yet been named, Yayan said.

A total of four men and three women were recovered, their bodies intact, search chief Bambang Soelistyo said.

By dusk, five of the seven bodies were still aboard ships in the Java Sea because it was too windy for helicopters to transport them to land.

Two bodies reached the airport in Surabaya in simple caskets bearing cards with the numbers “001” and “002.” A military honor guard solemnly marched the caskets across the tarmac and placed them inside waiting hearses.

There were conflicting reports about whether one of the bodies was found in life jacket, which could have indicated that some passengers knew the flight was in danger., an Indonesian website, quoted a search official as saying a man’s body was found near a life jacket but not wearing it.

Experts said the majority of the 155 passengers and seven crew members likely would not be recovered until dive teams could access the plane’s fuselage because they were likely still strapped into their seats. The pilot would have ordered all aboard to wear seat belts as the aircraft ran into a severe thunderstorm and turbulence less than halfway through the two-hour flight to Singapore, experts said.

“The fact that six or seven bodies have floated to the surface and been recovered could indicate a number of things — that they weren’t strapped in, or their seats may have broken up in the crash and that freed them,” said Geoffrey Thomas, editor in chief of, an airline safety website.

According to multiple reports, an Indonesian navy ship on Wednesday obtained a sonar image of what was believed to be the body of the Airbus A330-200 underwater. The news website reported that the image showed the plane upside down in about 100 feet of water off Indonesia’s Borneo island.

On Tuesday, search officials said surveillance planes had seen “an object that formed a shadow under the sea in the shape of an aircraft,” suggesting much of the plane’s body could be in one piece at the bottom of the Java Sea, which has an average depth of about 150 feet.

AirAsia Chief Executive Tony Fernandes did not confirm that the fuselage had been found and urged patience as the recovery operation progressed.

“There are a lot of rumors going around,” Fernandes told a news conference. “I can confirm that I think the search-and-rescue team has been doing a fantastic job. The weather is not looking good for the next two or three days. The ships are going to operate 24 hours.”

AFP Photo/ Juni Kriswanto

Bodies Recovered In Search For Missing AirAsia Flight

Bodies Recovered In Search For Missing AirAsia Flight

By Shashank Bengali and Ahmad Pathoni, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Searchers recovered bodies from the Java Sea on Tuesday and found what officials said wreckage from Indonesia AirAsia Flight 8501 as the three-day mystery over the plane’s whereabouts reached a heartbreaking resolution for the families of 162 people aboard.

“I am absolutely devastated,” Tony Fernandes, AirAsia’s chief executive, said in a statement.

“This is a very difficult moment for all of us at AirAsia as we await further developments of the search-and-rescue operations but our first priority now is the well-being of the family members of those on board QZ8501,” he said.

AirAsia said debris belonging to its aircraft was found in the Karimata Strait — between Singapore and Indonesia — about 110 nautical miles southwest of Pangkalan Bun, on the southern edge of Borneo island.

The debris was about six miles from the last known location of the aircraft, which lost contact Sunday morning while flying in heavy thunderstorms to Singapore from Surabaya, Indonesia.

“It’s confirmed 100 percent that debris found in the sea are parts of the AirAsia plane,” search chief Bambang Soelistyo said.

Relatives who had huddled and prayed since Sunday at the international airport in Surayaba broke down and wept as television images showed rescuers being lowered into the Java Sea to retrieve swollen bodies floating at the water’s surface.

AirAsia said it would bring counselors and religious and spiritual personnel to the crisis center it has set up at the Surabaya airport to help the grieving families.

There were seven crew members and 155 passengers on board, including 137 adults, 17 children and one infant, the airline said. Almost all were Indonesians.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, speaking at the Surabaya airport, said, “I feel the loss and we all pray that all the families be given strength in this trying time.”

Widodo said that ships and aircraft on Wednesday would continue a large-scale search operation to locate and retrieve the remaining bodies.

“The focus should be to evacuate the passengers and the crew,” he said.

Indonesian planes involved in the search operation saw “an object that formed a shadow under the sea in the shape of an aircraft,” Bambang, the head of Indonesia’s National Search and Rescue Agency, said during a news conference in Jakarta.

Indonesia’s TV One said six bodies were spotted and three retrieved by search teams in the waters between the islands of Sumatra and Borneo. The bodies were being taken by the Indonesian military to Banjarmasin, a port on the southern edge of Borneo, news media reported.

Officials at Singapore’s Changi International Airport issued a Twitter statement saying, “We are saddened to hear the latest news of #QZ8501. We are working closely with AirAsia on travel arrangements for the next-of-kin.”

Ships and aircraft from at least five countries have been searching across tens of thousands of square miles of sea and land between Indonesia and Singapore since Sunday.

A San Diego-based U.S. Navy destroyer, the Sampson, was heading toward the Java Sea and due to arrive later Tuesday to assist in the search-and-recovery effort.

Photo: Families of the passengers of AirAsia flight QZ8501 wait for news at Surabaya International Airport on Dec. 29, 2014 in Surabaya, Indonesia. The missing AirAsia Indonesia flight QZ8501 is likely to be at the bottom of the sea, the head of Indonesia’s search-and-rescue agency has said. (Imago/ZUMA Press/TNS)