PANGKALAN BUN, Indonesia: Indonesian authorities said Sunday they may have tracked down the crucial black box recorders of an AirAsia plane that crashed into the sea two weeks ago, killing all 162 people on board.
Strong ping signals were being picked up by three vessels involved in the search in the Java Sea, S.B Supriyadi, a director with the National Search and Rescue Agency, told reporters.
Those signals are coming from the seabed less than one kilometer from where the tail of the plane was found, Malaysian Navy chief Abdul Aziz Jaafar said in a post on Twitter. Malaysia’s Navy is helping in the search.
But Supriyadi said powerful currents had again frustrated military divers in their search and they had to call off their efforts before sunset without reaching the origin of the signals, about 30 meters underwater.
“We sent divers to three spots, and they went down twice, but there is no result. They couldn’t find anything. The undercurrent was very strong,” Supriyadi said.
The Indonesian meteorological agency has said stormy weather likely caused the Airbus A320-200 to crash as it flew from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore.
But a definitive answer is impossible without the black boxes, which should contain the pilots’ final words as well as various flight data.
Time is running out to find the boxes by tracking the signals, as their batteries for the pings are expected to run out after about 30 days.
Supriyadi said an object believed to be the main body of the plane had also been detected close to the area from where the pings were emanating.
The search efforts, which have involved US, Chinese and other foreign naval ships, has recovered just 48 bodies.
Supriyadi said many bodies were believed to be trapped in the cabin, so reaching that part of the wreckage was also a top priority.
The tail of the plane, with its red AirAsia logo, was lifted out of the water on Saturday using giant balloons and a crane.
It was brought by tugboat on Sunday to a port near the search headquarters, at Pangkalan Bun town on Borneo island.
All but seven of those on board were Indonesian.
The bodies of a South Korean couple were identified on Sunday, but their 11-month-old baby remains unaccounted for, Indonesian authorities said.
The other foreigners were one Singaporean, one Malaysian, one Briton and a Frenchman—co-pilot Remi Plesel. Their bodies have not been recovered.
While the cause of the crash is unknown, the disaster has once again placed Indonesia’s chaotic aviation industry under scrutiny.