PANGKALAN BUN: Recovery teams made patchy progress Tuesday in the search for bodies from the wreckage of AirAsia Flight 8501, finding the remains of just two more victims on the tenth day of operations.
Hindered by rough seas, the teams have found fewer than 40 bodies since the plane crashed during a storm early on December 28, carrying 162 people from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore.
Recovery workers are also yet to find the “black box” flight data recorders, crucial to determining the cause of the crash, although they say they have located five major parts of the plane on the seabed including a “suspected tail” — where flight recorders are usually housed.
Divers were sent down to the sea floor earlier in the day but poor conditions again hampered their operations, according to search official S.B. Supriyadi.
“Divers haven’t managed to get close to the large parts of the plane so far,” he told AFP from Pangkalan Bun, a town on Borneo island with the nearest airstrip to the wreckage.
Search and rescue agency chief Bambang Soelistyo told reporters in Jakarta that along with two more bodies, US ships assisting the search with sonar equipment detected two pieces of metal on Monday that may belong to the plane.
The operation has prioritised finding the bodies of the victims, all but seven of whom were Indonesian. All of the bodies found so far were spotted floating on the sea’s surface, some still strapped into their seats, according to officials.
The bodies found on Tuesday brought the total recovered to 39, despite an extension to the area of sea being searched in the belief that debris and bodies may have drifted in strong currents.
Indonesian navy commander Yayan Sofyan, whose warship Bung Tomo was the first to find debris last week, described to AFP some of the everyday objects they had recovered.
“We found backpacks, suitcases, shoes, a chair for a baby,” he said, adding that the search teams were determined to overcome the monsoon season weather to find more bodies.
“In our mind we just want to get the victims reunited with the rest of their families.”
Indonesia has ordered the suspension of aviation officials involved in the departure of the flight. It says the flight operated by AirAsia Indonesia was flying on an unauthorised schedule when it crashed.
The airline, a unit of Malaysia-based AirAsia, has been suspended from flying the Surabaya-Singapore route — although Singapore officials said they had given permission for the flight at their end.
Indonesia’s transport ministry also promised action against any domestic airlines violating their flying permits in the country, which has a patchy aviation safety record.
AirAsia has declined to comment until investigations into its operations are completed.
The Indonesian meteorological agency BMKG has said weather was the “triggering factor” of the crash, with ice likely damaging the plane’s engines.
The initial report by BMKG into the likely cause referred to infra-red satellite pictures that showed the plane was passing through clouds with temperatures of minus 80 to minus 85 degrees Celsius.
But it remained unclear why other planes on similar routes were unaffected by the weather, and other analysts said there was not enough information to explain the disaster until the flight recorders were recovered.
In Surabaya, which was home to a number of the victims, a crisis centre has been up for identifying bodies and wakes have been held as they are returned to relatives.
Eric Edi Santo lost his aunt and five other family members, but so far only two of their bodies have been found. He was holding out hope for the others.
“They died so tragically, at least I want them to have a proper burial,” he said.