Indonesian search officials sent divers down to the bed of the Java Sea during a break in bad weather on Tuesday in hopes of recovering more bodies from the wreckage of AirAsia Flight QZ 8501.
Recovery teams, hampered by rough seas, have found fewer than 40 bodies since the plane crashed on December 28 2015, carrying 162 people from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore.
“Some divers have started to dive to the seabed,” search and rescue agency chief Bambang Soelistyo told reporters on the tenth day of the major search involving several countries.
The recovery teams have yet to find the “black box” flight data recorders, crucial to determining the cause of the crash, although they have located five major parts of the plane on the seabed including a “suspected tail” – where flight recorders are usually housed.
The operation has prioritised finding the bodies of the victims, all but seven of whom were Indonesian. Some bodies were found still strapped into their seats.
The number recovered still stood at 37 on Tuesday, another search official, S.B. Supriyadi, told AFP from Pangkalan Bun, a town on Borneo island with the nearest airstrip to the wreckage.
Recovery teams have recently expanded the area of sea being combed for bodies and wreckage, believing bodies may have drifted in strong currents.
Indonesia has also ordered the suspension of aviation officials involved in the departure of the flight. It says the crash happened when AirAsia was flying on an unauthorised schedule.
AirAsia Indonesia, a unit of Malaysia-based AirAsia, has already 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.
Indonesia’s meterological 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 of the crash referred to infra-red satellite pictures that showed the plane was passing through clouds with top 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. – AFP