JAKARTA - Indonesia's National Search and Rescue Agency chief said Tuesday that just three bodies had been recovered so far in the search for the AirAsia plane which crashed in the Java Sea, after another official said 40 had been found.
"Today we evacuated three bodies and they are now in the warship Bung Tomo," Bambang Soelistyo told a news conference in Jakarta, adding that they were two females and one male.
Navy spokesman Manahan Simorangkir told AFP earlier that according to naval radio a warship had recovered more than 40 bodies from the sea. But he later said that report was a miscommunication by his staff.
The hunt for a missing AirAsia passenger plane appeared at an end Tuesday as wreckage and bodies were spotted at sea off Indonesia, prompting raw scenes of emotion from sobbing relatives of the 162 people aboard.
The Airbus A320-200 disappeared en route from Indonesia's second largest city Surabaya to Singapore during a storm early Sunday.
All indications now are that it crashed in the Java Sea southwest of the island of Borneo, with debris including an exit door, a blue suitcase and bodies retrieved from the area.
An air force plane saw a "shadow" on the seabed believed to be that of the missing Flight QZ8501, National Search and Rescue Agency chief Bambang Soelistyo told a news conference in Jakarta.
Relatives of the missing hugged each other and burst into tears in Surabaya as they watched footage of one body floating in the sea on a television feed of Soelistyo's press conference.
'I cannot bring him back to life'
AirAsia's flamboyant chief executive Tony Fernandes expressed his grief over the first fatal incident to hit the region's biggest budget airline.
"My heart is filled with sadness for all the families involved in QZ 8501," Fernandes said on Twitter, before rushing to Surabaya.
Initial news of the debris dimmed the faint hopes of relatives.
"If that news is true, what can I do? I cannot bring him back to life," said Dwijanto, 60, whose son was on the plane along with five colleagues.
"My heart will be totally crushed if it's true. I will lose a son," he said.
President Joko Widodo praised the search teams and said three warships were heading to the location.
"I would like to thank our close friends, the countries who have helped the search from Singapore, Malaysia and Australia," he said.
"And for the families of the passengers and crew, I also feel the loss from this tragedy and we all pray for the families to be given fortitude and strength to face this tragedy," he said at a brief appearance in Surabaya between meeting relatives.
Search halted on Dec 30 due to bad weather
Search chief Soelistyo said all efforts were now being concentrated on the location where the "shadow" and debris had been found, around 160 kilometres (100 miles) southwest of the town of Pangkalan Bun in Central Kalimantan on Borneo island.
The town has the nearest airstrip and is not far from the plane's last known position.
"Tomorrow there will be a massive search by the ships and helicopters," he said after flying over the area and visiting Pangkalan Bun.
However, this evening's (Dec 30) search was hampered due to bad weather, said Indonesia's National Search and Rescue Agency during a late press conference on Tuesday.
The agency's chief Mr Soelistyo said in a press conference in Jakarta that the main challenge in the recovery process is the 2- to 3-metre-high waves.
"We will resume evacuation process even late tonight as long as high tides subside. We will use flare lights," he said.
"Bodies evacuated will be brought to Pangkalan Bun, then we will put them in body bags then transport them to Surabaya for identification," he added.