PANGKALAN BUN/JAKARTA - Search teams including divers took advantage of a let-up in bad weather on Tuesday to try to reach the wreckage of an AirAsia jet that crashed nine days ago, and to recover bodies and find its black box flight recorders.
Indonesian officials believe they may have located the tail and parts of the fuselage of the Airbus A320-200 at the bottom of the Java Sea, but strong currents, high winds and big waves have hindered attempts to investigate the debris.
Flight QZ8501 plunged into the water off Borneo island on Dec 28, about 40 minutes into a two-hour flight from Indonesia's second-biggest city of Surabaya to Singapore. There were no survivors among the 162 people on board.
Jakarta has launched a crackdown on its fast-growing aviation sector since the crash, reassigning some officials and tightening rules on pre-flight procedures in a country with a patchy reputation for air safety. "Today's weather is friendly, the team can work," the head of Indonesia's search and rescue agency, Fransiskus Bambang Soelistyo, told a news conference in Jakarta.
Soelistyo said the multinational air and sea operation had two objectives: to recover bodies and wreckage floating in an ever-widening search area in the northern Java Sea, and to find wreckage and the plane's black box on the ocean floor.
The latter effort is focused on an area about 90 nautical miles off Borneo, where ships using sonar have located five large objects believed to be parts of the plane - the largest about 18m long - in shallow water.
The captain of an Indonesian navy patrol vessel said on Monday his ship had found what was believed to be the tail - a key find since that section of the aircraft houses the cockpit voice and flight data recorders - but Soelistyo said that could not be confirmed.
Only 37 bodies of the mostly Indonesian passengers and crew have been recovered. Many more could still be trapped in the fuselage of the aircraft. "Why are we trying to search the big parts of wreckage? Because there might be the possibility that there are still victims in the body of the plane," said Soelistyo.
Some divers were in action, and five ships were scouring the sea floor with acoustic "pinger" detectors designed to pick up signals emitted by the black box, he said.