PANGKALAN BUN - Indonesian navy divers took advantage of calm weather in the Java Sea on Monday as they attempted to retrieve the black box flight recorders of an AirAsia airliner that crashed two weeks ago, killing all 162 people on board.
Indonesia AirAsia Flight QZ8501 lost contact with air traffic control in bad weather on Dec. 28, less than halfway into a two-hour flight from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore.
Search teams at the weekend believed they had found the aircraft's fuselage and that the two black boxes were likely nearby. However, strong winds, currents and high waves on Sunday hampered efforts to reach the suspected wreckage.
Weather officials said conditions were favourable for search efforts on Monday morning but could turn poor in the afternoon, giving divers just a few hours to work. "(The divers) began diving very early in the morning to take advantage of the weather," Supriyadi, operations coordinator for the National Search and Rescue Agency, told Reuters in the town of Pangkalan Bun, the base for the search effort on Borneo.
Forty-eight bodies have been retrieved from the Java Sea and searchers believe more will be found in the plane's fuselage.
Three vessels involved in the search have detected pings, believed to be from the black boxes, about 4 km (2 miles) from where the plane's tail was raised on Saturday, in water about 30 metres (100 feet) deep.
Tonny Budiono, a navigation director for the transport ministry, said on Sunday divers had found the location of the black box and planned to gradually shift layers of the aircraft debris to retrieve it on Monday.
If that failed, teams would lift the debris using large balloons, the same technique used to lift the tail section.
Once the recorders are retrieved and taken to the capital, Jakarta, for analysis, it could take up to two weeks to download data, investigators said. However, the information could be accessed in as little as two days if the devices are not badly damaged.
The cause of the crash is not known but the national weather bureau has said seasonal storms were likely to be a factor.
Indonesia AirAsia, 49 per cent owned by the Malaysia-based AirAsia budget group, has come under pressure from authorities in Jakarta since the crash.
President Joko Widodo said the crash exposed widespread problems in the management of air transportation in Indonesia.
The transport ministry has suspended the carrier's Surabaya-Singapore licence for flying on a Sunday, for which it did not have permission. However, the ministry has said this had no bearing on the crash of Flight QZ8501.