Indonesia's civilian National Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas) will continue to look for the wreckage of AirAsia Flight QZ8510 and remaining bodies on Saturday, after the military withdrew from joint search and recovery efforts a month after the crash.
By law, operations will be reviewed after seven days if no bodies are found, and Basarnas will have to consult with related parties on whether to continue with the search. "The pullout of the military... has no relation to the ceasing of our search operations," said Basarnas chief Bambang Soelistyo yesterday, adding that this will not weaken the quality of the search.
The agency will resume operations on Saturday after divers are rested and ships, which have been at sea for 30 days, are restocked.
The military on Tuesday night said it was pulling out from the Basarnas-led efforts to salvage the Airbus A320. The plane vanished from radar screens last Dec 28, less than halfway into its flight from Surabaya to Singapore.
All except seven of the 162 people on board were Indonesians. The foreigners were three Koreans, one Singaporean, one Malaysian, one Briton and a Frenchman - co-pilot Remi Plesel.
So far, 70 bodies have been found.
Military divers did not locate any bodies for the past two days amid four failed attempts to lift the fuselage. Bad weather, strong currents and poor visibility have hampered efforts.
China, France, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and the United States were part of the multinational search and rescue operation after the crash.
Basarnas is deploying new boats with underwater devices to the mission. From Saturday, the mission area will be focused on a 25 nautical sq mile zone, with nine coordinates of possible wreckage, including the confirmed location of the fuselage. The plane's cockpit is suspected to be at one of the nine coordinates.
Of the 60 divers, 20 are from the oil and gas regulator SKK Migas; they do offshore and undersea drilling work and can dive deeper and for longer. Eight salvage experts will be on hand.
"We hope that… because more than half remain missing, that they can be found as soon as possible.... we hope the weather will be kind," said Mr Lukas Joko, a relative of missing passenger Nanang Prijowidodo.
Some 55 bodies have been identified, said Dr Anton Castilani, chief of the disaster victims identification unit in Surabaya. He was at yesterday's press conference in Jakarta.
Some analysts have criticised the search teams for considering leaving the wreckage underwater after the search for bodies is over.
AirAsia Indonesia's director of safety, Captain Achmad Sadikin, yesterday said the carrier has left it to the National Transportation Safety Committee (NTSC) to decide what is best as it is leading the investigations.
He refused to comment on speculation that the plane had faulty parts before take-off.
"We wish to state we have fulfilled all conditions in accordance with the law. Even if there is a defect, we have to wait for NTSC's report," he said.
The NTSC is to submit today its preliminary report on the crash to the International Civil Aviation Organisation and related parties, but will not publicise it.
This article was first published on January 29, 2015.
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