JAKARTA - Transport Minister Ignasius Jonan stressed that recovering the victims of Indonesia AirAsia Flight QZ8501 was more important than searching for the aircraft's black box.
"The ongoing search for the aircraft's black box is not the primary thing, but the retrieval of its passengers is more important," he said at the crisis centre at the East Java Police Headquarters in Surabaya on Saturday.
The Indonesian minister said that in line with President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's instructions, the search for victims would continue indefinitely.
"The National Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas) team will not stop searching for the victims and will continue focusing on the search for the victims, dead or alive," he said as quoted by Antara news agency.
During the visit, the minister also met relatives of victims whose bodies have yet to be found or recovered, and asked for their support in the search for the 114 remaining victims.
Basarnas has deployed a number of war vessels in an operation led by Indonesian Military commander Gen Moeldoko to search for the aircraft's black box, following the detection and hoisting of the plane's tail section on Saturday.
Asked about the huge amount of funds needed to finance the search and rescue effort, Jonan said the operation would be fully covered by the state budget.
"The funds are from the state budget but only the finance minister knows the amount," he said.
The minister also said the search area had been expanded day by day to find all the victims, whether dead or alive.
He added that he had asked Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Padjiastuti to help in the search for victims in areas close to the crash site.
"I have asked Bu Susi to help coordinate with fishermen to search for the victims when they are fishing," Jonan added.
The tail of Flight QZ8501 that crashed into the Java Sea was lifted to the surface using floating balloons, but apparently without the crucial black box recorders, Indonesian authorities said. The black boxes, which are crucial to explaining the disaster as they should contain the pilots' final words as well as various flight data, had likely been dislodged from the tail.
The Airbus jet, carrying 162 people, went down in stormy weather on Dec 28 as it flew from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore.