Missing flight QZ8501: Three bodies found strapped to row of seats

Missing flight QZ8501: Three bodies found strapped to row of seats
The recovery team from the USS Sampson hauling two airline seats out of the Java Sea on Sunday. There is still no sign of the crucial black box recorders, but the tail of the plane may have been found.

Rescuers have recovered three bodies strapped to the same row of seats on Indonesia AirAsia Flight QZ8501 as the Indonesian authorities expanded their search area to look for more victims and wreckage from the Dec 28 crash.

Search and rescue agency Basarnas yesterday increased the surface search area by another 65 nautical miles east, to 295 nautical miles, to account for the direction of the waves.

Explaining the decision, Basarnas' director of operations, Mr S. B. Supriyadi, told reporters that strong currents could carry debris and bodies in a south-east direction, towards the south of Banjarmasin, the capital of south Kalimantan.

On the three bodies strapped to a row of seats, he said: "The impact must have knocked the chairs off the plane's floor.

"The bodies were found floating because of the sponge in the chairs."

It is uncertain in which part of the plane they were seated, although Mr Supriyadi said AirAsia's analysis suggested that they could be from the front row on the left side of the plane.

The three victims - who were recovered by Malaysian vessel KD Kasturi and flown later in the day to Surabaya - brought the total number of bodies found to 37 as the search enters its 10th day today.

But the figure represents less than a quarter of the 162 passengers and crew on the ill-fated flight as a multinational search involving ships and aircraft has been hampered by almost day after day of rough weather and choppy seas.

There is still no sign of the crucial black box recorders, although officials yesterday said an Indonesian naval patrol vessel has found what could be the tail of the plane.

That is the section where the voice and flight data recorders, which are needed to determine the cause of the crash, are located.

"We found what has a high probability of being the tail of the plane," said the captain of the patrol vessel Yayan Sofyan, after his ship returned to port in Surabaya yesterday.

But Basarnas chief Bambang Soelistyo cautioned against raising hopes unnecessarily.

"I am not saying it's the tail yet," he told a news conference yesterday. "That is suspected. Now we are trying to confirm it."

It has been a trying period for the rescue teams, which are hoping for better weather in the days ahead.

Indonesian Air Force helicopter pilot Joko Subroto has been flying out to sea from Pangkalan Bun about twice a day, but the monsoon season means that heavy rain has reduced visibility to less than 500m most of the time.

"I really hope we can complete our task soon, so that we can bring some relief to the families who are waiting," he told The Straits Times.

"The rain has made things difficult but we keep trying. Only God controls the weather."

This article was first published on January 6, 2015.
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