Search for passengers still a priority: Indonesia

Search for passengers still a priority: Indonesia
Wreckage from AirAsia Flight QZ8501 being lifted onto the Crest Onyx ship yesterday. Only the tail of the plane has been found so far, with bad weather hampering search efforts. However, recovery teams have located two objects on the sea floor near the tail that could be the body of the plane.

PANGKALAN BUN - The Indonesian authorities have assured the families of those on board crashed Indonesia AirAsia Flight QZ8501 that the search for passengers remains a "priority", on a day when no bodies were found for the first time since recovery operations began.

Although greater attention has been placed on the black box, now that pings have been picked up and the plane's tail retrieved, the authorities stressed that they have not lost sight of the families waiting at the crisis centre in Surabaya for news of their loved ones.

"That's important because this is what families have been waiting for 14 days for, crying over when the bodies of their loved ones will arrive," said Mr S.B. Supriyadi, director of operations for Indonesian search agency Basarnas.

Only 48 bodies, or fewer than one-third of the 162 people on board, have been recovered since the Airbus A320-200 crashed into the Java Sea while flying from Surabaya to Singapore on the morning of Dec 28.

Two more bodies were identified yesterday, bringing the total number to 29.

"We are working to recover all passengers, whether dead or alive," Transport Minister Ignasius Jonan said yesterday while visiting relatives at the crisis centre.

Forensic experts, however, had earlier warned that bodies would be increasingly difficult to find once the second week passes.

Bodies float to the surface after a few days but will sink again, making them harder to spot from searching ships and planes as time passes.

One source of hope is the fuselage, which has yet to be found. Many more bodies are expected to be in it.

However, the authorities have so far been able to find only the tail of the plane, with bad weather hampering search efforts.

Recovery teams have located two objects on the sea floor near the tail that could be the body of the plane, said Mr Supriyadi yesterday.

Scans show that they are about 2km from where the tail was located.

"It seems like the body of the plane, but we can't assess how deep it has sunk into the seabed," he told reporters, adding that divers will be sent to assess the wreckage once the weather improves. He gave the assurance that the search for bodies will take place at the same time as more divers look for the black box.

It was confirmed yesterday that the black box had been detached from the tail where it is usually located, after the latter was retrieved.

Pings have been detected about 1km from where the tail was found.

Officials say the main challenges for divers are strong sea currents and low visibility.

chengwee@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Jan 11, 2015.
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