Bad weather hampers search for black box

Recovery teams, thwarted by strong currents and poor visibility under water, came up empty as they struggled to find the crucial black box flight data and voice recorders of Indonesia AirAsia Flight QZ8501 yesterday.

Their mission became more focused after divers confirmed that the plane's tail - where the recorders are housed - was lodged in the seabed the day before.

The Straits Times understands that the plan today is to try to hoist the tail up, by attaching balloons to bring it to the surface. A crane will lift it onto a vessel.

But officials caution that it is a complicated procedure which requires detailed planning - and good weather.

Yesterday, Indonesian authorities continued to take a strong stand against officials found to be involved in issuing illegal permits for flights, recommending that the culprits be sacked.

Finding and retrieving the black box is a top priority for officials, who hope it could provide clues on why the Airbus A320-200 with 162 people on board crashed while flying from Surabaya to Singapore on Dec 28.

Indonesia's chief of armed forces, General Moeldoko, headed out to the search area for the second time in three days, saying he wanted to "personally lead the retrieval of the airplane tail".

The plan was to send divers first to check if the black box is in place or if it has been detached. But progress was hampered by strong undersea currents and poor visibility.

"Divers reached the tail part but... the visibility was below 1m, so they only managed to retrieve various debris," said the chief of Indonesia's search agency Basarnas, Mr Bambang Soelistyo.

Three more bodies were recovered by vessels, bringing the total number to 43. Many of the other bodies are believed to be still in the fuselage.

The crash of Flight QZ8501 has triggered a crackdown on errant aviation officials and airlines.

The Indonesian government has charged AirAsia with flying on a Sunday - when the plane crashed - when it had no permit to do so. AirAsia has denied deliberately flouting the rules.

Several officials have already been suspended over the matter, but Administrative and Bureaucratic Reform Minister Yuddy Chrisnandi yesterday said officials involved in issuing the illegal flight permit for AirAsia for the Surabaya-Singapore route should be sacked.

Separately, the Financial Services Authority regional office opened a service post yesterday to help families of QZ8501 victims with mediation and insurance claims.

With the search closing in on the plane, Mr Soelistyo said foreign resources that have been helping to scour for the wreckage will be reduced, to keep the mission "effective". Two Japanese ships will depart the mission today, he added.

This article was first published on Jan 09, 2015.
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