JAKARTA (dpa) – The search for the flight recorders and fuselage of the AirAsia plane that crashed off Indonesia with 162 people on board was in full swing Friday, as weather improved five days after the accident.
A US navy Seahawk helicopter unloaded eight of the bodies in Pangkalan Bun, a town in Central Kalimantan province, after they were retrived from the sea by a US navy ship, Suyadi Supriyadi, the search operations director, told reporters.
The remaining four bodies were still on the US ship, he said.
“We are prioritising finding the main body of the aircraft and location of the flight recorders,” said Bambang Sulistyo, the head of the National Search and Rescue Agency.
Ships equipped with sonar technology and signal detectors were scouring an area of 1,575 square nautical miles (approximately 5,400 square kilometres), Bambang said.
At least three Indonesian ships were in the area, as well as one from Singapore, and one from the United States. Divers from the Indonesian Navy were also involved in the search.
“We hope we will get more significant results today,” he told reporters.
The cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder, also known as black boxes, are key to shedding light on what went wrong with the flight, which was AirAsia’s first fatal crash.
The head of Indonesia’s National Transport Safety Committee, Tatang Kurniadi, said five hydrophones were ready to be deployed to detect acoustic signals underwater.
Two of the hydrophones were from Singapore and one from Britain, hesaid.
“We are racing against time,” Tatang said. “The signal lasts only 30 days and if the signal is dead, we will have to use remotely operated vehicles to locate them, which will be more difficult.”
Hydrophones will not work effectively during high seas because of the extra noise, he said, as weather conditions improved around the search area.
“This morning weather is quite good but there’s still light rain,” Bambang said early in the day.
Seventeen aircraft and 29 ships were taking part in the wider search, he said.
The remains of the victims will be transported to Surabaya, where the AirAsia Indonesia flight departed, for identification. The first victim officially identified was passenger Hayati Lutfiah Hamid, who was buried by her family on Thursday.
Three more victims were identified Friday, including flight attendant Khairunnisa Haidar Fauzi and Kevin Alexander, an Indonesian student at Monash University in Australia.
Their remains were handed over to their families in a solemn ceremony in Surabaya.
AirAsia chief executive said in a message on Twitter that he would accompany the remains of Khairunnisa to her home in Palembang in South Sumatra province.
“I cannot describe how I feel. There are no words,” he tweeted.
Flight QZ8501 crashed Sunday halfway through a two-hour flight between Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-largest city, and Singapore.
The Airbus A320-200 last made contact with air traffic control in Jakarta to request permission to ascend to avoid bad weather.
When air traffic control contacted the plane a few minutes later to tell the pilots that they could make a limited ascent, there was no response.
AirAsia said 155 of the people on board were Indonesians. The others included three from South Korea, and one each from Singapore, Malaysia, France and Britain.