Four more bodies and a fifth large object belonging to the crashed AirAsia jet were retrieved from the Java Sea on Sunday as rescuers battled bad weather in their efforts to reach the fuselage believed to contain the remaining victims, besides the crucial black box.
Searchers continued their hunt for more bodies and the wreckage of the Singapore-bound AirAsia Flight QZ8501 carrying 162 people for the eighth day, even as Indonesia's meteorological agency said extreme bad weather was the "triggering factor" behind the crash.
At least four more bodies were recovered on Sunday, taking the total count to 34. Singapore navy vessel RSS Persistence had recovered one body, while US navy ship USS Sampson had brought three more back to the Indonesian town of Pangkalan Bun.
A pinger locator was deployed on Sunday to find the black box of the plane to determine the cause of the fatal crash.
A fifth object, measuring 9.8 metres by 1.1 metres, was located on the seabed, search and rescue chief Bambang Soelistyo said.
The developments come a day after four large metal objects were located on the seabed amid reports that the plane was flying on an unauthorised schedule when it crashed.There were hopes the weather would improve on Sunday, but conditions once again hampered efforts to find the plane's main wreckage.
Bags containing bodies of the passengers of AirAsia Flight 8501 are lifted onto Indonesian navy vessel KRI Banda Aceh at sea off the coast of Pangkalan Bun, Indonesia. (AP Photo)
Dozens of divers from Indonesia and Russia have been deployed to the search area, which has been enlarged to allow for tides sweeping bodies and debris further afield.
They attempted to survey more of the seabed today but "visibility at the sea bottom was zero," Soelistyo said.
Remotely operated cameras were also being used to try to photograph the objects, but waves up to 5 metres high and strong currents made their use difficult.
National search and rescue deputy chief Tatang Zainudin said: "We are racing with time and weather in running this mission."
Officials believe many of the remaining 128 passengers and crew are still strapped to their seats and efforts have focussed on locating the fuselage of the ill-fated Airbus A320-200.
There were 20 aircraft and 27 ships deployed on Sunday for combing the waters for the victims and wreckage of the aircraft, officials from Indonesia's national search and rescue agency BASARNAS said.
According to a report on the website of Indonesia's meteorological agency BMKG, weather was the "triggering factor" in the crash.
"The most probable weather phenomenon was icing which can cause engine damage due to a cooling process. This is just one of the possibilities that occurred based on the analysis of existing meteorological data," the report said.
Investigators are focusing on autopsies of recovered bodies to ascertain what happened to the plane, though some of the victims' families did not approve of autopsies, media reports said.
The Indonesian authorities said AirAsia had violated the terms of its licence for the Surabaya to Singapore route by flying on a Sunday, the day the aircraft plunged into the Java Sea. The authorities would also probe the carrier's other schedules.
The AirAsia plane was not permitted to fly the Surabaya-Singapore route on Sundays.
However, Singapore said it had approved the Surabaya-Singapore route for AirAsia flights on Sundays after the low-cost carrier's permit was frozen by Indonesia.
Over a thousand worshippers attended solemn Sunday services at an Indonesian church and prayed for relatives of the deceased.
The affected families have been preparing funerals as the bodies recovered are identified in Surabaya, where a crisis centre has been set up.
The plane was carrying 155 passengers - one British, one Malaysian, one Singaporean, three South Koreans, 149 Indonesians - and seven crew members - six Indonesians and a French co-pilot.
Seventeen of the passengers were children. There were no Indian nationals on board.
Officials have said the plane was travelling at 32,000ft when the pilot's last communication was a request to climb to 38,000ft to avoid bad weather.
Search efforts are now being focused on finding the black box which is located in the tail of the crashed AirAsia plane.
The ill-fated plane's debris found so far has indicated that the body of the jet is broken.Divers will be sent out on Monday to where the plane's five "big objects" have been sighted underwater. A Russian amphibious plane also joined the search on Sunday.
Indonesian Navy personnel carry a plastic bag containing the body of a passenger of AirAsia Flight 8501 at sea off the coast of Pangkalan Bun, Indonesia. (AP Photo)
Five ships equipped with the capabilities to locate the black box are already in identified search locations in the sea.
Indonesia is also considering China's offer to send a ship to join the hunt for the black box.
"Time is of the essence," said an official at the search agency.
Searchers said currents are already shifting debris eastwards and bodies have started to decompose, which is making identification difficult.