Divers resume search for AirAsia recorders

  • Reuters, Pangkalan Bun, Indonesia
  • Updated: Jan 10, 2015 11:28 IST

Indonesian divers resumed their search on Saturday for the black box flight recorders and passengers and crew of an AirAsia passenger jet that crashed into the sea nearly two weeks ago.

Indonesia AirAsia Flight QZ8501, with 162 people on board, lost contact with air traffic control during bad weather on December 28, less than half way into a two-hour flight from Indonesia to Singapore. There were no survivors.

Forty-eight bodies, including at least two strapped to their seats, have been found in the Java Sea off Borneo, and the tail of the Airbus A320-200 has been located in shallow water.

But strong winds and currents and high waves have hampered efforts to reach larger pieces of suspected wreckage detected by sonar on the sea floor and to find the rest of the victims.

Search and rescue teams detected pings they believed were from the flight recorders on Friday, and two teams of divers resumed the hunt soon after dawn on Saturday.

"One team is for the tail and a separate team is sweeping the seabed for the black box," Supriyadi, operations coordinator for the National Search and Rescue Agency, told reporters in the town of Pangkalan Bun, the base for the search effort on Borneo.

"We are still looking for the main body of the plane where most of the victims could be trapped."

The tail was found on Wednesday, upturned on the sea bed about 30 km (20 miles) from the plane's last known location at a depth of about 30 metres (100 feet).

The aircraft carries the cockpit voice and flight data recorders near its tail, however officials have said it looked increasingly likely that they had become separated during the disaster.

The recorders will be vital to the investigation into why the airliner crashed.

'Large area'

Supriyadi said the divers would try to home in on the pings but the search area was extensive and visibility in the water, churned up by rainy season weather, was poor.

"The black box could be covered in mud. The pings can only be detected within a radius of 500 metres (1,640 feet) so it can be a large area to cover," he said.

If and when the recorders are found and taken to the capital, Jakarta, for analysis, it could take up to two weeks to download data, investigators said, although the information could be accessed in as little as two days if the devices are not badly damaged.

While the cause of the crash is not known, the national weather bureau has said seasonal storms were likely to be a factor.

The plane was travelling at 32,000 feet (9,753 metres) and had asked to fly at 38,000 feet to avoid bad weather. When air traffic controllers granted permission for a rise to 34,000 feet a few minutes later, they received no response.

The pilots did not issue a distress signal.

The Indonesian captain, a former Air Force fighter pilot, had 6,100 flying hours under his belt and the plane last underwent maintenance in mid-November, said the airline, which is 49 percent owned by Malaysia-based budget carrier AirAsia.

The AirAsia group, including affiliates in Thailand, the Philippines and India, had not suffered a crash since its Malaysian budget operations began in 2002.

Most of those on board were Indonesians.

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