Pangkalan Bun, Indonesia: A Singaporean navy ship on Wednesday located the main body of the AirAsia plane that crashed into the Java Sea late last month, believed to be the resting place of most of the 162 victims.
Flight QZ8501 crashed on December 28 in stormy weather during a short, routine flight from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore.
The discovery of the fuselage is the latest boost in a slow-moving search operation often hampered by bad weather. It followed the recovery this week of both the plane’s black boxes, which contain vital information to determine what caused the crash.
“The MV Swift Rescue has located the fuselage of the AirAsia plane in the Java Sea,” said Singapore’s Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen in a Facebook post, adding that Indonesian search and rescue officials had been informed.
“The accident is a tragic event resulting in the loss of many lives. I hope that with the fuselage located, some form of closure can come to the families of the victims to ease their grief.”
His post was accompanied by underwater photos of what appeared to the fuselage. The words “now” and “everyone” are visible, apparently from AirAsia’s motto “Now Everyone Can Fly” painted on the plane’s exterior.
Indonesia’s national search and rescue chief Bambang Soelistyo confirmed that the fuselage had been found by the Singaporean ship and said divers would head to the wreckage on Thursday.
“It’s dark today, its not possible to dive, so we will dive tomorrow. The main focus is to find victims in the fuselage,” he said.
“If it’s difficult we will lift (the fuselage) up either in part or in whole.”
Finding the main body of the Airbus 320-200 has been seen as vital, as most of the victims are believed to be still trapped inside. Just 48 bodies have so far been recovered.
The Singapore navy ship was part of a huge international hunt for the plane, which also included US and Chinese ships.
The so-called black boxes — which are actually orange in colour — have been flown to Jakarta, where Indonesia’s National Transport Safety Committee is leading a probe into the accident, helped by experts from countries including France and the United States.
The country’s meteorological agency has said bad weather may have caused the crash but only the black boxes will be able to provide definitive answers.
Investigators have started retrieving data from the recorders and converting it into a usable format, which will take around a week, before the lengthy analysis process can begin, committee head Tatang Kurniadi told AFP.
The flight data recorder holds a wealth of information about every major part of the plane, with details such as the jet’s speed and the direction it was heading in, while the cockpit voice recorder stores radio transmissions and sounds in the cockpit.
The committee has said a preliminary report on the accident will be produced within a month, and a final report after a year.
At a port near Pangkalan Bun, the search headquarters on Borneo island, Indonesian investigators and their French counterparts also began examining the tail, which was lifted out of the water at the weekend.
Before take-off, the plane’s pilot had asked for permission to fly at a higher altitude to avoid a major storm but the request was not approved due to other planes above him on the popular route.
In his last communication, the experienced pilot said he wanted to change course to avoid the storm. Then all contact was lost, about 40 minutes after take-off.
All but seven of those on board the flight were Indonesian. The foreign nationals were from South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Britain and France.