Indonesia’s National Search and Rescue Agency has confirmed that another four bodies have been recovered from the sea in the search for victims and the wreckage of the AirAsia flight that crashed one week ago. A fifth large object, thought to be debris from the plane, was also located.
There were 162 people aboard the A320 airbus, which crashed last Sunday en route from Surabaya to Singapore, but only 34 bodies have been found so far. Six of them have been identified.
On Friday and Saturday, sonar equipment detected four massive objects on the ocean floor, and Indonesian officials say they are confident they are from flight QZ8501.
The biggest piece, measuring 18 x 5.4 x 2.2 metres, is believed to be part of the body of the aircraft. It is thought that most of the bodies of the victims of this crash are trapped in the fuselage.
Strong currents and huge waves in the Java Sea, off the island of Borneo, have been hampering the recovery operation.
Divers had hoped for better conditions today (Sunday), but the bad weather and lack of visibility caused their operations to be suspended.
About 90 divers from Indonesia and Russia are being deployed and a Remotely Operated Underwater Vehicle (ROV) has been dispatched to the search area.
Vessels from Singapore, Russia, Malaysia and the United States are involved in the search.
The international team set 1,575 square nautical miles (5,400 square kilometres) as the most likely area to find the wreckage, Malaysian Navy Chief Abdul Aziz Jaafar said today on Twitter.
The plane’s black boxes — the flight data and cockpit voice recorders — have yet to be located. No signals have yet been picked up.
Indonesia’s meteorological agency says weather was the “triggering factor” in the crash of flight QZ8501.
It said the most probable weather phenomenon was icing, which can cause engine damage due to a cooling process. Infra-red satellite pictures showed peak cloud temperatures of minus 80 to minus 85 degrees Celsius at the time of the crash.
The agency did say, however, that this was just one of the possible causes of the crash.
There was a request from the pilot, Captain Iriyanto, before the crash to be allowed to fly higher to avoid storm clouds.
The Indonesian authorities have grounded AirAsia flights from Surabaya to Singapore.
The Indonesian Transport Ministry says QZ8501 was on an unauthorised flight schedule and that AirAsia Indonesia was only permitted to fly the Surabaya-Singapore route on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.
Indonesia AirAsia was operating the Surabaya-Singapore flight four times a week on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays.
However, Singapore’s Civil Aviation Authority has said Singapore had given approval for the company to fly the route daily during the northern winter season, from the October 26, 2014, to March 28, 2015.
The Singapore authority pointed out, however, that, before an airline can launch a service between two points, it needs to obtain approval of its flight schedules from the respective civil aviation authorities at each end of its flight routing separately.
AirAsia has declined to comment about the flight scheduling until the investigation is complete, but said it would “fully cooperate” with the Indonesian government.
All this is confusion that must add to the grief of relatives who still don’t know what caused the plane to crash, and are watching a search operation that is by no means over.
Of the 162 passengers and crew on board flight QZ8501, 155 were Indonesian, three were from South Korea, one was Singaporean, one Malaysian, one British and one French – the co-pilot Remi Plesel.
Year of tragedy
For Malaysia, this is yet another disaster in a year of tragedy. The country has already suffered two other air tragedies this year. No trace has yet been found of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8.
Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was then shot down over Ukraine, and it is still not clear who was responsible.
AirAsia Indonesia is 49 percent owned by Malaysia-based budget carrier AirAsia, with local investors holding the rest.
Until now, the AirAsia group had not had a crash since its Malaysian budget operations began in 2002. It has, up until now, been a hugely popular and successful airline.
Photo credit: Reuters/Singapore Ministry of Defence/Handout via Reuters
An Indonesian Navy seaboat picks up items retrieved from the Republic of Singapore Navy vessel RSS Valour. Photo provided by Singapore’s Ministry of Defence, and released to Reuters.