Officials from Indonesia and Singapore say the main body of AirAsia Flight QZ8501 has been located in the Java Sea, and the information has been confirmed by AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes.
Investigators believe most of the bodies of victims of the crash are trapped in the plane’s fuselage so finding this part of the plane is a major breakthrough.
Singapore’s Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen posted pictures taken by a Singaporean search robot on his Facebook page.
He said the words painted on the side of the wreckage confirmed that the plane was Flight QZ8501, which crashed on December 28 when en route from Surabaya to Singapore.
AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes tweeted: “The pictures are correct. Fuselage found. Needs some work for divers to go in. Thank you all rescue teams. We hope all our guests are there.
“It is so so sad though seeing our aircraft. I’m gutted and devastated. But hopefully we can find the rest of plane and put closure for families.”
There were 162 people on board the Airbus A320-200 when it crashed in bad weather about 40 minutes after take-off. Only 50 bodies have been recovered from the Java Sea and 34 of them have been identified.
Mr Ng said on Facebook that sonar equipment had detected the fuselage about two kilometres from where the tail section of the plane was found last Saturday. The team on board the Singapore Armed Forces ship MV Swift Rescue then sent a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) to obtain visual confirmation before passing on the information to Indonesia’s National Search and Rescue Agency (BASARNAS).
“The wreckage with wings was about 26 metres long,” Mr Ng added. “Images taken by the ROV show part of the wing and words on the fuselage. We have informed BASARNAS, the Indonesian search authority, who can now begin recovery operations.
“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.”
Indonesian divers are expected to go down to the sea bed tomorrow to try and get inside the fuselage.
In other breakthroughs this week, the flight data recorder from the plane was retrieved on Monday and the voice recorder was recovered yesterday (Tuesday).
Both flight recorders, which were found under other wreckage on the sea bed, have been taken to a laboratory in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, for analysis. It is hoped the data on them will reveal what caused flight QZ8501 to crash.
Investigators say they have successfully downloaded data from the flight data recorder. They will now have to study a host of indicators that show such things as flight speed, direction, altitude, air pressure changes, and engine temperature. Flight data recorders can also monitor other actions such as the movement of individual flaps on the wings, the auto-pilot, and the fuel gauge.
The Reuters news agency quoted the chief investigator for Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee as saying: “In one week, I think we will be getting a reading.” Once the data is converted into a usable format, the lengthy process of analysis will begin. Experts from France and the United States are helping with the investigation.
Investigators are also downloading data from the cockpit voice recorder, which retains the conversations on the flight deck and those between the pilots and air traffic controllers and with pilots on other aircraft.
A preliminary report on the crash is expected to be produced within a month, and a final report after about a year.
Fernandes has repeatedly said that his main concern was finding the fuselage of the plane.
BASARNAS has also assured relatives that retrieving the bodies of the crash victims remains the main priority
Indonesia’s meteorological agency has said weather was the “triggering factor” in the crash, but it did add that this was just one of the possibilities.
It said the most probable weather phenomenon was icing which can cause engine damage due to a cooling process.
There was a request from the pilot, Captain Iriyanto, before the crash to be allowed to fly higher to avoid storm clouds.