AirAsia flight QZ8501: Indonesia widens search area as debris may have drifted further

Western Indonesia Air Force operation commander Agus Dwi Putranto (left) briefs crew before a search and rescue operation for the missing AirAsia flight QZ8501, in Jakarta on Dec 30, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP 
Western Indonesia Air Force operation commander Agus Dwi Putranto (left) briefs crew before a search and rescue operation for the missing AirAsia flight QZ8501, in Jakarta on Dec 30, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP 

PANGKALAN BUN, Indonesia (REUTERS) - Aircraft combed the sea and shoreline off Borneo on Saturday for wreckage from an Indonesia AirAsia passenger jet, hoping to take advantage of a brief break in bad weather that has hampered efforts to find the plane and its black box flight recorders.

Indonesia's search and rescue agency said the search area had been widened as debris from Flight QZ8501 may have drifted more than 200 nautical miles, adding that helicopters would concentrate on searching the coastline of southern Borneo.

"With the strength of the winds, waves and current, we extended the search area to 210 nautical miles," Air Force Lt. Col. Johnson said.

AirAsia QZ8501 Java Sea depth

The Airbus A320-200 plunged into the Java Sea last Sunday while en route from Indonesia's second-biggest city Surabaya to Singapore with 162 people on board. No survivors have been found.

Officials said 21 bodies were pulled from the sea on Friday, including two still strapped in their seat belts, bringing the total number of victims recovered to 30.

Small pieces of the aircraft and other debris have also been found, but there has been no sign of the crucial voice and flight data recorders - the so-called black boxes that investigators hope will unravel the sequence of events in the cockpit during the doomed jet's final minutes.

A multinational team of experts, including from France's BEA accident investigation agency that attends all Airbus crashes, has assembled at Pangkalan Bun, the town in southern Borneo closest to the search area.

But high winds and waves four metres high have prevented the use of some of the sophisticated equipment they have brought, including towed sonar devices and acoustic"pinger" locators designed to pick up signals from the black boxes.

Indonesia's weather bureau said rain was forecast in the search area later on Saturday, but there were hopes of clearer skies to aid the search in the morning.

Eight ships were on Saturday searching an area 35 nautical miles by 45 nautical miles in size thought to be the most likely resting place of the lost jet's fuselage.

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