AirAsia flight QZ8501: Indonesian searchers believe fuselage of plane has been detected

PANGKALAN BUN, Indonesia (Reuters) - Indonesian search teams believe a sonar scan has detected the fuselage of an AirAsia airliner that crashed two weeks ago with the loss of all 162 people on board, and divers hope calmer waters on Monday will allow them to retrieve the black box flight recorders.

Indonesia AirAsia Flight QZ8501 lost contact with air traffic control during thundery weather on Dec 28, less than halfway into a two-hour flight from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore. There were no survivors.

Searchers have also been hearing pings, believed to be from the aircraft's black box flight recorders, near where the tail of the Airbus A320-200 aircraft tail was raised on Saturday.

Mr Supriyadi, operations coordinator for the National Search and Rescue Agency, said a sonar scan had revealed an object measuring 10m by 4m by 2.5m on the sea floor. "They suspect it is the body of the plane. There is a big possibility that the black box is near the body of the plane," Mr Supriyadi told Reuters in the town of Pangkalan Bun, the base for the search effort on Borneo. "A team of divers has already been sent to prove this data. The diving operation has started."

Forty-eight bodies have been found in the Java Sea off Borneo and searchers are still hunting for the plane's fuselage, which could contain more bodies. "If it is the body of the plane then we will first evacuate the victims. Secondly we will search for the black box," Mr Supriyadi said.

Strong winds, currents and high waves have been hampering efforts to reach other large pieces of suspected wreckage detected by sonar on the sea floor.

Another official involved in the search said three ships had detected pings about 4km from where the plane's tail was raised on Saturday, in water about 30m deep.

“Three ships have (recorded) the pings so we can confirm the coordinates of the location of the black box,” Indonesian National Transportation Safety Committee investigator Santoso Sayogo told Reuters.

If weather conditions are conducive, “hopefully they will recover the black box tomorrow morning”, Mr Santoso said. “The coordinates show the bottom of the sea (in that location) is sand so the divers should easily be able to see it.”

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.

On Saturday, teams of divers in rubber dinghies battled the swell to attach inflatable balloons to the tail section, which was later hauled onto a rescue vessel.

The aircraft carries cockpit voice and flight data recorders - or black boxes - near its tail but once the wreckage was visible, it quickly became apparent that the flight recorders were still underwater.

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

President Joko Widodo, who took office in late October, said the crash exposed widespread problems in the management of air transport in Indonesia.

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