AirAsia flight QZ8501: Indonesia's Basarnas says to continue search for crash victims

The chief of the Indonesian National Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas), Mr Bambang Soelistyo speaking to journalists during a press conference on the crashed AirAsia plane accompanied by several relatives and his staff in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Jan
The chief of the Indonesian National Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas), Mr Bambang Soelistyo speaking to journalists during a press conference on the crashed AirAsia plane accompanied by several relatives and his staff in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Jan 28, 2015. The search will continue for bodies from the AirAsia plane that crashed last month with 162 people on board, the operations chief said. -- PHOTO: EPA

JAKARTA - Indonesia's search and rescue agency Basarnas said at a press conference on Wednesday it will continue to search for the bodies of the passengers of Indonesia AirAsia flight QZ8501, a day after the country's military said it was halting the recovery operations.

"Search operations will carry on even though the military has pulled out," Barsanas chief Sambang Soelistyo told reporters in Jakarta. "Our main aim is to find the bodies."

Some of Basarnas's ships have come back to shore after 30 days out at sea to restock, he said, but that was not a sign that the search operation is ending. "No way," said Mr Soelistyo.

He said the recovery operation will resume on Saturday and will not end unless under instructions from President Joko Widodo and after meeting with "all parties concerned".

However, forensic expert Dr Anton Castilani, head of Indonesia's Disaster Identification Unit who was also present at the press conference, said it was getting more difficult to identify the bodies recovered.

Indonesia's military said on Tuesday it would stop the operation, after the team failed to float the fuselage after repeated attempts and that no more bodies had been found in the previous days.

Only 70 bodies of the plane's 162 passengers and crew had been recovered so far.

The Airbus A320-200 crashed in the Java Sea in stormy weather on Dec 28, less than half way into a two-hour flight from Surabaya, Indonesia's second-biggest city, to Singapore. All 162 people onboard were killed.

Except for seven foreigners, all were Indonesian. The foreigners were three Koreans, one Singaporean, one Malaysian, one Briton and a Frenchman – co-pilot Remi Plesel. 

Malaysia, Singapore, US, China, Japan and France joined the multinational search and rescue operation at one point.

The Indonesian navy had provided much of the personnel and equipment for the rescue effort. Mr Soelistyo said on Wednesday that Basarnas is deploying new boats to the recovery mission and installing underwater devices to them.

"By law, if within seven days we can't find more victims, we have to evaluate and decide whether to continue or stop," he told reporters. "But if any third party requests us to continue, we will."

The plane's cockpit is suspected to be located in one of the nine coordinates identified, Mr Soelistyo said.

"What we're searching for isn't just the cockpit, but what's inside the cockpit," he said, referring to the bodies of the pilots, Captain Iriyanto and his deputy Remi Plesel.

The team will also try to lift the plane's fuselage from the bottom of the sea, he said.