AirAsia flight QZ8501: Search teams struggle as small window of good weather closes

Indonesian members of search team carrying a victim of AirAsia flight QZ8501 that crashed in Indonesia sea in Kumai on Dec 31, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Indonesian members of search team carrying a victim of AirAsia flight QZ8501 that crashed in Indonesia sea in Kumai on Dec 31, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP

PANGKALAN BUN/SURABAYA (REUTERS) - Search teams looking for the sunken wreck of an Indonesia AirAsia jet off Borneo struggled to resume full-scale operations on Thursday after a small window of fine weather closed, giving way to rising seas that have dogged the search from the start.

Hopes had risen for divers to be able to investigate what is believed to be the fuselage of the Airbus A320-200.

“Clouds have started to descend again...and the weather conditions will deteriorate again,” search and rescue official Tatang Zaenudin told TV, adding that the conditions would limit air searches. “For the sea search, we will continue.”

A team of 47 Indonesian Navy divers is on standby to go down to a large, dark object detected by sonar on the ocean floor, lying just 30m to 50m deep. If it is the AirAsia plane, divers would look to retrieve its black boxes.

The break in the bad weather raised hopes on Thursday that divers would be able to investigate what is believed to be the sunken wreck.

The Airbus A320-200, carrying 162 people, fell from the sky while trying to climb above stormy weather early on Sunday, during a flight from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore. The pilots did not issue a distress signal.

So far, seven bodies have been recovered from waters near where sonar has detected a large, dark object on the ocean floor, lying just 30-50 metres deep, but heavy seas have so far prevented divers from investigating it.

"They will try again this morning," said Siahala Alamsyah, a naval officer involved in the search.

He said that on Wednesday night that bad weather had prevented a team of 47 Indonesian Navy divers from even flying out to warships at the crash site.

The plane's black box flight data and cockpit voice recorder should help solve the mystery of the crash. Investigators are working on a theory that it went into aerodynamic stall as the pilot climbed steeply to avoid a storm.

Bodies recovered from the Java Sea are being taken in numbered coffins to Surabaya, where relatives of the victims have gathered, for identification. Authorities have been collecting DNA from the relatives to help identify the bodies.

Some of the bodies recovered so far have been fully clothed, including a flight attendant still wearing her AirAsia uniform. That could indicate the Airbus was intact when it hit the water and also support the aerodynamic stall theory.

Most of the 162 people on board were Indonesians. No survivors have been found.

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