JAKARTA (AFP) - Recovery teams have found the tail of the crashed AirAsia Flight 8501 in the Java Sea about 30km from the plane’s last known location, the Indonesian search chief said on Wednesday, the eleventh day of relief operations.
“We have successfully obtained part of the plane that has been our target,” search and rescue agency chief Bambang Soelistyo told reporters in Jakarta. "The tail part has been found and confirmed at a position in our second priority sector.”
The discovery on the seabed could mark a breakthrough in the search as the tail of a plane usually houses the “black box” flight data recorders, crucial to determining the cause of a crash.
The confirmation came after divers took a photo of an object 10m long, 5m wide and 3m high, which had the word "AirAsia" on it, reported news portal Detik.com. “This is a photo of the AirAsia plane which is intact. So I can confirm that this is the tail,” Detik.com quoted Mr Soelistyo as saying on Wednesday.
The finding was reported by MSG GeoSurvey on Wednesday morning, according to Detik.com.
“I am led to believe the tail section has been found. If right part of tail section then the black box should be there,” AirAsia boss Tony Fernandes wrote on Twitter after the announcement.“We need to find all parts soon so we can find all (our) guests to ease the pain of our families. That still is our priority.”
Mr Soelistyo said a total of 12 objects had now been found, but he did not confirm whether all are parts of the aircraft. The wreckage is thought to also include parts of the fuselage, where many of the bodies of victims may still be trapped.
The plane vanished from radar screens during a storm on Dec 28 when it was flying from the city of Surabaya to Singapore with 162 people on board, most of them Indonesian.Despite a huge recovery operation assisted by various countries, progress has been patchy with poor weather conditions hampering the search. So far 39 bodies have been found, all of them floating on the sea.Search chiefs earlier said five large parts of the plane had been detected but had not confirmed which parts of the aircraft.
Indonesia alleges the plane was flying on an unauthorised schedule when it crashed and AirAsia has since been suspended from flying the Surabaya-Singapore route.
Jakarta has launched a crackdown on its fast-growing aviation sector since the crash, reassigning some officials and tightening rules on pre-flight procedures in a country with a patchy reputation for air safety.
“Divers were ready on the ship but the challenges were currents and waves,” Mr Soelistyo, told a news conference in Jakarta on Tuesday evening.
Search and rescue agency official Supriyadi, who is coordinating the operation from the southern Borneo town of Pangkalan Bun, said there had been no “pings” detected from the black box’s emergency locator beacon, possibly because it was buried in the seabed or the muddy water was impeding its signal.
Less than a third of the bodies of the mostly Indonesian passengers and crew have been recovered so far. Many more could still be trapped in the fuselage of the aircraft.