Six bodies recovered from AirAsia crash – USA TODAY
AirAsia confirmed debris found in the Java Sea came from missing Flight 8501. Bodies were also recovered from the location just six miles from the plane’s last communications with air-traffic control.
SURABAYA, Indonesia — As search teams locate and remove bodies from AirAsia Flight 8501, investigators are trying to determine what caused the jetliner to crash in shallow Indonesian waters with 162 people aboard.
The jet vanished from radar in bad weather Sunday morning. After more than two days of searching, the Indonesian National Search and Rescue Agency confirmed Tuesday that debris and bodies from the aircraft was found in the Karimata Strait, off the coast of Borneo.
Six bodies, three male and three female, have been recovered from the Java Sea Indonesia’s Search and Rescue chief Henry Bambang Soelistyo said, including a woman wearing a flight attendant’s uniform.
Three bodies were retrieved Tuesday, while the others were found after the search resumed Wednesday morning.
Parts of the jet’s interior, including an oxygen tank, were brought to the nearest town, Pangkalan Bun. Also found was a bright blue plastic suitcase, completely unscratched. The jet’s “black boxes,” cockpit voice and flight data recorders that are key to understanding what caused the crash, were not yet recovered.
Rescue workers descended from a hovering helicopter to retrieve bodies from the water, but 6-foot waves and strong winds hindered their efforts, National Search and Rescue Director SB Supriyadi said.
Supriyadi told the Associated Press that from an aircraft, he saw what appeared to be a life jacket and an emergency exit door. More wreckage could be seen beneath the relatively shallow water, 65 to 100 feet deep, Supriyadi said.
The discovery of debris and a body floating in the water was shown live on Indonesia’s TV One, causing some relatives of passengers watching at the crisis center at Surabaya’s Juanda Airport to break down in tears. At least three people were carried out on stretchers.
Indonesian President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo and AirAsia group CEO Tony Fernandes met with family members at the crisis center on Tuesday. The president said his country “will focus on recovery of passengers and crewmembers.” He thanked Australia, Singapore and Malaysia for assisting in the search operations.
The United States sent the USS Sampson destroyer, and is ready to deploy another ship if needed, to join at least 30 ships, 15 aircraft and seven helicopters in the search for the jet.
“This is a very difficult moment for all of us at AirAsia as we await further developments of the search and rescue operations,” AirAsia’s Fernandes said. “Our first priority now is the well-being of the family members of those on board.”
Searchers aboard an Indonesian military aircraft saw white, red and black objects about 105 miles south of Pangkalan Bun, on the south coast of Borneo. AirAsia planes are red and white.
Marselinus Saputra, whose cousin Ruth Natalia Puspitasari, her boyfriend and her boyfriend’s parents were on Flight 8501, said he was “devastated” when he saw reports of the first body found in the water.
He was holding onto a tiny hope there might be survivors, but now that has faded. “I just hope they can recover the bodies tomorrow so this is over and we can start to go on,” he said.
The Airbus A320, which took off from Surabaya for Singapore, lost contact with air-traffic control Sunday morning. Pilots had asked permission to climb to avoid storm clouds, but six other aircraft were in the vicinity, so controllers denied the request. Minutes later, the jet vanished from radar screens without declaring an emergency.
Airbus, based in France, issued a statement Tuesday offering its sympathies to anyone affected by the loss of the plane. “With safety as its prime concern, Airbus reaffirms its full commitment to provide all necessary technical assistance to the investigation authorities in order to establish the cause of this tragic accident,” Airbus said.
Mystery still surrounds Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared March 8 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people aboard. On July 17, another Malaysia Airlines jetliner was shot down over rebel-controlled eastern Ukraine while flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, killing all 298 on board.
Desmond Ross, an Australia-based aviation security expert, said it was too early to know what caused the AirAsia crash, but he cautioned that Asia’s rapid growth in air travel is raising safety concerns.
“It’s one of the fastest growth areas in the world,” he said. “They can’t keep up with the demand for pilots.”
Fernandes said that pending the investigation results, his company had no intention of slowing down its growth. “We’ll continue our business as normal,” he said. “Operations are as normal, sales numbers have remained strong. People remain confident in AirAsia and we will continue as planned.”
Onyanga-Omara reported from London. Contributing: The Associated Press