UPDATE 9-Bodies, debris from missing AirAsia plane pulled from sea off Indonesia – Reuters


* Relatives in tears as bodies shown on TV

* “My heart is filled with sadness,” airline boss says

* Search operation to go on all night

(Adds lower number of bodies recovered, paragraph 3)

By Gayatri Suroyo and Adriana Nina Kusuma

SURABAYA, Indonesia/JAKARTA, Dec 30 (Reuters) – Indonesian
rescuers searching for an AirAsia plane carrying 162
people pulled bodies and wreckage from the sea off the coast of
Borneo on Tuesday, prompting relatives of those on board
watching TV footage to break down in tears.

Indonesia AirAsia’s Flight QZ8501, an Airbus
A320-200, lost contact with air traffic control early on Sunday
during bad weather on a flight from the Indonesian city of
Surabaya to Singapore.

The navy initially said 40 bodies had been recovered,
although other media later quoted the head of the search and
rescue agency, Fransiskus Bambang Soelistyo, as saying only
three bodies had been retrieved. The plane has yet to be found.

“My heart is filled with sadness for all the families
involved in QZ8501,” airline boss Tony Fernandes tweeted. “On
behalf of AirAsia, my condolences to all. Words cannot express
how sorry I am.”

The airline said in a statement that it was inviting family
members to Surabaya, “where a dedicated team of care providers
will be assigned to each family to ensure that all of their
needs are met”.

Pictures of floating bodies were broadcast on television and
relatives of the missing already gathered at a crisis centre in
Surabaya wept with heads in their hands. Several people
collapsed in grief and were helped away.

Yohannes and his wife were at the centre awaiting news of
her brother, Herumanto Tanus, and two of his children who were
on board the doomed flight.

The Tanus family had been on their way to visit Herumanto’s
son, who studies in Singapore and who travelled to Surabaya on
Monday after the plane went missing.

“He cries every time he watches the news,” Yohannes said.

The mayor of Surabaya, Tri Rismaharini, comforted relatives
and urged them to be strong.

“They are not ours, they belong to God,” she said.

SEARCHING THROUGH THE NIGHT

A navy spokesman said a plane door, oxygen tanks and one
body had been recovered and taken away by helicopter for tests.

“The challenge is waves up to three metres high,” Soelistyo
told reporters, adding that the search operation would go on all
night. He declined to answer questions on whether any survivors
had been found.

About 30 ships and 21 aircraft from Indonesia, Australia,
Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and the United States have been
involved in the search.

The plane, which did not issue a distress signal,
disappeared after its pilot failed to get permission to fly
higher to avoid bad weather because of heavy air traffic,
officials said.

It was travelling at 32,000 feet (9,753 metres) and had
asked to fly at 38,000 feet, officials said earlier.

Pilots and aviation experts said thunderstorms, and requests
to gain altitude to avoid them, were not unusual in that area.

The Indonesian pilot was experienced and the plane last
underwent maintenance in mid-November, the airline said.

Online discussion among pilots has centred on unconfirmed
secondary radar data from Malaysia that suggested the aircraft
was climbing at a speed of 353 knots, about 100 knots too slow,
and that it might have stalled.

Investigators are focusing initially on whether the crew
took too long to request permission to climb, or could have
ascended on their own initiative earlier, said a source close to
the probe, adding that poor weather could have played a part as
well.

He cautioned that the investigation was at an early stage
and the black box flight recorders had yet to be recovered.

CLUES WHEN THINGS GO WRONG

The plane, whose engines were made by CFM International,
co-owned by General Electric and Safran of
France, lacked real-time engine diagnostics or monitoring, a GE
spokesman said.

Such systems are mainly used on long-haul flights and can
provide clues to airlines and investigators when things go
wrong.

Three airline disasters involving Malaysian-affiliated
carriers in less than a year have dented confidence in the
country’s aviation industry and spooked travellers across the
region.

Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 went missing on March 8 on a
trip from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 passengers and crew
on board and has not been found. On July 17, the same airline’s
Flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine, killing all 298 people
on board.

Bizarrely, an AirAsia plane from Manila skidded off and
overshot the runway on landing at Kalibo in the central
Philippines on Tuesday. No one was hurt.

On board Flight QZ8501 were 155 Indonesians, three South
Koreans, and one person each from Singapore, Malaysia and
Britain. The co-pilot was French.

U.S. law enforcement and security officials said passenger
and crew lists were being examined but nothing significant had
turned up and the incident was regarded as an unexplained
accident.

Indonesia AirAsia is 49 percent owned by Malaysia-based
budget carrier AirAsia.

The AirAsia group, including affiliates in Thailand, the
Philippines and India, had not suffered a crash since its
Malaysian budget operations began in 2002.

(Additional reporting by Fergus Jensen, Wilda Asmarini,
Charlotte Greenfield, Fransiska Nangoy, Cindy Silviana,
Kanupriya Kapoor, Michael Taylor, Nilufar Rizki and Siva
Govindasamy in JAKARTA/SURABAYA, Al-Zaquan Amer Hamzah and
Praveen Menon in KUALA LUMPUR, Saeed Azhar, Rujun Shen and
Anshuman Daga in SINGAPORE, Jane Wardell in SYDNEY, Tim Hepher
in PARIS and Mark Hosenball, David Brunnstrom and Lesley
Wroughton in WASHINGTON; Writing by Dean Yates and Robert
Birsel; Editing by Nick Macfie and Mike Collett-White)

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