Indonesian search-and-rescue teams are set to try to recover bodies from the tail section of AirAsia Flight 8501, which crashed in the Java Sea on December 28.
The head of the country's National Search and Rescue Agency told reporters Wednesday that the tail section, found wedged into the seabed 30 meters (100 feet) underwater, contains the "black box" voice and flight data recorders. The wreckage was found after officials announced an expansion of the search area Tuesday.
The voice and data recorders are expected to help officials determine the cause of the crash, but authorities could not say when they would be found and retrieved.
“We've found the tail — that has been our main target,” Bambang Soelistyo, head of the search-and-rescue agency, said at a news conference in Jakarta.
Sonar scan used
The tail was identified by divers after it was spotted by an underwater machine using a sonar scan, Soelistyo said.
He displayed underwater photographs showing partial lettering on the sunken object compared with a picture of an intact Airbus A320-200 in AirAsia livery.
“I can confirm that what we found was the tail part from the pictures,” he said, adding that the team “now is still desperately trying to locate the black box.”
Indonesia Minister for Maritime Affairs Indroyono Soesilo told another news conference, “With the finding of the tail, six SAR (search-and-rescue) ships are already at the location to search within a radius of two nautical miles.” A remotely controlled mini-submarine will play a key role in the effort, Soesilo and other senior Indonesian officials said.
Many of the bodies yet to be recovered were likely in the main parts of the plane that have yet to be found, they said.
AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes tweeted minutes after the announcement, “I am led to believe the tail section has been found. “If [it is the] right part of tail section, then the black box should be there.
"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," Fernandes said in another tweet.
The flight had 162 people aboard when it crashed off the coast of Borneo. No survivors were found and the bodies of fewer than 40 victims have been recovered.
The twin-engine Airbus A320 disappeared from radar without a distress call nearly halfway into what was supposed to be a two-hour flight from Indonesia to Singapore.
One more body found
Officials said one body was retrieved on Wednesday, and an Indonesian police official said authorities had identified eight more victims from the AirAsia jet.
The official said forensic teams had used basic DNA and other features to positively identify the eight victims. Police said they have identified 24 of the 40 bodies recovered so far.
Forensic experts from Australia have been working with Indonesia to assist in identifying the bodies.
In Pangkalan Bun, the southern Borneo town closest to the crash site, Suryadi Supriyadi, director of operations for the National Search and Rescue Agency, told reporters the bad weather that has dogged the operation for 10 days had abated and divers were in the water.
But, as ships with acoustic “pinger locators” designed to pick up signals from the black box converged on the location where the tail was found, Supriyadi cautioned that the tail section of the aircraft might not be fully intact.
“The location of the tail is relatively far from the point of last contact, about 30 km (20 miles),” he said. “The black box is located behind the door, to the right of the tail. There is a possibility that the tail and the back of the plane are broken up.”
Until investigators can examine the black box recorders, the cause of the crash remains a mystery.
The area where the plane was lost is known for intense seasonal storms. BMKG, Indonesia's meteorological agency, has said bad weather may have caused ice to form on the aircraft's engines.
Some material for this report came from Reuters, AP and AFP.