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Better Weather Aids Search for AirAsia Jet


Indonesian authorities are hopeful improved weather conditions will allow for quicker recovery efforts in the search for the wreckage and victims of the AirAsia passenger jet.

Thursday saw clearer skies and calmer seas than a day earlier, when bad weather prevented a full air search and kept divers from searching what appears to be the main crash site.

National Search and Rescue Agency official Tatang Zaenuddin said air and underwater searches have resumed.

"The ship of the National Assessment and Technology Application with an underwater locator beacon to detect black box signals, and a multi-beam scan sonar to detect metal and apparatus to take underwater, three-dimensional pictures of the area, are conducting a search operation," said Zaenuddin.

So far, only seven of the 162 bodies have been pulled from the Java Sea near Borneo island, where the Airbus A320 crashed Sunday during bad weather. Two of the bodies have arrived in the city of Surabaya, where they will undergo autopsies and be identified.

Authorities expect to find many more corpses once divers are able to explore an area where sonar images suggest a portion of the plane is lying upside down at the bottom of the sea.

AirAsia chief Tony Fernandes later played down the sonar reports, saying there is "some visual identification, but nothing confirmed."

Another priority is finding the flight data and cockpit voice recorders, which are crucial for determining the cause of the crash.

Before takeoff and during the last moments of the flight, the pilots requested to fly at a higher altitude to avoid a storm cloud. The request was not approved because other planes were in the area.

The twin-engine jet disappeared from radar, without a distress call, about half an hour into what was supposed to be a two-hour flight from Surabaya to Singapore.

Relatives of the victims held a candlelight vigil at a crisis center at Surabaya airport.

Wind and rain hamper search

Search-and-rescue agency officials said Wednesday waves of up to three meters, strong winds and heavy rain prevented rescue planes and helicopters from participating in an aerial search of the crash site near the island of Borneo.

Search-and-rescue official Sunarbowo Sandi said bodies and debris were being scattered by strong currents and monsoon weather conditions.

“All the wreckage and bodies have drifted around 50 kilometers and we're expecting all the bodies will end up on the beaches around here,” Sandi told reporters.

None of the passengers or crew on board the plane have been found alive. Many on board were traveling to celebrate the New Year with friends and relatives.

The search area was narrowed to 120 square nautical miles and 22 ships continued to hunt for the remaining victims and for the plane's black box, Dwi Putranto, a senior air force official, told Reuters.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo met the victims' families in Surabaya on Tuesday and promised "a massive search" effort, with priority given to recovering bodies of the passengers and crew.

Region drawn together

The tragedy has drawn the region together with offers of assistance across the Asia Pacific area. Several nations offered search and assistance to Indonesia - including Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, China, South Korea and the United States.

While preliminary investigations have blamed the heavy monsoon weather over the Java Sea for the accident in the early hours of Sunday, Indonesian transport officials said background checks were being carried out on all passengers as part of standard procedures.

The destroyer USS Sampson is on the scene helping with the search. A second ship, the USS Forth Worth, is standing by in Singapore and will head to the crash site if needed.

The White House said the United States sends its condolences to the families and loved ones, and stands by to provide Indonesia with all the help it needs.

AirAsia's Fernandes has apologized to the families of the victims, saying that as head of the airline, he will not run away from his responsibilities. He said the company will provide immediate financial assistance to the families.

Ron Corben contributed to this report from Bangkok. Some material for this report came from Reuters.

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