Better weather allows AirAsia search to resume

22


EILEEN NG and ROBIN McDOWELL, AP

Seven of the 162 bodies have been recovered. Two are already in Surabaya, and four corpses – inside simple white boxes decorated with plastic flowers – were loaded onto a transport carrier Thursday morning in Pangkalan Bun on Borneo island. Another remains on a ship.

“The visibility is good this morning, we are ready to fight with full force to search for bodies, wreckage that can reveal what went wrong with this accident,” said First Marshal Agus Dwi Putranto, an Air Force Operation commander helping to lead the effort, adding four aircraft were dispatched to the area just after sunrise.

Choppy conditions had prevented divers from entering the water on Wednesday, and helicopters were largely grounded, but 18 ships continued to survey the narrowed search area.

Sonar images identified what appeared to be large parts of the plane, but strong currents were moving the debris. On Thursday, Singapore flew in an unmanned underwater vehicle capable of surveying the seabed to try to help pinpoint the wreckage, said Navy Maj. Teck Hong Heng.

Thursday’s break in weather – blue skies and calm seas despite earlier storm predictions – could greatly speed up recovery efforts that have been severely hampered since the first bodies were spotted on Tuesday. Vice Air Marshal Sunarbowo Sandi, search and rescue coordinator in Pangkalan Bun, the closest town to the targeted area, said he was hopeful divers would soon be able to explore the wreckage site.

“It’s possible the bodies are in the fuselage,” he said. “So it’s a race now against time and weather.”

It is still unclear what brought the plane down about halfway into its two-hour flight from Surabaya, Indonesia to Singapore. The jet’s last communication indicated the pilots were worried about bad weather. They sought permission to climb above threatening clouds but were denied because of heavy air traffic. Four minutes later, the airliner disappeared from the radar without issuing a distress signal.

The cockpit-voice and flight-data recorders, or black boxes, must be retrieved before officials can start determining what caused the crash. Some items recovered so far include a life jacket, an emergency exit window, children’s shoes, a blue suitcase and backpacks filled with food.

Simple wooden coffins – numbered 001 and 002 – with purple flowers on top contained the first two bodies, which were sent Wednesday from Pangkalan Bun to Surabaya for autopsies. The two victims were a woman wearing blue jeans and a boy. Three males and two females were also recovered.