First of 9 bodies from AirAsia crash identified

By Eileen Ng and Robin McDowell, AP

SURABAYA, Indonesia–A passenger aboard AirAsia Flight 8501 became the first victim of the crash to be returned to her family Thursday, one of many painful reunions to come, as search crews struggled against wind and heavy rain to find more than 150 people still missing.

Hayati Lutfiah Hamid’s identity was confirmed by fingerprints and other means, said Col. Budiyono of East Java’s Disaster Victim Identification Unit.

Her body, in a dark casket topped with flowers, was handed over to family members during a brief ceremony at a police hospital in Surabaya, the Indonesian city where the plane took off. A relative cried as she placed both hands against the polished wood.

The coffin was then taken to a village and lowered into a muddy grave, following Muslim obligations requiring bodies to be buried quickly. An imam said a simple prayer as about 150 people gathered in the drizzling rain, and red flowers were sprinkled over the mound of wet dirt topped by a small white tombstone.

The Airbus A320 crashed into the Java Sea on Sunday with 162 people on board. Nine bodies have been recovered so far, including two on Thursday. Remains are being sent initially to Pangkalan Bun, the closest town on Borneo island, before being transported to Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-largest city, where Flight 8501 had taken off.

In the thick of Indonesia’s rainy season, the weather has frequently prevented helicopters and divers from operating while strong sea currents have kept debris moving.

Singapore’s navy sent an unmanned underwater vehicle capable of surveying the seabed to try to pinpoint the wreckage and the all-important ��black boxes�� �X flight data and cockpit voice recorders. More than 50 ships, mostly from Indonesia, were scouring the area with high-tech detection equipment. Aircraft with metal detectors also were deployed.

We are ��focusing on finding the body of the plane,�� Indonesia air force spokesman Rear Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto told reporters. ��There was something like a dark shadow once seen from a plane, but it cannot yet be proven as wreckage.��

Sonar images have identified what appeared to be large parts of the plane.

��It’s possible the bodies are in the fuselage,�� said Vice Air Marshal Sunarbowo Sandi, search and rescue coordinator in Pangkalan Bun. ��So it’s a race now against time and weather.��

The longer the search takes, the more corpses will decompose and debris scatter. ‘I am trying very hard

to be patient’