Search for wreckage halted by storm

DIVERS tried to reach sunken wreckage from a crashed AirAsia passenger jet yesterday but were forced to return to their ship by bad weather‚ as Indonesian officials said they had detected a fifth large underwater object believed to be part of the plane.

In another development, experts said ice was the likely cause of the disaster.

It was the triggering factor and probably caused engine damage, Indonesian officials said.

The Airbus A320-200 crashed into the Java Sea a week ago carrying 162 people from Indonesia’s second city Surabaya to Singapore, and relief workers are hunting for the black-box flight data recorders to determine the cause of the crash.

A report on the website of Indonesia’s meteorological agency referred to infra-red satellite pictures showing peak cloud temperatures of minus 80°C to minus 85°C at the time.

A source close to the investigation has also said that radar data appeared to show the aircraft made an “unbelievably” steep climb before it crashed, possibly pushing it beyond the A320’s limits.

Indonesian officials were hopeful of a breakthrough in the operation when they announced on Saturday that ships using sonar had pinpointed four large pieces of debris on the sea bed.

The head of Indonesia’s search and rescue agency, Fransiskus Bambang Soelistyo, said that a fifth object almost 10 metres long had been found.

But although nine ships from four countries have converged on the area, with teams of divers, including seven Russian experts, standing ready, winds and high waves have slowed progress.

During a momentary respite from bad weather yesterday, divers went down to the biggest part of the wreckage and recovered one body, while another three were found floating in the sea. The total number of bodies recovered is 34.

A possible plan now is to deploy a remotely operated underwater vehicle.

The crash was the first fatal accident suffered by the AirAsia budget group, whose Indonesian affiliate flies from at least 15 destinations across the sprawling archipelago.

In one of hundreds of tragic stories emanating from the crash, a sister told at the weekend how a selfie confirmed her brother was on AirAsia Flight 8501.

Indonesian Yunita Syawal told at the weekend of her agony after suspecting that her brother was on the aircraft.

As they went aboard the passenger jet on December 28, bound for a New Year’s Eve break in Singapore, 23-year-old Hendra Gunawan Syawal and three of his friends paused for a moment to take a photo. They sent it to a friend.

A few hours later, Yunita, 25, heard about the missing plane through social media – and her worst fears were realised when the friend of her brother forwarded her the picture of the party of friends heading off for their break.

A call to her parents confirmed her worst fears and “I immediately flew to Surabaya”.

First, it was finding out what had happened to the plane. Then it was whether rescuers could locate her brother’s body, she said.
On Saturday, six days after the crash, Hendra’s body was identified as one of the bodies that have been recovered so far.

Relatives are preparing a final Buddhist funeral rite before Hendra’s body is taken to the cemetery.
“Our family is now focused on sending him to his last resting place,” his sister said. – Reuters, AFP

 – Fergus Jensen and Fransiska Nangoy

Leave a Reply