PANGKALAN BUN, Jan 2 – Indonesian recovery teams narrowed the search area for AirAsia flight 8501 today, hopeful they were closing in on the plane’s crash site, with a total of 30 bodies and more debris recovered from the sea. French and Singaporean investigators joined the hunt for the Airbus A320-200, which disappeared from radar during a storm Sunday en route from Indonesia’s second city of Surabaya to Singapore with 162 people on board.
The search teams have deployed side-scan sonar equipment to survey the seabed and pinger locators to fine-tune their search for the plane’s black boxes, crucial to determining the reason the plane crashd into the Java Sea, off Borneo. Rough weather has in recent days hampered the search for the plane’s fuselage, which is believed to be in relatively shallow water of around 25-32 metres (82-105 feet).
Search and rescue agency chief Bambang Soelistyo said today’s operation was focused on an area of 1,575 square nautical miles — a tenth of the size of yesterday’s search — with 29 ships and 17 aircraft engaged in the operation. “There are two main tasks in this priority sector: first to locate the biggest part of the plane’s body,” he told a press conference.
“The second task is to find the position of the black boxes, or flight recorders, which will be carried out by the KNKT (National Transportation Safety Committee), which started working today.” “Divers are already on standby on the navy ship Banda Aceh to locate the body of the plane,” he said, voicing hope for a “significant result”.
KNKT chief Tatang Kurniadi told AFP that 40 divers, including 20 deep sea experts, arrived today from Russia to help, along with two planes, one amphibious. The search is now focused on an area of 45 by 35 nautical miles centred about 75 nautical miles southwest of Pangkalan Bun, a town in Central Kalimantan on Borneo.
With the search area narrowing, Indonesian official S.B. Supriyadi said they were pressing on despite rough conditions, with high winds and 3-4 metre (10-13 foot) waves. “The search is still proceeding in systematic way, despite the extreme weather,” he told a press conference.
He said ships equipped with sonar may search through the night, but high waves were hampering the use of equipment to find the black boxes. Two South Korean Orion surveillance planes today spotted six bodies, Indonesian air force spokesman Hadi Tjahjanto said in a press release.
“After sweeping the area for more than two hours, at 11.58am the (Orions) found three bodies,” he said, and another three just minutes later. They informed warships by radio and fired flares to indicate the location for retrieval, he said.