Bad weather hinders efforts to recover Flight 8501 bodies – USA TODAY
AirAsia confirmed debris found in the Java Sea came from missing Flight 8501. Bodies were also recovered from the location just six miles from the plane’s last communications with air-traffic control.
SURABAYA, Indonesia — Bad weather hindered efforts to recover the bodies of the people aboard AirAsia Flight 8501 from the Java Sea on Wednesday, and sent wreckage drifting far from the crash site.
The hunt for the 162 passengers and crew on the Airbus A320, which vanished on Sunday morning on the way from Surabaya to Singapore, was severely limited due to heavy rain, wind and thick clouds.
Hernanto, the head of Surabaya search and rescue, said seven bodies had been recovered so far — three on Tuesday and the rest on Wednesday. Indonesia’s Search and Rescue chief Henry Bambang Soelistyo said they included a woman wearing a flight attendant’s uniform.
The BBC reported that the first bodies had arrived in Surabaya, where relatives are waiting.
The weather prevented divers from retrieving bodies Wednesday, and helicopters were largely grounded, but ships were still scouring the area.
Sonar images identified what appeared to be large parts of the plane, but strong currents were moving the wreckage. Investigators are still trying to determine what caused the jetliner to crash in shallow Indonesian waters.
After more than two days of searching, the Indonesian National Search and Rescue Agency confirmed Tuesday that debris from the aircraft was found in the Karimata Strait, off the coast of Borneo.
Parts of the jet’s interior, including an oxygen tank, were brought to the nearest town, Pangkalan Bun on Borneo island. Also found was a bright blue plastic suitcase, completely unscratched. The jet’s “black boxes,” cockpit voice and flight data recorders that are key to understanding what caused the crash, were not yet recovered.
Simple wooden boxes containing bodies, with signs numbered 001 and 002, were unloaded in Pangkalan Bun, with flowers placed on top.
Rescue workers descended from a hovering helicopter to retrieve bodies from the water, but 6-foot waves and strong winds hindered their efforts, National Search and Rescue Director SB Supriyadi said.
“It seems all the wreckage found has drifted more than 50 kilometers (31 miles) from yesterday’s location,” said Vice Air Marshal Sunarbowo Sandi, search and rescue coordinator in Pangkalan Bun. “We are expecting those bodies will end up on beaches.”
Recovering bodies was expected to remain difficult for the near future. Indonesia’s meteorology and geophysics agency predicted that the conditions would worsen, with more intense rains, through Friday.
As search operations continued Wednesday, symbols of the tragedy began to accumulate around Juanda airport in Surabaya. Large flower wreaths were placed near the crisis center at the airport, while a Catholic priest and Protestant clergy were on hand to support the relatives of the passengers, a number of whom are Christians.
One Surabaya church — Manwar Sharon Church — lost 41 members in the crash. On Wednesday, around 100 relatives gathered for a prayer service in an hall at the airport where the Rev. Philip Mantofa urged the crowd to hold onto their faith, despite their pain.
“Some things do not make sense to us, but God is bigger than all this,” he said. “Our God is not evil … help us God to move forward even though we are surrounded by darkness.”
At nearby Graha Serba Guna, a multipurpose complex used by the navy, roughly 40 ambulances were assembled to transport the first recovered bodies, expected to arrive at Juanda airport Wednesday afternoon.
Arif Kurniwan, a police officer waiting with the ambulances, said the bodies would be taken to Bhayangkara Hospital, around 10 miles from the airport.
For grieving relatives, the wait continued, both for bodies to be recovered and identified and for answers as to what caused the crash.
William Kai, whose brother-in-law David Gunawan and his wife and two children, ages 7 and 10, were on the flight, said his family was leaning on each other and their faith in God for strength.
“We are devastated for sure,” he said. “We’re humans. We’re never ready for this kind of stuff. We just have to stay strong for each other.”
He said they were still holding on to a sliver of hope for survivors. “Thinking logically, the chances are very, very low,” he said. “Right now, we live by faith, not by sight. We believe in God.”
The Airbus A320, which took off from Surabaya for Singapore, lost contact with air-traffic control Sunday morning. Pilots had asked permission to climb to avoid storm clouds, but six other aircraft were in the vicinity, so controllers denied the request. Minutes later, the jet vanished from radar screens without declaring an emergency.
Contributing: The Associated Press