Indonesia’s rescue agency chief said his team will raise the tail of the crashed AirAsia plane out of the water to retrieve the black box, while three more bodies were recovered on Thursday.
The AirAsia Airbus A320-200 vanished from radar screens Dec 28 en route from Indonesia’s second-largest city Surabaya to Singapore with 162 people on board.
Bambang Soelistyo, head of Indonesia’s National Search and Rescue Agency, told a press conference that the tail where the black box is attached will be lifted by floating balloons or by crane Friday if the weather was favourable, Xinhua news agency reported.
Sonar and divers located the tail in the secondary search area Wednesday, lying upside down and partly buried in the mud 34 metres underwater.
Divers were struggling to reach the tail Thursday morning to locate the black box. However, with the underwater current reaching five knots and the visibility being less than one metre, divers failed to pass through the choppy area, Soelistyo said.
The flight data and cockpit voice recorders of flight QZ8501 are crucial to helping determine the cause of the jet crash. Ping-emitting beacons in the black boxes still have about 20 days of battery life, but high waves had prevented searchers from using ping locators, which are dragged by ships.
Soelistyo said the top priority at the moment was still the search for bodies.
Three more bodies were retrieved by Thursday, bringing the total to 44.
Soelistyo had believed that many of the others are still trapped inside the wreckage of the plane, however, divers did not find any bodies when reaching the tail Wednesday.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi expressed her deepest condolences to all the families of the QZ8501 victims during her annual press statement in Jakarta Thursday.
She said the Indonesian government has done and would continue to do everything in its power to deal with this tragedy.
“Allow me also to convey my gratitude and highest appreciation to all the governments of friendly countries for their support and assistance,” she said.
Two Japanese ships which were part of the multinational search effort involving the US, Russia, China and other countries, would end their mission Friday, Soelistyo added.
Two Chinese rescue vessels have left for Pangkalan Bun, a town on Borneo island’s Central Kalimantan province closest to the wreckage days ago and is expected to arrive Friday.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Wednesday that China was ready to send additional forces to help search the plane and victims according to the needs of Indonesia.
Bad weather is believed to a contributing factor of the crash. Just before losing contact, the pilot told air traffic control he was approaching threatening clouds, but was denied permission to climb a higher altitude because of heavy traffic. No distress signal was issued.
Indonesia’s meteorological agency said earlier that the weather was the “triggering factor” in the crash of the plane as icing might have damaged the engine although the final cause would be announced by the National Transportation Safety Committee (KNKT) after examining the data from black box.
Indonesian Transport Ministry has suspended the carrier’s Surabaya-Singapore license, citing the QZ8501 flight did not have permission to fly the route.
AirAsia Indonesia, 49 percent owned by the Malaysia-based AirAsia, has said it was fully cooperating with Indonesian authorities for investigation and would fulfill the obligation to compensate the families of those killed with some 1.25 billion Indonesia rupiah (around $100,000).