AirAsia flight QZ8501 search: 'No victim found wearing a life jacket', official says

Eight bodies have been recovered so far, as the recovery effort struggles with bad weather

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The Independent Online

The international search team hunting for wreckage from AirAsia flight QZ8501 are facing a growing battle "against time and weather" to recover the bodies of the dead.

Only eight victims have been recovered from the Java Sea despite a a brief window of clear conditions on Thursday. Officials say 162 people died the plane crashed on route from Surabaya to Singapore on Sunday.

It remains unclear what brought the jet down about halfway into its two-hour flight from Surabaya to Singapore, and an official has now denied earlier reports that one body was found wearing a life jacket.

Tatang Zaenudin, the deputy head of operations at Indonesia's search and rescue agency, is the same official who told reporters about the life jacket in the first place - prompting speculation that this meant the passengers knew they were going to crash for at least a small period of time beforehand.

But he has now corrected himself, saying: "There is no victim that has been found wearing a life jacket.

"We found a body at 8.20 a.m. and a life jacket at 10.32 a.m. so there was a time difference. This is the latest information we have," he added.

Officials believe the majority of the bodies are only likely to be found if they can locate the main fuselage of the aircraft. Indonesia air force spokesman Rear Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto told reporters his crews were "focusing on finding the body of the plane".

"There was something like a dark shadow once seen from a plane, but it cannot yet be proven as wreckage," he said.

Indonesia is currently in the middle of its rainy season, and the weather has repeatedly prevented helicopters and divers from operating while strong sea currents have kept debris moving.

Choppy conditions had prevented divers from entering the water yesterday, and helicopters were largely grounded, but 18 ships continued to survey the narrowed search area.

Sonar images 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."

They sought permission from air traffic controllers to climb above threatening clouds, but were initially denied due to traffic. Four minutes later, the airliner disappeared from radar without issuing a distress signal.

Meanwhile, officials said it could take a week to find the black box flight recorders which hold data that will help investigators determine the cause of the crash. Items recovered so far include a life jacket, an emergency exit door, an inflatable slide, children's shoes, a blue suitcase and backpacks filled with food.

Additional reporting by PA