AirAsia flight QZ8501 crash: debris does belong to missing plane, 40 bodies from missing plane found and 'emergency slide and plane door' spotted

Indonesian military aircraft spots white, red and black objects, including what appears to be a life jacket, off the coast

Rose Troup Buchanan
Tuesday 30 December 2014 07:33 GMT
Floating debris spotted by an Indonesia search and rescue aircraft in the hunt for the missing AirAsia flight QZ8501
Floating debris spotted by an Indonesia search and rescue aircraft in the hunt for the missing AirAsia flight QZ8501 (AFP)

Search teams have recovered at least 40 bodies and numerous pieces of wreckage from missing AirAsia Flight QZ8501 as search teams said that a “shadow” has been spotted on the seabed.

Around 10 objects have been found in the Java Sea, roughly six miles from where the plane lost contact with air traffic control, including what Indonesian air force officials claim are items resembling a plane door, emergency slide and the shadow of what appeared to be the outline of the passenger jet.

As distraught families waited for news of the rescue attempt, Indonesian news channel TVOne aired footage of one of the swollen bodies in split screen footage also capturing the anguish of relatives watching. The move was widely condemned as "cruel" on social media, adding that "TV One should be ashamed".

Additional ships and specialist divers en route will focus on finding the remaining passengers and crew, as well as the vitally important black box, amid tricky weather conditions of fog and large waves hampering an otherwise straightforward retrieval operation in relatively shallow water of 20 meters.

First Lieutenant Tri Wibowo, who was on board a Hercules during the first search operation, described finding the debris: "We thought that the passengers were still alive and waved at us for help. But when we approached closer [we saw] they were already dead."

"As we approached, the body seemed bloated," he told national Indonesian newspaper Kompas, adding that he could see three of the "seven to eight bodies" were "holding hands". He also confirmed that the bodies were not wearing life jackets.

Indonesian navy spokesman Manahan Simorangkir told AFP: "Based on the navy radio, it has been reported that the warship Bung Tomo has retrieved 40 bodies and the number is growing". Conflicting reports indicate that far fewer bodies have been recovered.

Search and Rescue Agency chief Henry Bambang Soelistyo told reporters "more than one" body had been recovered.

During the press conference, held at around 2pm local time, he said that search teams had seen a shadow underneath the water, allegedly in the shape of a plane as well as recovering white, red and black objects, including what appears to be a life jacket. AirAsia’s livery is red and white.

Messages for passengers on board the missing AirAsia flight 8501 are placed on a board at Changi International Airport in Singapore

AirAsia has released a statement confirming the find and offering "sincere sympathies" to the families of passengers and crew members.

CEO Mr Fernandes also said in the statement: “I am absolutely devastated. This is a very difficult moment for all of us at AirAsia as we await further developments of the search and rescue operations but our first priority now is the wellbeing of the family members of those onboard QZ8501.”

He has arrived in Surabaya to see families and is reported as appearing "utterly dejected."

Commander of 1st Indonesian Air Force Operational Command Rear Marshall Dwi Putranto, right, shows airplane parts and a suitcase found floating on the water near the site where AirAsia Flight 8501 disappeared, during a press conference at the airbase in Pangkalan Bun, Central Borneo, Indonesia
akarta's Air Force base commander Rear Marshal Dwi Putranto (C) and Indonesian Air Force crew show pieces recovered from the wreck (EPA)

Indonesia's president Joko Widodo traveled to Surabaya to meet families and view the crash site, later giving a brief - if emotional - conference to the gathered press and families.

He told a press conference that the search would continue with the emphasis on finding passengers and crew. "To all relatives, I feel your loss. We all pray families will have strength to face this tragedy," he said.

President Widodo was seen with AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes going to meet families of the passengers. The country's prime minister has also voiced his sympathy for those affected.

The chief executive officer of AirAsia Indonesia Sunu Widyatmoko also expressed their sorrow. “We are sorry to be here today under these tragic circumstances. We would like to extend our sincere sympathies to the family and friends of those on board QZ8501. Our sympathies also go out to the families of our dear colleagues.”

The Airbus A320-200, carrying 162 individuals including one Briton and his young daughter, disappeared on Sunday while en route from Surabaya, Indonesia, to Singapore.

The United States announced it was sending the USS Sampson destroyer, joining teams from China, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and Thailand also involved in the search, with local fishermen helping Indonesia's Search and Rescue Agency chief Soelistyo told reporters.

Another shot of the debris (EPA)

This is the second sighting of debris after a disappointment yesterday when two darken patches on the sea where initially believed to be oil slicks. They later emerged as clutches of coral underwater.

The search has expanded to include not only the sea but nearby land, with two Indonesian helicopters scouring Pangkalan Bun island looking for any sign of wreckage earlier this morning.

Family members of passengers onboard the missing Malaysian air carrier AirAsia flight QZ8501 react after watching news reports showing an unidentified body floating in the Java sea, inside the crisis-centre set up at Juanda International Airport in Surabaya
Captain Irianto's (the pilot of AirAsia QZ8501 flight) relatives and his wife Widiya Sukati (3rd L) Putri gather in his house at Sidoarjo in Surabaya, Indonesia

Additional helicopters were used to examine the land on the smaller islands of Bangka and Belitung to the east.

Nearly all the passengers and crew are Indonesians, who are frequent visitors to Singapore, particularly on holidays.

Indonesian people pray for passengers of the missing AirAsia flight QZ8501 in Malang, East Java

The crash marks a tragic end to aviation in Southeast Asia in 2014. Mystery still surrounds the disappearance of MH370, which disappeared with all 239 passengers on board. The shooting down of MH17 over Ukraine killed all 298 passengers and crew and provoked international outrage amid an outpouring of grief.

Additional reporting by Associated Press

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