PANGKALAN BUN, Indonesia – Divers and an unmanned underwater vehicle spotted the tail of the missing AirAsia plane in the Java Sea on Wednesday, the first confirmed sighting of any major wreckage 11 days after Flight 8501 disappeared with 162 people on board, an official said.
Following days of strong currents and murky water that hindered the operation, searchers managed to get a photograph of the debris, National Search and Rescue chief Henry Bambang Soelistyo told reporters.
The find is particularly important because the all-important cockpit voice and flight data recorders, or black boxes, are located in the aircraft’s tail. Small pieces of the plane, such as seats, have previously been spotted.
Soelistyo said the top priority remains recovering more bodies along with the black boxes. So far, 40 corpses have been found, including an additional one announced Wednesday, but time is running out.
At two weeks, most corpses will sink, said Anton Castilani, head of the country’s disaster identification victim unit, and there are already signs of serious decomposition.
The Airbus A320 went down Dec. 28, halfway through a two-hour flight between Indonesia’s second-largest city of Indonesia and Singapore, killing everyone on board. It is not clear what caused the crash, but bad weather is believed to be a contributing factor.
Just before losing contact, the pilot told air traffic control he was approaching threatening clouds, but was denied permission to climb to a higher altitude because of heavy air traffic. No distress signal was issued.
Ships equipped with sonar devices have also identified what they believe to be the fuselage of the plane. Several other big chunks have been found, the largest measuring 14 metres by 4 metres, though they have not yet received visual confirmation.
The search area for bodies and debris was expanded this week to allow for the strong currents that have been pushing debris around, said Indonesian search and rescue operation co-ordinator Tatang Zainudin.