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Indonesia has suspended AirAsia flights on the route pending an investigation, saying the carrier wasn’t authorized to fly from Surabaya to Singapore on the day of the accident. Photo: AFP
Indonesia has suspended AirAsia flights on the route pending an investigation, saying the carrier wasn’t authorized to fly from Surabaya to Singapore on the day of the accident. Photo: AFP

AirAsia search finds four more bodies as weather slows hunt

The bodies of three men and one woman recovered on Monday bring the total to 34

Jakarta: Teams seeking the crashed AirAsia Bhd jetliner recovered four more bodies as the hunt continued for the black boxes that could unlock the cause of the accident.

The AirAsia plane may have flown into a storm cloud, as inclement conditions were difficult to avoid on the flight’s path, researchers from the Indonesia weather office wrote in a report. Operations of the jet’s engine may have been affected by “icing," they said, citing meteorological data from the plane’s last known location.

Indonesia has suspended AirAsia flights on the route pending an investigation, saying the carrier wasn’t authorized to fly from Surabaya to Singapore on the day of the accident. Divers, helicopters, planes and ships are scouring the Java Sea for the Airbus Group NV plane’s wreckage and cockpit- and flight-data recorders, or black boxes, which may explain why the six-year-old aircraft crashed on 28 December with 162 people on board.

“Our challenge is the mud," Bambang Sulistyo, head of Indonesia’s search and rescue agency, told reporters at a briefing Jakarta on Monday. “We’ve tried to dive, but the weather is still unfriendly."

Bodies, debris found

The bodies of three men and one woman recovered on Monday bring the total to 34, Sulistyo said. A fifth piece of plane debris was also located, measuring 9.8 meters (32 feet) long and 1.1 meters wide.

A US navy helicopter separately spotted three bodies at sea this morning, which have not yet been recovered because of strong winds, Major Setiawan of the Indonesian Air Force told reporters in Pangkalan Bun. Like many Indonesians, Setiawan goes by only one name.

AirAsia Indonesia chief executive officer Sunu Widyatmoko confirmed the route suspension and said the carrier will cooperate with the investigation, according to comments made at a press conference broadcast on local television on Sunday. The company won’t issue a statement until the results of the government review are announced, he said.

Black boxes

The Indonesian navy has found bodies still strapped in their seats and debris resembling parts of the tail, Colonel Yayan Sofyan said in an interview on Metro TV on Sunday. The tail is the location for the flight-data recorder and cockpit voice recorder.

Indonesia currently has five vessels equipped with hydrophones to try and pinpoint the cockpit—and flight data recorders, which are designed to emit a “pinging" for at least 30 days after a plane crashes in water. An additional vessel equipped with listening equipment will arrive from China on Tuesday, investigators said.

Recovery efforts are focused near Pangkalan Bun, about 1,000km southeast of Singapore. The international team set 5,400 square km as the most likely area to find the wreckage, Malaysian navy chief Abdul Aziz Jaafar said on Sunday in a Twitter post.

In-flight breakup

The fact that some of the bodies were recovered wearing seat belts suggests the plane may have suffered an aerodynamic stall rather than an in-flight breakup at high altitudes, said Robert Mann, head of aviation consultant R.W. Mann & Co. in Port Washington, New York.

Flying at 32,000 feet, the pilot asked to move to a higher altitude, citing clouds, officials have said.

An “abnormal situation occurred" at that height, said AirNav Indonesia, the nation’s air-navigation operator. Air traffic control gave the plane permission to ascend to 34,000 feet after checking flights in the area and coordinating with other airports, Bambang Tjahjono, AirNav’s head, said on Sunday.

Recovery effort

More than 90 vessels and aircraft have been involved in the search operation, which has so far found objects including what appears to be an emergency door and an evacuation slide.

The recovery effort will involve salvaging large pieces of the plane, engines, landing gear and other wreckage requiring heavy-duty lifting capability. The parts will then be pieced together for the investigation. Indonesia has sent a tanker to help, Sulistyo said.

Flight 8501 was the third high-profile incident involving a carrier in Asia last year, raising safety concerns in one of the world’s fastest-growing aviation markets. AirAsia is the biggest customer by units of the A320, a workhorse airliner flown by hundreds of carriers globally.

A spate of crashes in the past decade prompted Indonesia in 2008 to amend laws and boost plane-safety checks after the European Union banned its carriers from flying to Europe. The ban was later partially lifted. Indonesia had 3.77 fatal accidents for every 1 million takeoffs in the three years ended 31 March, London-based aviation adviser Ascend said in 2007. The global rate was 0.25 then. Bloomberg

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