Plane search resumes as seas calm

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Published: Thursday 1st January 2015 by The News Editor

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The search for victims of the AirAsia crash has resumed, with better weather helping teams in their hunt for the fuselage of the plane that plunged into the sea.

Two more bodies have been recovered, bringing the total to nine of the 162 people who were on Flight 8501 when it vanished on Sunday, half-way through a two-hour flight from Surabaya, Indonesia, to Singapore

Sonar images identified what appeared to be large parts of the plane, but strong currents were moving the debris.

Choppy conditions prevented divers from entering the water yesterday and helicopters were largely grounded. But 18 ships surveyed the narrowed search area.

The break in weather today – blue skies and calm seas despite earlier storm predictions – could aid recovery efforts and Vice Air Marshal Sunarbowo Sandi, the search and rescue co-ordinator in Pangkalan Bun on Borneo island, the closest town to the targeted area, said he hoped divers would be able to explore the wreckage site.

“It’s possible the bodies are in the fuselage,” he said, “so it’s a race now against time and weather.”

It is still unclear what brought the plane down. The jet’s last communication indicated the pilots were worried about bad weather. They sought permission to climb above threatening clouds but were denied because of heavy air traffic. Four minutes later, the airliner disappeared from the radar without issuing a distress signal.

The cockpit-voice and flight-data recorders, or black boxes, must be recovered before officials can start determining what caused the crash. Items recovered so far include a life jacket, emergency exit window, children’s shoes, a blue suitcase and backpacks filled with food.

Simple wooden coffins – numbered 001 and 002 – with purple flowers on top contained the first two bodies, which were sent from Pangkalan Bun to Surabaya for post-mortem examinations. The two victims were a woman wearing blue jeans and a boy. The other five bodies – three male and two female – will remain on a warship until the weather clears.

Nearly all the passengers were Indonesian, and many were Christians of Chinese descent. The country is predominantly Muslim, but sizeable pockets of people of other faiths are found throughout the sprawling archipelago. Around 10% of those in Surabaya, the nation’s second-largest city, are Christian.

Fifteen-year-old Chiara Natasha’s entire family was coming to visit for the new year.

The teenager moved to Singapore in November to study at a Methodist girls’ school on a government scholarship. Her parents and two brothers had promised to join her to celebrate the holiday and help her settle into dormitory life.

But instead of greeting her relatives at the airport, she returned home on Sunday to Surabaya, Indonesia, to seek any word about the fate of Flight 8501, praying that they had somehow survived.

Families who lost loved ones aboard the Airbus A320-200 endured another excruciating day of waiting yesterday as the bad weather hindered efforts to recover any more bodies and sent wreckage drifting far from the crash site.

“Help us, God, to move forward, even though we are surrounded by darkness,” the Rev Philip Mantofa, whose church lost about 40 members in the disaster, told families gathered in a waiting room at the Surabaya airport.

About 100 relatives gathered for the airport prayer service where Mr Mantofa urged them to hold on to their faith despite their pain. About 40 members of his Mawar Sharon Church died in the crash.

“Some things do not make sense to us, but God is bigger than all this,” he said. “Our God is not evil.”

Before breaking up, those gathered stood together and sang with their hands reaching upward. “I surrender all. I surrender all,” they repeated. “I surrender all to God our saviour.”

Many family members had planned to travel to Pangkalan Bun, 100 miles from the area where bodies were first spotted, to start identifying their loved ones. But the manager of the Surabaya airport, Trikora Hardjo,said later the trip was cancelled after authorities suggested their presence could slow down the operation.

Instead, some relatives gave blood for DNA tests and submitted photos of their loved ones along with identifying information such as tattoos or birthmarks that could help make the process easier.

Published: Thursday 1st January 2015 by The News Editor

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