PANGKALAN BUN, INDONESIA: A Singaporean navy ship on Wednesday located the main body of the AirAsia plane that crashed into the Java Sea late last month, raising hopes that bodies of most of the 162 victims will now be found.
Underwater photos showed the cracked fuselage and part of a wing of Flight QZ8501, that went down on December 28 in stormy weather during a short trip from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore.
The discovery of the fuselage is the latest boost in a lengthy search operation in Indonesian waters hampered by bad weather. Just 50 bodies have so far been recovered with most of the victims believed to be trapped inside the Airbus 320-200´s main body.
It followed the retrieval this week of both the plane´s black boxes, which contain vital information to help investigators determine what caused the crash.
AirAsia boss Tony Fernandes confirmed the fuselage had been found in a tweet, saying: “It is so so sad though seeing our aircraft. I´m gutted and devastated.”
“We hope all our guests are there,” he added.
Singapore´s Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said in a Facebook post that the MV Swift Rescue had located the wreckage, which was 26 metres (85 feet) long and about two kilometres from where the plane´s tail was found earlier.
On the photos accompanying the post, taken by the ship´s remotely operated vehicle, the words “now” and “everyone” are visible, apparently from AirAsia´s motto “Now Everyone Can Fly” painted on the plane´s exterior.
Indonesia´s national search and rescue chief Bambang Soelistyo said that divers would head to the main body on Thursday.
“It is already dark so we will carry out the dive tomorrow morning with the target to find the victims which may still be around it or trapped in the body,” he said.
“If the divers have any difficulty, the next step will then be to lift the body and the wing.”
He added that two more victims were found Wednesday, meaning 50 bodies have so far been retrieved.
The Singapore navy ship was part of a huge international hunt for the plane, which also included US and Chinese ships.