JAKARTA – The number of bodies recovered in the aftermath of Sunday’s crash of Indonesia AirAsia Flight QZ8501 in waters off Borneo rose to nine on Thursday, with one of them being identified as an Indonesian woman who was among the 162 people on board the plane.
“The body number B001 has been identified as Hayati Lutfiah Hamid,” Budiono, chief of the disaster victim identification unit at East Java Police Headquarters, told a press conference.
He said her body was identified based on fingerprints, an identification card found on her body and her belongings, including a necklace with her initials and bracelet recognized by her family.
AirAsia management returned Hayati’s body, contained in a dark brown casket topped with white and purple flowers, to her family in a somber ceremony at HS Samsoeri Mertojoso Police Hospital in the East Java provincial capital of Surabaya, where the plane had taken off for Singapore before it crashed into the sea 41 minutes after takeoff.
“Oh Allah, oh Allah, give us help,” one of her relatives cried while caressing the coffin.
The search for passengers and crew of the missing Airbus A320, which plunged into the Karimata Strait between the islands of Sumatra and Borneo, resumed in the morning but was suspended a few hours later due to bad weather.
In an afternoon press conference, National Search and Rescue Agency Chief Vice Marshall Bambang Soelistyo said that of the nine bodies, six, including Hayati’s, had been flown for autopsies to Surabaya, the country’s second-largest city.
Two other bodies are still in Pangkalan Bun, a port town in the southwestern part of Borneo, and will be flown to Surabaya at the next opportunity, while the remaining one, still on an Indonesian naval vessel, will be transported from sea to land when weather conditions permit.
“We took a risk by transferring the bodies from the warship to a tugboat through a four-hour sea trip with waves that were 3-4 meters high,” the agency’s Deputy Chief Maj. Gen. Tatang Zaenudin told an earlier press conference.
According to Soelistyo, bad weather is forecast to continue until Sunday, with high waves, strong currents, heavy rain and strong winds.
Meanwhile, a ship equipped with a locator to find the plane’s fuselage arrived in the search area Thursday.
Tatang said the ship of the Agency for Technology Research and Application, which is equipped with a ping locator device, will be used “to detect the signal of the plane’s black box.”
Searchers hope to find the cockpit voice and flight data recorders in order to ascertain the cause of the crash.
Vessels from other countries are expected to help search for more bodies and for the black box.
They include two Maritime Self-Defense Agency vessels from Japan and three helicopters that were on the way home from a mission off the coast of Somalia. The Japanese contingent, which includes 350 personnel, is expected to arrive on the scene by Friday.
The pilot last made contact with air traffic control at 6:12 a.m. and no distress signal was sent after that.
On Tuesday, aircraft debris and bodies were found floating at sea about 194 km southwest of Pangkalan Bun and about 10 km from the location where contact was lost.
Forty-seven frogmen of the Indonesian Navy and 20 others from the National Search and Rescue Agency were involved in Thursday’s search efforts, but were hindered in their diving work by 4-meter-high waves and strong currents.
On Tuesday, a Hercules aircraft saw an object resembling a plane in nearby waters, some 25 to 32 meters deep.
Speculation has spread among the public and aviation experts that Flight QZ8501 may have crashed due to bad weather.
At 6:12 a.m. Sunday, the pilot asked to change the flight path of the plane, which was flying at 32,000 feet, to the left side of its route and fly at a higher altitude of 38,000 feet to avoid storm clouds.
Air traffic controllers allowed the pilot to deviate the plane’s course to the left but refused his request to fly higher as there were other planes above it.
Two minutes later, however, they allowed the plane to climb to 34,000 feet, but nothing was heard from the cockpit. They repeatedly called the pilot but received no reply.
At 6:14 a.m., the plane could still be seen on radar.
When radar contact was lost three minutes later, the plane was flying between the city of Pontianak in West Kalimantan Province on Borneo, and Tanjung Pandan in Bangka-Belitung Islands Province, near Sumatra.