Race against time to reach bodies, debris
THEIR worry is over, but the pain has just begun for relatives of the 162 people aboard AirAsia Flight QZ8501.
This, after parts of the plane's wreckage and bodies were pulled from the sea off the coast of Borneo yesterday, confirming that it had indeed crashed.
The news, revealed via footage from Indonesian TV, prompted raw scenes of emotion from devastated relatives and friends.
Indonesia's National Search and Rescue Agency chief Bambang Soelistyo said that just three bodies had been recovered so far, after another official said 40 had been found. There was no word on the possibility of any survivors.
"Today we evacuated three bodies and they are now in the warship Bung Tomo," Mr Soelistyo told a news conference in Jakarta last night, adding that two of the bodies were female and the third, male.
Navy spokesman Manahan Simorangkir had told AFP earlier that according to naval radio, a warship had recovered more than 40 bodies from the sea. But he later said that the report was a miscommunication by his staff.
At press time, the plane had yet to be found, although an air force plane saw a "shadow" on the seabed believed to be that of the missing aircraft, Mr Soelistyo said.
"The challenge is waves up to three metres high," he said. The search operation was halted last night because of weather conditions.
"My heart is filled with sadness for all the families involved in QZ8501," airline boss Tony Fernandes tweeted. "On behalf of AirAsia, my condolences to all. Words cannot express how sorry I am."
The airline said that it was inviting family members to Surabaya, "where a dedicated team of care providers will be assigned to each family to ensure that all of their needs are met".
QZ8501, an Airbus A320-200, lost contact with air traffic control early on Sunday during bad weather on a flight from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore.
The crash site is in an area around Pangkalan Bun, about 1,000km south-east of Singapore. Water in the area is shallow, at 25 to 30m deep, and the authorities have prepared divers to search for the plane's data recorders and further evidence.
Indonesian meteorologists described recovery efforts as a race against time because foul weather - heavy rains, choppy seas and stronger winds - was predicted from tomorrow onwards in the search area.
Pictures of floating bodies were broadcast on television and relatives of the missing, gathered at a crisis centre in Surabaya, wept with heads in their hands.
The news of the debris dimmed the faint hopes of relatives of those missing.
"If that news is true, what can I do? I cannot bring him back to life," said Dwijanto, 60, whose son was on the plane along with five colleagues. "My heart will be totally crushed if it's true. I will lose a son," he said.
Several people collapsed in grief and had to be assisted.
"You have to be strong," Surabaya Mayor Tri Rismaharini said as she comforted the relatives. "They are not ours, they belong to God."
A navy spokesman said that a plane door, oxygen tanks and one body had been recovered and taken for tests.
About 30 ships and 21 aircraft from Indonesia, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and the United States have been involved in the search over up to 10,000 square nautical miles.
Mr Soelistyo said that all efforts were now being concentrated on the location where the "shadow" and debris had been found. The town of Pangkalan Bun in Central Kalimantan has the nearest airstrip and is not far from the plane's last known position.
Singapore's Defence Minister, Ng Eng Hen, revealed in a Facebook post yesterday that three ships from the country's navy were heading to the search area.
AFP, REUTERS, BLOOMBERG, NYT