Indonesian military calls off AirAsia wreckage recovery

Gerard Lim
Indonesian military calls off AirAsia wreckage recovery


'All of our forces are being pulled out. We apologize to the families of the victims.'

PANGKALAN BUN, Indonesia – The Indonesian military on Tuesday, January 27, called off efforts to recover the wreckage of an AirAsia plane that crashed into the Java Sea last month, after failing to find any more bodies inside the fuselage.

Flight QZ8501 went down on December 28 in stormy weather with 162 people on board, during what was supposed to be a short trip from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore.

Search and rescue teams failed repeatedly in recent days to lift the main body of the Airbus A320-200, where officials had hoped to find the majority of the victims.

The navy, which has provided much of the personnel and equipment for the rescue effort, said Tuesday it was withdrawing as the badly damaged fuselage was too difficult to lift and no more bodies had been located.

“All of our forces are being pulled out,” said Rear Admiral Widodo, a navy official overseeing the search and rescue operation. “We apologize to the families of the victims.”

So far just 70 bodies have been recovered, and the national search and rescue agency said it would try to find more victims in smaller-scale operations.

“We will continue to try fulfil the hopes of the victims’ relatives, but the operation will not be a large-scale one,” the agency’s head Bambang Soelistyo told AFP.

Military spokesman Fuad Basya said that the plane’s body was “destroyed”.

“It was soaked in sea water for a while so when we lifted it it was torn apart,” he said. “We can no longer find any more bodies.” 

DESTROYED. After being soaked in sea water for almost a month, the main fuselage of the crashed AirAsia jet was torn apart during attempts to lift it. Image posted by Singaporean Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen on Facebook

International hunt 

Since Saturday, salvage teams had been using giant inflatable bags to try to raise the fuselage, which is lying in the sea at a depth of around 30 meters (98 feet).

At one point, they managed to lift the main body to the surface for two minutes before a sling holding it snapped. The fuselage then split in two and sank to the seabed.

There was a huge international hunt for the AirAsia jet, involving ships from countries including the United States and China. But following the discovery of the fuselage by a Singaporean vessel, most foreign assistance was pulled out. (READ: Main body of crashed AirAsia jet located)

The jet’s black boxes – the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder – have been recovered, and investigators are analysing them. A preliminary report into the accident should be completed this week.

Indonesian Transport Minister Ignasius Jonan said last week that the plane climbed abnormally fast before stalling and plunging into the sea. (READ: AirAsia plane climbed at speed ‘beyond normal’ then stalled)

One crash investigator described how the plane’s warning alarms were “screaming” in the moments before the crash as the pilots desperately sought to stabilize the aircraft. (READ: AirAsia jet’s alarms ‘screaming’ before crash: investigator)

Just moments before the plane disappeared off the radar, the pilot had asked to climb to avoid a major storm but was not immediately granted permission due to heavy air traffic.

Indonesia’s meteorological agency has said weather could have caused the accident, but only the black boxes will be able to give definitive answers. –


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