JAKARTA, Indonesia (3rd UPDATE) – The fuselage of the crashed AirAsia jet has been located by a Singaporean vessel involved in the search, Singapore Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen announced on his official Facebook page on Wednesday afternoon.
“Chief of Navy RADM Lai Chung Han just informed me that one of SAF’s ships, the MV Swift Rescue, has located the fuselage of the AirAsia plane in the Java Sea,” he wrote.
“Images taken by the Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) show part of the wing and words on the fuselage.
“We have informed BASARNAS, the Indonesian search authority, who can now begin recovery operations.”
The words “now” and “everyone” are visible on the photos, apparently from AirAsia’s motto “Now Everyone Can Fly” painted on the plane’s exterior.
In another Facebook post, Ng shared the recording of a phone conversation with the Commander Task Group for underwater search operations on board the MV Swift Rescue, SLTC Chow Khim Chong.
Chong described how “their sonar first detected the wreckage about 2km from where the tail was found earlier. They then sent the remotely operated vehicle to have visual confirmation before informing BASARNAS, the Indonesian search authority,” he wrote.
“The wreckage with wings was about 26m long. I asked Khim Chong to convey my thanks and appreciation to his crew. I’m sure Singaporeans are proud of them for their hard work. Attaching an audio-clip of the phone call.”
AirAsia flight QZ8501 crashed in the Java Sea on December 28 in stormy weather during a short, routine flight from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore, with 162 people on board.
Both black boxes, the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder, were recovered this week after a frustrating, lengthy search often hampered by bad weather. They should provide investigators with vital information about what caused the crash.
Finding the fuselage of the Airbus 320-200 is seen as vital, as most of the victims are believed to be still trapped inside. Just 48 bodies have so far been recovered.
Indonesia’s national search and rescue chief Bambang Soelistyo confirmed that the fuselage had been found by the Singaporean ship and said divers would head to the wreckage on Thursday.
“It’s dark today, its not possible to dive, so we will dive tomorrow. The main focus is to find victims in the fuselage,” he told AFP.
“If it’s difficult we will lift (the fuselage) up either in part or in whole.”
AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes immediately responded to the news through his Twitter account.
The pictures are correct. Fuselage found. Needs some work for divers to go in. Thank you all rescue teams. We hope all our guests are there— Tony Fernandes (@tonyfernandes) January 14, 2015
It is so so sad though seeing our aircraft. I’m gutted and devastated. But hopefully we can find the rest of … http://t.co/6GMWZL6Fkz— Tony Fernandes (@tonyfernandes) January 14, 2015
The Singapore navy ship was part of a huge international hunt for the plane, which also included US and Chinese ships.
“The accident is a tragic event resulting in the loss of many lives. I hope that with the fuselage located, some form of closure can come to the families of the victims to ease their grief,” Ng wrote in his post.
“I would also like to thank all our SAF servicemen who have given this mission their all to help the Indonesians recover the flight data and cockpit voice recorders, and the fuselage. Especially to the crew of MV Swift Rescue, you never gave up – well done.”
Vital black boxes
The so-called black boxes – which are actually orange in color – have been flown to Jakarta, where Indonesia’s National Transport Safety Committee is leading a probe into the accident, helped by experts from countries including France and the United States.
The country’s meteorological agency has said bad weather may have caused the crash but only the black boxes will be able to provide definitive answers.
Investigators have started retrieving data from the recorders and converting it into a usable format, which will take around a week, before the lengthy analysis process can begin, committee head Tatang Kurniadi told AFP.
The flight data recorder holds a wealth of information about every major part of the plane, with details such as the jet’s speed and the direction it was heading in, while the cockpit voice recorder stores radio transmissions and sounds in the cockpit.
The committee has said a preliminary report on the accident will be produced within a month, and a final report after a year.
At a port near Pangkalan Bun, the search headquarters on Borneo island, Indonesian investigators and their French counterparts also began examining the tail, which was lifted out of the water at the weekend.
Before take-off, the plane’s pilot had asked for permission to fly at a higher altitude to avoid a major storm but the request was not approved due to other planes above him on the popular route.
In his last communication, the experienced pilot said he wanted to change course to avoid the storm. Then all contact was lost, about 40 minutes after take-off.
All but seven of those on board the flight were Indonesian. The foreign nationals were from South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Britain and France. – with a report from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com
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