Wreckage reveals AirAsia jet’s fate
Pangkalan Bun, Indonesia — The first proof of the fate of AirAsia Flight 8501 emerged Tuesday from the shallow, aqua-colored waters of the Java Sea, confirming that the plane crashed with 162 people aboard in an area not far from where it dropped off radar screens.
Two days after the jet vanished, searchers found as many as six bodies and debris that included a life jacket, an emergency exit door and a suitcase about 10 miles from the plane’s last known coordinates.
The airliner’s disappearance halfway through a two-hour flight between Surabaya, Indonesia, and Singapore triggered an international hunt for the aircraft involving dozens of planes, ships and helicopters. It is still unclear what brought the plane down.
Images of the debris and a bloated body shown on Indonesian television sent a spasm of anguish through the room at the Surabaya airport where relatives awaited news.
The first sign of the jet turned up about 10 miles from its last known coordinates. Parts of the interior, including the oxygen tank, were brought to the nearest town, Pangkalan Bun. Another find included a bright blue plastic suitcase, completely unscratched.
Asked about the prospects of finding survivors more than 36 hours after the flight went missing, Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla said: “We pray for them but we realize the worst may have happened.”
“I know the plane has crashed, but I cannot believe my brother and his family are dead,” said Ifan Joko, who lost seven relatives, three of them children, as they traveled to Singapore to ring in the new year. “We still pray they are alive.”
First Adm. Sigit Setiayanta, commander of the Naval Aviation Center at Surabaya Air Force base, told reporters six corpses were spotted about 100 miles from Central Kalimantan province.
Rescue workers descended on ropes from a hovering helicopter to retrieve bodies. Efforts were hindered by 6-foot waves and strong winds, National Search and Rescue Director SB Supriyadi said.
The first body was later picked up by a navy ship. Officials said as many as six others followed, but they disagreed about the exact number.
Supriyadi was on the aircraft and saw what appeared to be more wreckage under the water, which was clear and a relatively shallow 65 to 100 feet.
When TV broadcast an image of a half-naked man floating in the water, a shirt partially covering his head, many of the family members screamed and wailed uncontrollably. One middle-aged man collapsed and had to be carried out on a stretcher.
Their horror was captured by cameras on the other side of windows into the waiting room. Officials blacked out the glass later Tuesday evening.
Around 125 family members were planning to travel Wednesday to Pangkalan Bun to start identifying their loved ones. Body bags and coffins have been prepared at hospitals there.
Malaysia-based AirAsia’s loss comes on top of the still-unsolved disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in March with 239 people aboard, and the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in July over Ukraine, which killed 298 people.
Bloomberg News contributed.
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