Divers try to reach AirAsia plane’s tail

January 9, 2015 1:46 pm

Elite Indonesian military divers battled powerful currents to reach
the submerged tail of crashed AirAsia Flight 8501, in hopes of finding
its crucial black box data recorders.
The plane crashed on
December 28 during stormy weather as it flew from the Indonesian city of
Surabaya to Singapore, claiming the lives of all 162 people on board.
Bad
weather and huge waves have plagued multinational efforts to find the
wreckage of the plane in the Java Sea, as well as all of the bodies and
the black boxes that should contain the pilots’ last words.
The
biggest breakthrough came on Wednesday with the discovery of the tail,
which is where the black boxes are kept, buried into the seabed 30
metres underwater.
However powerful currents stymied efforts on
Thursday by divers from the Indonesian Marines’ elite diving unit to
penetrate into the tail, search and rescue agency chief Bambang
Soelistyo told reporters in Jakarta.

“Today’s search was really hampered by strong currents,”
Soelistyo told reporters in Jakarta after a day of repeated but
fruitless probes to the tail.
Divers travelled by rubber boat from the KRI Banda Aceh warship that was being stationed close to the site of tail wreckage.
Soelistyo
said, if weather allowed, retrieval experts would try to lift the tail
off the seabed on Friday, which would give divers access into the
wreckage and search for the black boxes.
He said the lifting
could be done with special airbags or a crane, all of which would be
brought to the Banda Aceh and another naval ship in the area on Friday.
Soelistyo said the other top priority was the search for bodies, with just 43 found so far.
Many of the others are believed to be inside the wreckage of the plane’s main cabin, which has not been found.
All but seven of those on board were Indonesian.
The
search — involving US, Russian, Chinese and other foreign military
assets — is being conducted from Pangkalan Bun, a town on the island of
Borneo which has the closest airstrip to the crash site.
The
Indonesian meteorological agency has said weather was the “triggering
factor” of the crash, with ice likely damaging the engines of the Airbus
A320-200.
But a clearer explanation is not possible without the black boxes.
– Poor safety record –
Indonesian
authorities also said the plane was flying on an unauthorised schedule
when it crashed, and AirAsia has since been suspended from flying the
Surabaya-Singapore route.
Indonesia’s transport ministry said on
Wednesday that it had fired one transport official and disciplined
several others in a crackdown following the crash.
It was
expected to announce on Friday the results of a deeper investigation
into how the flight was able to depart without permission.
Indonesia’s
air travel industry is booming, with domestic passengers growing nearly
five-fold over the past decade and airlines scoring billion-dollar
deals with foreign plane makers.
But it has a dismal air safety record.
In
2007, an Adam Air plane plunged into the sea off Sulawesi island on New
Year’s Day, killing all 102 people on board. That airline was later
banned from flying.
A few months later, a jet with flag carrier
Garuda Indonesia burst into flames on landing in the province of Central
Java, killing 21 people.
Authorities have sought to tighten
regulations on the sector since the darkest days of 2007, but
have conceded the fact AirAsia was flying on an unscheduled day showed
more needed to be done.
AirAsia Indonesia has declined to comment
on allegations it violated its permits. Singapore authorities say the
Sunday flight schedule had been cleared at their end.
The airline is a joint venture involving Malaysia-based budget carrier AirAsia, which previously had a solid safety record.

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