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Bodies retrieved in QZ8501 search, full-on search tomorrow

 An Indonesian warship has recovered more than 40 bodies from the Java Sea today in the search for AirAsia flight QZ8501, a navy spokesman told AFP.

"Based on the navy radio, it has been reported that the warship Bung Tomo has retrieved 40 bodies and the number is growing. They are very busy now," Manahan Simorangkir said.

The number of bodies retrieved was corrected later this evening by Indonesia's National Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas) chief Bambang Soelistyo, who said that only three bodies had been recovered so far.
"Today we evacuated three bodies and they are now in the warship Bung Tomo," Bambang Soelistyo told a news conference in Jakarta, as reported by AFP.

He said the bodies were of two females and a male.

The bodies and plane debris were found earlier this afternoon in the Karimata Strait between Kalimantan and Sumatra, off Belitung island where the plane's last radar contact with air traffic control was made before it disappeared.

Debris spotted earlier in an aerial search over that sector saw items resembling an airplane emergency slide and a plane door in the sea.

Soelistyo had also announced that a search plane had spotted a "shadow" on the seabed, a possible indication of the crashed A320 jet.

The depth of water where the plane is believed to have crashed is said to be only 40 metres deep, CNN had reported.

The search for the remaining 159 bodies and debris will be on full throttle tomorrow.

Indonesian president Joko Widodo in Surabaya this evening told the media that recovering the victims' remains and plane debris would be the top-most priority of the search and rescue operations team.

"We will launch major search by air and sea tomorrow," The Straits Times quoted him as saying.

“I’ve instructed the National Search and Rescue Agency to make a joint operation to find the body of the airplane and also passengers and flight crew. I’ve instructed them to focus on retrieving the passengers and flight crew.

He also thanked other countries involved in the search – Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and the United States – which, together with Indonesia, have committed some 30 ships and 21 aircraft to the operations.

The US is said to be deploying a second ship to help with recovery efforts, CNN reported.

The search site is some 62 kilometers southwest of Pangkalan Bun in Kalimantan.

By this evening, AirAsia Indonesia's head Sunu Widyatmoko issued a statement to confirm that the debris found today was indeed from flight QZ8501, and extended sympathies to the family and friends of passengers as well as colleagues on board the flight.

Bernama also reported through its Twitter account that AirAsia chief executive officer Datuk Tony Fernandez is hoping that the retrieval of bodies would be completed tomorrow, weather permitting. Fernandez is in Surabaya to meet with the passengers' relatives.

The Jakarta Globe reported Fernandez, who was at the same press conference as Widodo, expressing strong hopes that the flight recorder box could be recovered to ascertain why the aircraft went down.

Fernandez also defended the captain of the flight, Irianto, and the aircraft's performance, but also said he took responsibility as the head of the company.

Malaysia's transport minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai, in a statement this evening, committed to extending assistance to Indonesia in the search operation.

Flight QZ8501 was carrying 155 passengers on board, including 16 children and one infant, and seven crew members.

The passengers comprise 149 Indonesians, three South Koreans, one Singaporean, one Malaysian and one Briton.

The crew comprises six Indonesians and a French national, who is the First Officer.

The plane's last contact with air traffic control was to make a request to climb to higher altitudes to avoid a storm.

Meanwhile, aircraft manufacturer Airbus said today that it would work with investigators to help find the cause of the crash of an AirAsia flight which went missing early on Sunday between Indonesia and Singapore.

Indonesia AirAsia's flight QZ8501, an Airbus A320-200, lost contact with air traffic control during bad weather. Wreckage and bodies have been located off the coast of Borneo.

"Airbus has been informed by the Indonesian authorities that the accident site of flight QZ8501 has been located," said the company in a statement.

"With safety as its prime concern, Airbus reaffirms its full commitment to provide all necessary technical assistance to the investigation authorities in order to establish the cause of this tragic accident."

The investigation is being led by the Indonesian National Transportation Safety Committee, with help from international agencies. – AFP, December 30, 2014.

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