AirAsia Searchers Believe Jet's Fuselage Found

An Indonesian officer examines wreckage from AirAsia flight QZ8501 on the Crest Onyx ship at sea on January 10, 2015. Indones
An Indonesian officer examines wreckage from AirAsia flight QZ8501 on the Crest Onyx ship at sea on January 10, 2015. Indonesia said on January 9, 2015 it had found the tail of AirAsia Flight QZ8501, potentially marking a major step towards locating the plane's black boxes and helping shed light on what caused it to crash into the sea ten days ago. AFP PHOTO / STR (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)

By Kanupriya Kapoor and Charlotte Greenfield

PANGKALAN BUN/JAKARTA, Jan 11 (Reuters) - Indonesian search teams believe they have found the fuselage of an AirAsia airliner that crashed in the Java Sea two weeks ago, and divers hope calmer waters on Monday will allow them to retrieve the black box flight recorders.

Indonesia AirAsia Flight QZ8501 lost contact with air traffic control in bad weather on Dec. 28, less than halfway into a two-hour flight from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore. None of the 162 people on the aircraft survived.

Searchers have also been hearing pings, believed to be from the aircraft's two black boxes near where the tail of the Airbus A320-200 aircraft tail was raised on Saturday.

Supriyadi, operations coordinator for the National Search and Rescue Agency, said on Sunday a sonar scan had revealed an object measuring 10 meters by four meters by 2.5 meters on the sea floor.

"They suspect it is the body of the plane," Supriyadi told Reuters in the town of Pangkalan Bun, the base for the search effort on Borneo.

"If it is the body of the plane then we will first evacuate the victims."

Forty-eight bodies have been found in the Java Sea off Borneo and searchers believe more will be found in the plane's fuselage.

Strong winds, currents and high waves have been hampering efforts to reach other large pieces of suspected wreckage detected by sonar on the sea floor.


Three vessels involved in the search have detected pings about four km (two miles) from where the plane's tail was raised on Saturday, in water about 30 meters (100 feet) deep.

"The black boxes are in a crushed part of the aircraft debris, making it very difficult for the team of divers," said Tonny Budiono, a navigation director for the transport ministry.

"Because of time constraints, (we) have decided to retrieve the black boxes tomorrow morning by gradually shifting these layers of aircraft body debris."

But if that fails, Budiono said divers would lift the debris using inflatable balloons, the same technique used to lift the tail section on Saturday.

Navy spokesman Manahan Simorangkir, however, denied that the black box had been found, saying divers could not confirm its exact location due to poor weather and visibility.

If and when the recorders are retrieved and taken to the capital, Jakarta, for analysis, it could take up to two weeks to download data, investigators said, although the information could be accessed in as little as two days if the devices are not badly damaged.

While the cause of the crash is not known, the national weather bureau has said seasonal storms were likely to be a factor.

President Joko Widodo said the crash exposed widespread problems in the management of air transportation in Indonesia.

Separately on Sunday, a DHC-6 Twin Otter operated by Indonesia's Trigana Air crashed on landing at Enarotali Airport in Paniai, Papua, on Sunday.

Strong winds caused the aircraft to roll over, domestic news website reported, with no injuries to the three crew members on board. The plane was not carrying any passengers. (Additional reporting by Chris Nusatya, Nilufar Rizki and Cindy Silviana in JAKARTA, and Fransiska Nangoy in Surabaya; Writing by Robert Birsel and Fergus Jensen; Editing by Jeremy Laurence and Stephen Powell)