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Indonesian search team raises tail of crashed AirAsia plane

PANGKALAN BUN: Indonesian search and rescue teams raised on Saturday the tail of an AirAsia passenger jet that crashed nearly two weeks ago with the loss of all 162 people on board, and will soon search it for the flight recorders.

Indonesia AirAsia Flight QZ8501 lost contact with air traffic control during bad weather on Dec. 28, less than half way into a two-hour flight from Indonesia to Singapore. There were no survivors.

Forty-eight bodies, including at least two strapped to their seats, have been found in the Java Sea off Borneo.

Search and rescue teams detected pings they believed were from the flight recorders on Friday and two teams of divers resumed the hunt soon after dawn on Saturday.

The tail of the Airbus A320-200 was found on Wednesday, upturned on the sea bed about 30 km (20 miles) from the plane’s last known location at a depth of about 30 meters (100 feet).

Crews brought it up from the bottom with the help of air bags.

“Yes, the tail is already on the surface,” Supriyadi, operations coordinator for the National Search and Rescue Agency, told reporters in the town of Pangkalan Bun, the base for the search effort on Borneo.

“It’s currently being brought close to a ship and then it will be towed. And then they want to search for the black box.”

The aircraft carries the cockpit voice and flight data recorders – or black boxes – near its tail.

However, officials had said earlier it looked as if the recorders, which will be vital to the investigation into why the airliner crashed, had become separated during the disaster.

“The divers looked for the black box but they didn’t find it,” Supriyadi said. “But it has to be checked again. Lifted and checked again.”

He said it could take up to 15 hours to tow the tail to land.

“LARGE AREA”

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, and to find the remaining victims.

On Friday, Supriyadi said the pings were believed to have been detected about 1 km (half a mile) away from the tail.

If the recorders had become separated from the tail they could be covered in mud, making the search in the murky water that much more difficult, he said.

“The pings can only be detected within a radius of 500 meters (1,640 feet) so it can be a large area to cover,” he said.

If and when the recorders are found 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.

The plane was traveling at 32,000 feet (9,753 meters) and had asked to fly at 38,000 feet to avoid bad weather. When air traffic controllers granted permission for a rise to 34,000 feet a few minutes later, they received no response.

The pilots did not issue a distress signal.

The Indonesian captain, a former Air Force fighter pilot, had 6,100 flying hours and the plane last underwent maintenance in mid-November, said the airline, which is 49 percent owned by Malaysia-based budget carrier AirAsia.

The AirAsia group, including affiliates in Thailand, the Philippines and India, had not suffered a crash since its Malaysian budget operations began in 2002.

Most of those on board were Indonesians. (REUTERS)

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