Update: Debris discovered from missing AirAsia Flight; 3 bodies found
(CNN) — Debris from missing AirAsia Flight QZ8501 was found Tuesday, and three bodies were found nearby, authorities say.
“AirAsia Indonesia regrets to inform that The National Search and Rescue Agency Republic of Indonesia today confirmed that the debris found earlier today is indeed from QZ8501, the flight that had lost contact with air traffic control on the morning of 28th,” the airline said in a statement.
“We are sorry to be here today under these tragic circumstances,” said airline head Sunu Widyatmoko. “We would like to extend our sincere sympathies to the family and friends of those on board QZ8501. Our sympathies also go out to the families of our dear colleagues.”
Two bodies have been sighted, Indonesian navy official Manahan Simorangkir told CNN on Tuesday. The body of a woman was recovered, but large waves have prevented crews from getting to the second body, Simorangkir said.
The bodies were not immediately identified.
Hospitals in the Indonesian city of Surabaya are being prepared to help house and identify bodies being recovered off the coast of Borneo.
Bambang Sulistyo, head of Indonesia’s search and rescue agency, said the discovery came when a crew on a military aircraft spotted the shadow of an object that looked like a plane in the water.
Further searching found floating objects believed to be the bodies of passengers, and then what appeared to be an emergency exit of the plane.
Officials sent other search teams racing to the area.
The debris was found in the Karimata Strait, about 110 nautical miles southwest from the Indonesian city Pangkalan Bun, AirAsia said.
The news dealt a heartbreaking blow to relatives of passengers who had been waiting anxiously for information at the airport in Surabaya, the Indonesian city where the flight began its journey Sunday with 162 people on board.
The plane was carrying 155 passengers and seven crew members. The overwhelming majority of those on board were Indonesians. There were also citizens of Britain, France, Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea.
There were scenes of anguish as families watched a live news conference about the discovery of the debris and saw video of a helicopter lowering a diver to what appeared to be a floating body.
Some people fainted, and stretchers were taken into the room.
Family members burst into tears, dabbing their eyes as officials passed out tissues. Some sat with their eyes full of tears, hands covering their mouths, or heads buried in their hands. Others had phones jammed against their ears.
‘Words cannot express how sorry I am’
“My heart is filled with sadness for all the families involved in QZ 8501,” AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes tweeted. “On behalf of AirAsia my condolences to all. Words cannot express how sorry I am.”
He said he was on his way to Surabaya.
Search and rescue teams are diverting all their resources to where the debris is, authorities said. The area is about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the aircraft’s last known location over the Java Sea, off the coast of Indonesia’s Central Kalimantan province on Borneo.
Divers and ships with sonar equipment are being sent to the site, where the depth of the sea at the site varies between 25 and 30 meters (about 80 to 100 feet), Sulistyo said.
Ships, planes and helicopters have been scouring the sea for Flight 8501 since it went missing on its way to Singapore.
The Airbus A320-200 lost contact with air traffic control early Sunday shortly after the pilot requested permission to turn and climb to a higher altitude because of bad weather, according to Indonesian officials.
Authorities mounted a huge effort to find the aircraft, mapping out a search zone covering 156,000 square kilometers.
Questions remain unanswered about why Flight 8501 lost contact with air traffic control and what happened afterward.
Some experts have speculated that the aircraft might have experienced an aerodynamic stall because of a lack of speed or from flying at too sharp an angle to get enough lift.
Analysts have also suggested that the pilots might not have been getting information from onboard systems about the plane’s position or that rain or hail from thunderstorms in the area could have damaged the engines.
The key to understanding what happened is likely to be contained in the aircraft’s flight recorders.
“Until we get the black boxes, we won’t know what’s going on with the engines,” Bill Savage, a former pilot with 30 years of experience, told CNN.
‘It was to be his last vacation with his family’
Details have emerged about some of the people on board the plane.
They include Alain Oktavianus Siauw, whose fiance says she was on her way to the airport to pick him up when she heard the plane had gone missing.
Louise Sidharta said Siauw was supposed to be enjoying a family vacation before the two got married. “It was to be his last vacation with his family,” she said.
Siauw’s Facebook page says he lives in Malang, a province in Indonesia.
The disappearance of Flight 8501 also stirred painful memories of the families of people on board Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which dropped off radar over the South China Sea in March.
Nearly 10 months later, searchers are still combing remote reaches of the southern Indian Ocean for any trace of the Boeing 777 that had 239 people on board.
“The lack of ability to close things down emotionally is just exhausting,” Sarah Bajc told CNN on Monday night. Her partner, Philip Woods, was on board Flight 370.
When news broke that another plane had disappeared this week, Bajc said, “I just started to shake.”