Stormy weather has forced Indonesian search teams to suspend the recovery of the bodies of 162 people aboard the ill-fated AirAsia plane which crashed into the Java Sea.
Wednesday’s weather prevented divers from searching the crash zone for sunken remains, with waves of two to three metres high and strong winds.
US-based The Wall Street Journal newspaper reported that Indonesia’s search-and-rescue agency obtained a sonar image it says may be the body of the missing plane at the bottom of the Java Sea.
The newspaper quoted the agency as saying that the image appeared to show an aircraft upside down in 24-30 metres of water.
National Search and Rescue Agency chief Bambang Soelistyo said on Wednesday that seven bodies had now been recovered, including a woman in crew uniform.
“As soon as the weather is clear, the bodies will be brought to Pangkalan Bun,” the town with the nearest airstrip to the crash site, said Soelistyo.
Supriyadi said that hundreds of people from the military, police and national rescue agency were on standby waiting for clear weather in Pangkalan Bun.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo said his priority was getting bodies off the bottom of the Karimata Strait in the Java Sea, where rescuers retrieved a plane door and other debris on Tuesday, so victims could be identified.
“I feel a deep loss over this disaster and pray for the families to be given fortitude and strength,” Widodo said in Surabaya on Tuesday after grim images of the scene in the Java Sea were broadcast on television.
Widodo said AirAsia would pay an immediate advance of money to relatives, many of whom collapsed in grief when they saw the television pictures of debris and a body.
AirAsia Chief Executive Tony Fernandes has described the crash as his “worst nightmare”.
At least 30 ships and 21 aircraft from Indonesia, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and the United States have been involved in the search.
Flight QZ8501 went missing after air traffic controllers lost contact with the aircraft while travelling to Singapore from Surabaya in East Java on Sunday.
Shortly before disappearing, AirAsia said the pilot of the plane had asked permission from air traffic control to change course and climb above bad weather in an area noted for severe thunderstorms.
The airline said most of the passengers on board Flight QZ8501 were Indonesians, with three South Koreans and one person each from Singapore, Malaysia, Britain and France.