PANGKALAN BUN, Indonesia—A tail section from the crashed AirAsia plane became the first major wreckage lifted off the seabed Saturday, two weeks after Flight 8501 went down, killing all 162 people on board.
The red metal chunk, with the word “Asia” written across it, was brought to the surface using inflatable balloons. It was not immediately clear whether the cockpit voice and flight data recorders — located in the plane’s rear — were inside this piece or had detached when the Airbus A320 plummeted into the sea Dec. 28. Their recovery is essential to finding out why it crashed.
The debris was hoisted from a depth of about 30 meters (100 feet), and local TV footage showed it resting on a ship.
Intermittent underwater ping-like sounds were picked up Friday about a kilometer (half a mile) from where the tail section was located, but it was unclear whether they were coming from the recorders. It was possible the signals were coming from another source.
No metal was detected at the ping location, and Nurcahyo Utomo, a National Commission for Transportation Safety investigator, said the sounds could not be confirmed.
The discovery of the tail on the ocean floor earlier in the week was a major breakthrough in the slow-moving search, which has been hampered by seasonal rains, choppy seas and blinding silt from river runoff.
But Suryadi Bambang Supriyadi, operation director of Indonesia’s national search and rescue agency, said Saturday that he was still focused on finding the main section of fuselage where most of the bodies are believed to be entombed. Several large objects have been spotted in the area by sonar, but they have not yet been explored underwater.
“This is what the families have been waiting for,” he said. “They have been crying for 14 days.”
The last contact the pilots had with air traffic control, about halfway into their two-hour journey from Surabaya, Indonesia, to Singapore, indicated they were entering stormy weather. They asked to climb from 32,000 feet (9,753 meters) to 38,000 feet (11,582 meters) to avoid threatening clouds, but were denied permission because of heavy air traffic above them. Four minutes later, the plane dropped off the radar.
Four additional bodies were recovered Friday — two of them still strapped in their seats on the ocean floor — bringing the total to 48.
Meanwhile, Transportation Minister Ignasius Jonan cracked down on five airlines Friday, temporarily suspending 61 flights because they were flying routes on days without permits. Earlier, all AirAsia flights from Surabaya to Singapore were stopped after it was discovered that the low-cost carrier was not authorized to fly on Sundays.
Jonan also sanctioned nine more officials for allowing the AirAsia plane to fly without permits, bringing the total to 16.
From The Associated Press