At least 15 divers descended to the seabed at a depth of 28 metres (92ft) to examine the piece of wreckage, calculate its weight and search for bodies.
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It was spotted at the bottom of the Java Sea on Wednesday.
They were unable to carry out their mission because of the weather and sea conditions, said Suryadi Bambang Supriyadi, operation director at Indonesia’s National Search and Rescue Agency.
It appeared some of the fuselage had been covered with silt. When bodies are found, the divers would try to put them in individual body bags, which rescuers on ships would hoist to the surface, he said.
The 30-metre (98ft) section of the plane’s body with a wing attached was sighted on the bottom of the Java Sea by a Singaporean navy ship.
Only 50 bodies have been recovered since the plane disappeared from radar and crashed in the sea on 28 December en route from Surabaya, Indonesia, to Singapore.
Rescuers believe most of the bodies of the 162 people who were on board are inside the fuselage.
Search and rescue agency chief Henry Bambang Soelistyo said the large piece of wreckage would be lifted from the seabed after the search for bodies was exhausted.
The plane’s flight data and cockpit flight recorders were retrieved earlier this week and will be key to identifying the cause of crash. Bad weather is a suspected factor.
Nine aircraft and ten ships conducted search operations yesterday. Two US ships and one from Singapore have left, Mr Soelistyo said.
The destroyer USS Sampson and combat ship USS Fort Worth left for other assignments after contributing more than 650 search hours for the AirAsia flight.
“The US was extremely proud to assist [the search effort],” US ambassador to Indonesia Robert O Blake said. “We are all pleased with the recovery of the black boxes and location of portions of the plane that we hope will shed some light on the cause of this tragedy.”
Most of the 162 passengers and crew of the plane are still missing, and it is hoped their bodies will be recovered. Most of the dead are Indonesians.
Indonesian president Joko Widodo on Wednesday thanked all involved in the nearly three-week search operation.
In live televised comments he said he was very pleased the fuselage had been found, and hoped the bodies of those missing would soon be recovered.
Wreckage believed to be the fuselage was detected earlier this week, but on Wednesday a Singaporean underwater robot was able to photograph it and confirm it was the missing section.
AirAsia’s slogan “Now everyone can fly” could be seen written along the side.
The section is lying in the sea two miles from where the tail section was recovered last week.
Mr Supriyadi, the official co-ordinating the search and rescue operation in the nearest town to the crash site, Pangkalan Bun, said divers would be assessing whether to retrieve bodies individually or use inflatables to float the entire fuselage.
“We will wait for the calculation results from the divers on which one is faster,” he said. The divers hope to resume the search today.
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