THE tail section from the crashed AirAsia plane became the first major piece of wreckage lifted off the seabed yesterday, two weeks after Flight 8501 went down with the loss of 162 lives.
The red metal tailpiece, with the word “Asia” written across it, was brought to the surface using inflatables.
It was not immediately clear whether the cockpit voice and flight data recorders were inside this piece of wreckage or had broken away when the Airbus A320 plummeted into the sea on 28 December. Their recovery is essential to finding out why it crashed.
The debris was hoisted from a depth of about 100ft and local TV footage showed it resting on a ship.
Intermittent underwater ping-like sounds were picked up on Friday about a half-a-mile from where the tail section was located, but it was unclear whether they were coming from the “black box”, flight recorders. It was possible the signals were coming from another source.
No metal was detected at the 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 sea-bed 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.
Suryadi Bambang Supriyadi, operation director of Indonesia’s national search and rescue agency, said yesterday that he was still focused on finding the main section of fuselage, which is believed to contain the bodies of most of those who died in the crash. Several large objects have been spotted by sonar, but have not yet been explored underwater.
“The tail is already on the surface,” Supriyadi said, in Pangkalan Bun, the base for the search effort on Borneo.
“It is currently being brought close to a ship and then it will be towed. Then they want to search for the black box.
“This is what the families have been waiting for,” he said.
Supriyadi added that divers resumed their search for the black box and data recorder early yesterday.
He said: “They are searching within a radius of 500 metres from where the pings are emitted. The challenge is that these sounds are very faint. If a ship passes by, the sounds will be drowned out. So we really need calm waters.”
The flight data emit signals for about 30 days until their batteries run out.
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 32,000ft to 38,000ft to avoid storm clouds, but were denied permission because of heavy air traffic above them. Four minutes later, the plane dropped off the radar.
Four more bodies were recovered on Friday, bringing the total recovered to 48.
Meanwhile, transport minister Ignasius Jonan cracked down on five airlines, temporarily suspending 61 flights because they were flying routes without permits.
Earlier, all AirAsia flights from Surabaya to Singapore were stopped after it was found that the low-cost carrier was not authorised to fly on Sundays.
Jonan also sanctioned another nine officials for allowing the AirAsia plane to fly without permits, bringing the total to 16.