Jakarta: Indonesian rescuers searching for a missing AirAsia plane carrying 162 people pulled bodies and wreckage from the sea off the coast of Borneo on Tuesday as relatives of those on board broke down in tears on hearing the news.
Indonesia AirAsia’s Flight QZ8501, an Airbus A320-200, lost contact with air traffic control early on Sunday during bad weather on a flight from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore.
Indonesia’s search and rescue agency confirmed the debris was from the plane.
An Indonesian warship recovered more than 40 bodies from the sea on Tuesday in the search for the AirAsia jet, a navy spokesman told AFP.
“Based on the navy radio, it has been reported that the warship Bung Tomo has retrieved 40 bodies and the number is growing. They are very busy now,” Manahan Simorangkir said.
The plane has yet to be found and there was no word on the possibility of any survivors.
Pictures of floating bodies were broadcast on television and relatives of the missing gathered at a crisis centre in Surabaya wept with heads in their hands. Several people collapsed in grief and were helped away, a Reuters reporter said.
“You have to be strong,” the mayor of Surabaya, Tri Rismaharini, said as she comforted relatives.
A navy spokesman said a plane door, oxygen tanks and one body had been recovered and taken away by helicopter for tests.
AirAsia chief Tony Fernandes, who has been in Indonesia since the plane went missing, said he was rushing back to Surabaya.
“Whatever we can do at AirAsia we will be doing,” he said on Twitter.
About 30 ships and 21 aircraft from Indonesia, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and the United States had been involved in the search of up to 10,000 square nautical miles.
The plane, which did not issue a distress signal, disappeared after its pilot failed to get permission to fly higher to avoid bad weather because of heavy air traffic, officials said.
Flight QZ8501 was travelling at 32,000 feet (9,753 metres) and had asked to fly at 38,000 feet, officials said earlier.
Pilots and aviation experts said thunderstorms, and requests to gain altitude to avoid them, were not unusual in that area.
The Indonesian pilot was experienced and the plane last underwent maintenance in mid-November, the airline said.
Online discussion among pilots has centred on unconfirmed secondary radar data from Malaysia that suggested the aircraft was climbing at a speed of 353 knots, about 100 knots too slow, and that it might have stalled.