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Rough Weather Hampers Search For AirAsia Plane

Ships and aircraft criss-crossed the seas off Borneo on Friday hunting for the wreck of AirAsia flight QZ8501, but bad weather again hindered the search for the plane and the flight data recorders that should reveal why it crashed.

Officials said more than 20 bodies have now been recovered, along with pieces of the broken-up plane, in the Indonesian-led search that is concentrated on 1,575 square nautical miles of the northern Java Sea.

Strong winds and heavy seas have stopped divers from looking for the fuselage of the Airbus A320.

"The waves could reach five metres this afternoon, higher than yesterday," said air force Puma helicopter pilot Flight Captain Tatag Onne, who has been flying missions to recover bodies and debris from the sea.

"We look for breaks in the clouds where conditions improve so that we can approach. Yesterday, when we went to collect a body from the sea we couldn't because the body was being rolled by waves. Sometimes we could see it, sometimes we couldn't."

The multinational search operation based in Pangkalan Bun, the town in southern Borneo closest to the search area, was bolstered on Friday by experts from France's BEA accident investigation agency, which attends all Airbus crashes.

Officials said the French team's hydrophones - sophisticated underwater acoustic detection devices - and towed sonar equipment brought by other international experts could not be used on Friday because of high waves.

"The sea state has to be calm," General Sunarbowo Sandi of Indonesia's search and rescue agency said. "We cannot operate it in poor weather."

But naval vessels from Indonesia, Singapore and the United States with in-built anti-submarine capabilities were using sonar to sweep the sea floor, he added.


The cause of the crash - the first suffered by the AirAsia group since the budget operator began flying in 2002 - is unexplained. Investigators are working on a theory that the plane stalled as it climbed steeply to avoid a storm about 40 minutes into a flight that should have lasted two hours.

Officials earlier said it may take up to a week to find the black boxes, which investigators hope will unravel the sequence of events in the cockpit during the doomed jet's final minutes.

Even in bad weather, however, the search for the AirAsia plane is less technically challenging than the two-year search for an Air France jet that crashed into deep Atlantic waters in 2009, or the fruitless hunt for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 that disappeared last year.

Given that QZ8501 crashed in shallow seas, experts say finding the data recorders should not be difficult if its locator beacons, with a range of 2,000 to 3,000 metres (6,560 to 9,800 ft) and a battery life of about 30 days, are working.

Twenty-two bodies have been recovered from the sea, Supriadi, mission co-ordinator for the Indonesian search and rescue agency, told a news conference. Debris such as luggage, an emergency slide and a life jacket has also been found.

The bodies are being taken in numbered coffins to Surabaya, where relatives of the victims, most of whom were Indonesian, have gathered. Authorities have been collecting DNA from relatives to help identify the bodies.

The first funeral of one of the crash victims was held on Thursday, and on Friday officials said the remains of three more had been identified, including a flight attendant.