The AirAsia crash investigation gathered pace Friday as U.S. Navy teams pulled several bodies from the Java Sea and an Indonesian crew spotted what appeared to be the aircraft’s tail on the sea floor.
A Navy MH-60R Seahawk helicopter brought eight bodies to Borneo island while four other bodies remained on the Sampson, a San Diego-based Navy destroyer assisting in the recovery operation.
In all, 30 bodies out of 162 passengers and crew have been recovered, officials said; four have been publicly identified.
An Indonesian navy ship, using sonar equipment that detects objects on the sea floor, found what might be the tail of the crashed Airbus A320-200, naval officials said.
Col. Yayan Sofyan, captain of the KRI Bung Tomo, told Indonesia’s Metro TV that the object was on the seabed at a depth of about 95 feet.
Stormy weather in the area has prevented divers and other recovery teams from accessing the jet's fuselage to collect the flight recorders that are expected to help reveal the cause of the accident. Search officials say the hunt for the flight recorders, also known as the “black boxes,” could take several more days as monsoon-season storms and high winds continue to bedevil searchers.
Search chief Bambang Soelistyo told reporters that teams would focus Friday on an area of 1,575 nautical square miles in an effort to locate the black boxes and the fuselage. Experts believe that many of the passengers could still be strapped into their seats.
Dozens of ships and aircraft from at least seven countries -- Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, South Korea, Russia and the United States -- have joined the search operation since the jet crashed Sunday in bad weather en route from Surabaya, Indonesia, to Singapore.
Recovery workers brought bodies in numbered white coffins to Surabaya, where families had gathered to identify victims. Police identified another victim, passenger Grayson Herbert Linaksita, following a postmortem examination and handed his body, along with those of flight attendant Khairunnisa Haidar Fauzi and university student Kevin Alexander Soetjipto, over to their families in a solemn ceremony in Surabaya.
A Muslim cleric who led a prayer for the victims said, “Oh God, please accept them in your heaven because we believe that they left this world to be with you. Please wipe our tears.”
Special correspondent Pathoni reported from Jakarta and staff writer Bengali from Mumbai, India.
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