Ten days after Indonesia AirAsia Flight 8501 crashed into the Java Sea, search crews on Wednesday found the aircraft's tail underwater in the first confirmed sighting of the wreckage of the Airbus A320-200.
"I can confirm that we have found the tail of the aircraft," Bambang Soelistyo, head of Indonesia's National Search and Rescue Agency, told reporters.
The tail is believed to contain the airliner's "black boxes," the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorders that should explain why the plane crashed into the sea on Dec. 28 with 162 passengers and crew members aboard.
Divers took pictures of the tail, which was lying upside down on the sea floor, partially buried, at a depth of about 100 feet. Indonesian media broadcast images showing the plane's registration number and part of the airline's red-and-white logo.
Officials said the debris measured about 33 feet in length, suggesting that the tail was intact.
Meteorologists have said thunderstorms were a "trigger factor" in the accident, and moments before disappearing from radar the pilot asked air traffic controllers whether he could raise the plane's altitude to avoid storm clouds. But no distress call was heard, and investigators say that weather alone is unlikely to have caused the plane to crash.
Divers have been struggling against stormy conditions in the waters off Borneo island to locate the plane's wreckage. The confirmed sighting Wednesday raised hopes that dive teams and a recovery operation backed by the navies of the United States and several other countries could soon bring the fuselage to the surface.
"We need to find all parts soon so we can find all [our] guests to ease the pain of our families," AirAsia chief executive Tony Fernandes tweeted. "That still is our priority."
Another body from the wreckage was found, bringing the confirmed death toll to 40. Officials believe there are no survivors among the 155 mostly Indonesian passengers and seven crew members.