The fuselage of the crashed AirAsia jet has been found, officials said Wednesday, ending a difficult 19-day search in the waters off Indonesia and likely paving the way for the recovery of many more bodies of passengers and crew members.
A Singaporean navy ship located the Airbus A320 fuselage, its wings still attached and the AirAsia motto – "Now Everyone Can Fly" – clearly visible in pictures captured by a remotely-operated vehicle from the floor of the Java Sea.
Divers on Thursday will look for scores of bodies believed to be entombed in the fuselage. Of 162 passengers and crew members aboard the flight when it crashed Dec. 28, only 50 have been recovered.
"We can be relieved that the main body of the aircraft has been found," Indonesian President Joko Widodo said.
AirAsia chief executive Tony Fernandes said he hoped all the bodies would be found in the wreckage.
"It is so, so sad though seeing our aircraft," Fernandes tweeted. "I'm gutted and devastated. But hopefully we can find the rest of plane and put closure for families."
Singaporean Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen said the plane's body was found about 1.25 miles from where search teams located the aircraft's tail, until now the largest piece to be recovered.
Recovery teams this week hoisted the "black box" devices from the sea floor, and analysts in Jakarta are examining the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder for clues as to why the aircraft crashed. Analysts say that bad weather was a factor.
Indonesia AirAsia Flight 8501 was midway through a two-hour flight from Surabaya, Indonesia, to Singapore when the pilot radioed air-traffic controllers, requesting a change in altitude to avoid a thunderstorm. The plane lost contact minutes later.
An Airbus A320 twin-engine plane is about 123 feet long, and search officials said the chunk of the aircraft found Wednesday measured roughly 85 feet. The fact that much of the body and wings remained intact indicates to aviation experts that the plane did not break apart during flight, which likely rules out a mid-air explosion or damage due to excessive speed.
Special correspondent Pathoni reported from Jakarta and staff writer Bengali from Mumbai, India.