QZ8501: Race against time to get to plane's fuselage where more bodies are believed to be trapped
Indonesian divers are racing to get to the bottom of the Java Sea.
Authorities believe the bodies of the remaining passengers and crew of the ill-fated Indonesia AirAsia flight QZ8501 are still in the main fuselage.
This follows the discovery of several bodies that were found strapped to their seats. Three were also found sitting in a row, said Indonesian air force spokesman Hadi Tjahjanto.
So far, 30 bodies have been recovered from the Java Sea after the plane went down on Dec 28 en route from Surabaya to Singapore.
There were 162 people on board.
"It's possible the bodies are in the fuselage," Air Vice-Marshal Sunarbowo Sandi, the search and rescue coordinator, told AP.
"So it's a race now against time and weather." The longer the search takes, the more corpses will decompose and debris scatter.
It has been challenging for rescuers, who are working with low visibility and choppy waters.
Salvage expert Captain Ram K Kumar, 39, who has been in the industry for 18 years, told The New Paper that the monsoon season makes operations at sea difficult.
The high waves have prevented the use of hydrophones - or underwater listening devices - and towed sonar equipment brought in by France, officials told CNBC.
Strong winds and heavy seas have also stopped divers from looking for the airliner's fuselage.
Although the Java Sea is relatively shallow at 43m deep, divers still need special equipment to stay submerged long enough to recover more bodies and the black boxes.
Another diving specialist, with over 20 years' experience, told The New Paper that saturation divers, who breathe a special mixture of oxygen and helium, will have to be deployed.
The Singapore Armed Forces has dispatched more than 400 personnel, two C-130 aircraft, two Super Puma helicopters, five navy ships and a six-man Autonomous Underwater Vehicle team to aid in the search.
Meanwhile, a funeral was held in Surabaya for Ms Hayati Lutfiah Hamid, who was travelling on flight QZ8501 with her 10-year-old daughter, husband and mother-in-law, reported News.com.au.
Ms Hayati was formally identified by authorities based on her fingerprints and personal belongings. Her body, in a casket topped with flowers, was handed over to her family in a brief ceremony at a police hospital in Surabaya.
Several countries, including Singapore, which sent the resources below, are helping in the search for Indonesia AirAsia flight QZ8501 and the bodies of the remaining passengers. Bad weather has hampered ongoing efforts but the search area has been narrowed down to 1,575 square nautical miles.
RSS Persistence - Deployed Dec 29
MV Swift Rescue (SWR) - Deployed Dec 30
Mine Countermeasure Vessel (MCMV) - Deployed Dec 31
Super Pumas - Deployed Dec 29
C-130s - Deployed Dec 2
Fast Craft Utility - Deployed Dec 29
Frigate RSS Supreme - Deployed Dec 28
Missile Corvette RSS Valour - Deployed Dec 28
SAF has deployed more relevant assets to support the underwater search for flight QZ8501’s parts, such as its black boxes and main fuselage.
Uses cutting-edge Synthetic Aperture Sonar (SAS) technology for high resolution and high coverage rate. This gives the operator an advantage in sea bottom surveys. It can dive to depths of about 200m and cover 5.5 sq km in an hour
Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) #2 - Deployed from MCMV on Dec 31
SUPER SPARTAN 1
This ROV is powered by an electrohydraulic power pack via an umbilical from the surface, which also sends control signals necessary to operate and monitor the vehicle.
Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) #1 - Deployed from SWR on Dec 30
A compact, light-weight, Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) designed for operations in coastal environments up to 100m deep. Small enough to be carried by two people, it packs enough sophisticated sensor, navigation, and power resources to carry out missions over large areas.
Autonomous Underwater Vehicle - Deployed from RSS Persistence on Jan 1
After pinpointing the exact location of the plane wreckage, divers will be sent down to the sea bed.
- As the Java Sea is about 43m deep, ordinary scuba divers can function at that depth for a few minutes at most
- Saturation divers, who breathe a special mixture of oxygen and helium, have to be deployed.
- Oceanographer Erik van Sebille told CNN that the monsoon season means strong winds, choppy waves and decreased visibility underwater.
- The rough sea could also hamper the deployment of equipment such as the diving bell to lower divers and the crane barges for lifting the wreckage, salvage expert Captain Ram K. Kumar told TNP.
- The sea bed could also obstruct salvage operations when chains get entangled with reefs, added Captain Ram.
Two tubes are attached to the helmet. One supplies an oxygen-helium mixture and the other recycles the helium.
- Basic gear weighs about 30kg
- Neoprene canvas bodysuit with an attached tube that pumps hot water to keep the diver warm.
- Because helium distorts voices, the intercom system has special scramblers so that those on the surface can understand what the diver is saying. Basic gear weighs about 30kg.
- Built into the helmet are lights, weights, an intercom system and a video camera.
Autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV), designed for deep water salvage operations, could be used to retrieve smaller items such as the flight data recorder, reported CNN.
1 Divers enter a saturation chamber on the barge where they are compressed to the depth they will be working at.
2 They are lowered to the site in a diving bell.
AUVs can carry only up to a certain weight. Larger pieces, such as the fuselage, would have to be attached to a cable and pulled to the surface by a crane on a ship.
The fuselage, which is normally made of aluminium, may be fragile and drilling into the plane’s body may cause it to break, a 63-year-old salvage expert from the UK, who has been in the industry for more than 40 years, told TNP.
Instead, flotation devices such as airbags may be inserted into the fuselage to raise it to the surface.
- TNP INFOGRAPHIC: KELVIN CHAN, BILLY KER & TEOH YI CHIE
1 Divers or AUVs could be used to drill, rig and secure the wreckage with metal slings.
2 The slings are then attached to a cable from the barge.
3 Salvage barge will then lift wreckage to the surface.