Indonesian agency extends search for AirAsia victims

JAKARTA - An Indonesian government official announced Wednesday that the search for the victims of AirAsia Flight QZ8501 may be called off if more bodies are not recovered in a week.

Bambang Soelistyo, head of Indonesia’s National Search and Rescue Agency, told a press conference that the search for the 92 still missing victims had been extended by seven days starting next Saturday.

"If we can find one or two more bodies, that means we have the opportunity to prolong the operation," he said, stressing that results over the next week would determine which steps would be taken.

Indonesia’s military ceased search operations Tuesday, withdrawing its warships following days of failed attempts to lift the plane’s damaged fuselage section from the Java Sea.

"On Saturday morning, both divers and ships in full strength should return to the area of operations," Soelistyo said, explaining that teams had been given a two-day pause to prepare and restock after month-long efforts following the plane’s disappearance Dec. 28.

"Although the army strength has been pulled, it will not make us weak," Soelistyo reassured, explaining that more than 70 divers would be supported by three helicopters, four warships and submarine detection equipment.

The withdrawal of army personnel from the Karimata Strait came after no more victims were found since Saturday, when the total number of recovered bodies reached 70.

Apologizing to the families of the victims, the navy’s Western Fleet commander Widodo -- who like many Indonesians uses only one name – said Tuesday that they had not come across any bodies in the fuselage section.

Lukas, a relative of one of the missing who attended Wednesday’s press conference, expressed his relief following Soelistyo’s comments.

"Initially, we were worried when we heard the search was stopped, but today we got a confirmation that the search continues," Detik.com quoted him as saying.

A preliminary report on Flight QZ8501, which crashed off the Indonesian island of Borneo as it flew from Surabaya city to Singapore, is set to be released this week.

Investigators are analyzing data from the aircraft's two "black box" flight recorders to determine why it crashed. Terrorism has been ruled unlikely.

Last week, Transport Minister Ignasius Jonan said the flight had climbed at a rate outside the Airbus A320-200’s safety parameters immediately before it disappeared from radar.

The last contact with air traffic controllers was when the pilot asked to climb from 32,000 feet to 38,000 feet to avoid storm clouds.

The flight was denied immediate permission due to heavy air traffic in the area and four minutes later the plane disappeared.

Copyright © 2015 Anadolu Agency