AirAsia crash: Divers battle against nature in hunt for bodies, debris

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Pangkalan Bun | Updated: January 17, 2015 10:11:41 AM

Clinging desperately to underwater ropes, an Indonesian search leader said his divers appeared to be "flying like Superman"...

airasia crash, airasia qz8501, airasia fuselage, airasia missing, airasia black boxCrew members of Crest Onyx ship and members of the National Search and Rescue Agency unload the wreckage of part of the ill-fated AirAsia Flight 8501 that crashed in the Java Sea, at Kumai port in Pangkalan Bun, Indonesia, Sunday, Jan. 11, 2015. A day after the tail of the crashed plane was fished out of the sea, the search for the missing black boxes intensified Sunday with more pings heard. (AP)

Clinging desperately to underwater ropes, an Indonesian search leader said his divers appeared to be “flying like Superman” as they scoured the seabed in the gruelling quest to recover bodies and wreckage from crashed AirAsia flight QZ8501.

“The current is so strong that it could rip open our masks or drag us into a whirlpool,” said Totok Subagio, in charge of a group that this week found the plane’s two black box flight recorders, after a lengthy, difficult search.

Trained to swim to depths of 45 metres (150 feet), the Indonesian navy’s finest frogmen were drafted in to scour the seabed for wreckage of the Airbus 320-200 that went down in a storm last month en route to Singapore.

airasia crash, airasia qz8501, airasia fuselage, airasia missing, airasia black boxA part of the wing of the AirAsia Flight QZ8501 is seen in an image captured by the Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) on the Singapore Navy’s MV Swift Rescue, in the Java Sea on January 14, 2015. Indonesian navy divers searched for bodies on Thursday in the fuselage of the AirAsia airliner that crashed into the sea more than two weeks ago, killing all 162 people on board. A military vessel found the fuselage on Wednesday, about 3 km (2 miles) from where the tail of the aircraft was hauled up from the bottom of the Java Sea last weekend. REUTERS

But in the Karimata Strait between Indonesia’s Sumatra island and Borneo island, they have had to contend with rough seas, powerful underwater currents, and weather that changes from bright and sunny one moment to cloudy and rainy the next.

Grainy images from specialist Singaporean search equipment Wednesday showed the plane body resting on the seabed, with part of the Malaysia-based airline’s slogan “Now Everyone Can Fly” painted on the red-and-white exterior clearly visible.

Divers now face the grim task of examining the main body of the aircraft in the hope of finding more of the 162 victims who were on board the plane, believed trapped inside the fuselage. Almost three weeks into the search, just 50 bodies have so far been retrieved.
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Ferdy Hendarto, head of the navy’s local underwater rescue division, described how divers would descend along ropes attached to buoys on the sea’s surface marking the locations of the plane’s wreckage.

The currents are so strong they can be dragged sideways and at times appear to be “flying like Superman”, he said.

The search has been tough even for veteran divers, with some suffering nosebleeds after spending too long at depths of 30 metres.

Conditions on the surface have also been rough, with some vomiting on their way out to hunt for the wreckage as their tiny boats were hit by waves four metres high.

airasia crash, airasia qz8501, airasia fuselage, airasia missing, airasia black boxMap showing the designated search areas for the AirAsia flight QZ8501.

“In that search area, a two-metre-high wave is a blessing,” Subagio said.

Most days divers have had only a four-hour window in the early morning when they can search, before clouds obscure the sun and reduce visibility underwater, rendering search efforts impossible.

airasia flight missing, airasia, airasia flight, airasia crash, airasia black box, airasia qz8501, airasia flight qz8501, airasia flight 8501An Indonesian official looks at the cockpit voice recorder of AirAsia QZ8501 during news conference at the National Transportation Safety Committee office. (Reuters)

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