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AirAsia QZ8501: Debris, Bodies Recovered From Missing Plane

( [email protected] ) Dec 30, 2014 11:05 AM EST

AirAsia Tragedy
Families grieve at Indonesia’s Surabaya Airport while watching developments from TV updates regarding downed AirAsia jetliner QZ8501. Photo: AFP

AirAsia has confirmed that debris from Flight QZ8501, which disappeared on Sunday, has been discovered in the Karimata Strait, southwest of Pangkalan Bun in the Borneo province of Central Kalimantan. However, it has not yet been determined what caused the airliner to plunge into the sea less than an hour after leaving the Surabaya airport.

USA Today reports that  at least 40 bodies from the 162 passenger list have already been recovered, and the number is growing.

"AirAsia Indonesia regrets to inform that The National Search and Rescue Agency Republic of Indonesia (BASARNAS) today confirmed that the debris found earlier today is indeed from QZ8501, the flight that had lost contact with air traffic control on the morning of 28th December 2014," the airline said.

According to CNN, family members burst into tears and several fainted while watching a live news conference about the discovery of the debris and saw video of a helicopter lowering a diver to what appeared to be a floating body. 

AirAsia Tragedy
Family members of passengers onboard the Malaysian air carrier AirAsia flight QZ8501 react after watching news reports showing an unidentified body floating in the Java sea, inside the crisis-centre set up at Juanda International Airport in Surabaya on December 30, 2014. (AFP)

Sunu Widyatmoko, AirAsia Indonesia's CEO, said in a statement issued by the airline: "We would like to extend our sincere sympathies to the family and friends of those on board QZ8501. Our sympathies also go out to the families of our dear colleagues."

Surabaya, Indonesia, Mayor Tri Rismaharini also encourage grieving  relatives of those missing or confirmed dead to "be strong" during this time.

"They are not ours, they belong to God," Rismaharini said of the victims.

"I am so very sorry for this accident," Joko Widodo, Indonesia's president, said before meeting with families of passengers. "I hope families can stay strong while facing tragedy."

Flight QZ8501 was carrying 162 passengers from Surbaya to Singapore when it went missing on Sunday. The discovery of the debris follows two days of intense searching, aided by 30 ships and 21 aircrafts from Indonesia, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and the United States.

Indonesia's national search and rescue director, SB Supriyadi, told the AP that the bodies discovered were not wearing life jackets.  Members of search teams told the Indonesian news media that debris, including what appeared to be suitcases and pieces from the aircraft, were also discovered floating in the Java Sea.

AirAsia Tragedy
Members of the Indonesian air force carry items retrieved from the Java sea during search and rescue operations for the missing AirAsia flight QZ8501, in Pangkalan Bun, Central Kalimantan on December 30, 2014. (AFP)

While cause of the crash is still unknown, Satellite images showed heavy thunderstorms in the vicinity of the site where the plane lost contact on Sunday. Indonesia's Ministry of Transportation spokesperson Djoko Murjatmodjo told reporters during a press conference later that day that the pilot had requested to divert from the plane's scheduled flight path due to bad weather.

AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes said that he's "devastated" by the news, and offered his full support to the grieving families.

"I am absolutely devastated. This is a very difficult moment for all of us at AirAsia as we await further developments of the search and rescue operations but our first priority now is the wellbeing of the family members of those onboard QZ8501."

Almost all of the passengers were Indonesians, though there were also citizens from South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia and Britain.