Indonesia’s armed forces on Tuesday officially halted the search for passengers on the AirAsia plane that crashed into the Java Sea last month, killing all 162 people aboard.
A civilian agency will continue searching for the bodies of victims, but the military has been the mainstay of the operation.
The plane, an Airbus A320-200 operating as Flight 8501, crashed less than an hour after taking off from the Indonesian city of Surabaya on Dec. 28. It was bound for Singapore.
Search teams have recovered 70 bodies in the Java Sea, most of which have been identified by forensic experts working in Surabaya and returned to families for burial. But 92 people remain unaccounted for.
“All ships have been ordered to pull back to base for consolidation,” said First Adm. Manahan Simorangkir, a spokesman for the Indonesian Navy. “But any time we will be ordered to go back again, we will be ready.”
Since last week, divers from the Indonesian Navy, who have to contend with strong underwater currents and giant waves at the surface, have removed bodies from the sunken fuselage, lying off the southern coast of Borneo Island at a depth of around 100 feet. Attempts to lift the fuselage out of the water have failed.
Indonesia requires searches to continue for 30 days, and Tuesday was the final day of that period. Families of the victims have asked the Indonesian government to continue searching until all the bodies of the victims are recovered.
The head of the navy’s western fleet, Rear Adm. Widodo, who goes by one name, told reporters on Tuesday in the city of Pangkalan Bun that there were no bodies left in the fuselage, the Jawa Pos news group reported.
The city, on Borneo, has served as a base for search and recovery operations by military and civilian teams.
“We apologize to the families of the victims,” Admiral Widodo said, according to Reuters. “We tried our best to look for the missing victims.”
Because raising the fuselage to the surface had proved too difficult, he said, it would remain on the seafloor.
Yopie Haryadi, an official at the National Search and Rescue Agency, said the agency would recover any bodies that might be found later. “If there is information from people finding bodies, we will still pick them up,” he said.
Divers recovered the plane’s flight data recorder on Jan. 12 and the cockpit voice recorder the next day. Both of the so-called black boxes were located near the plane’s tail section, almost two miles from where the fuselage was later found.
Shortly before air traffic controllers lost contact with Flight 8501, the plane’s pilots requested permission to increase their altitude to 38,000 feet from 32,000 feet, to avoid a storm cloud. The plane disappeared from radar about four minutes later, Indonesian transportation officials have said.
On Jan. 20, Ignasius Jonan, the Indonesian minister of transportation, told a parliamentary commission that according to ground radar, the plane had climbed unusually fast, at a rate of 6,000 feet per minute, before plunging and disappearing from the radar screen.
His statements added to speculation that the plane had stalled after its pilots tried to move the plane above the bad weather.
The voice cockpit recorder picked up warning signals during the flight’s final minutes, Reuters has reported.
Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee is evaluating data from the black boxes and is finalizing a preliminary report. Officials have said they do not intend to release the results of that report to the public. (New York Times)