PANGKALAN BUN, Indonesia/JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia’s military on Tuesday withdrew from search and recovery efforts a month after an AirAsia passenger jet crashed into the sea killing all 162 people on board, navy officials said.
The Airbus A320 vanished from radar screens during bad weather on Dec. 28, less than half way into a two-hour flight from Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-biggest city, to Singapore. There were no survivors.
A multinational search and recovery operation has found 70 bodies in the Java Sea and had hoped to find more after locating the fuselage of the plane. But days of rough weather and poor underwater visibility hampered navy divers’ efforts.
“The operation has been ongoing for 30 days so the joint team has been pulled out,” Rear Admiral Widodo, head of the navy’s western fleet, told reporters in Pangkalan Bun, the base for the search effort.
“We apologize to the families of the victims. We tried our best to look for the missing victims.”
The civilian National Search and Rescue Agency said it may press on with the search for bodies. But its efforts will be hampered by the loss of the military’s large vessels and heavy recovery equipment.
“Perhaps we will do regular operations with help from fishermen and communities near the coast to find other victims,” Tatang Zaenuddin, the agency’s deputy of operations, told Reuters.
The agency will hold a news conference on Wednesday.
Divers have recovered both the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder from the sea floor.
Imam Sampurno, who lost four family members on Flight QZ8501, none of whom has been found, said he was resigned to their fate.
“We can only hope they will continue to search, but if it’s stopped there is nothing I can do about it. I am resigned to it,” he said.
Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee will submit its initial findings on the crash this week to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
The preliminary report, which the ICAO requires within 30 days of an accident, will include “information on the plane, the number of passengers and other information like that”, NTSC investigator Suryanto told Reuters.
But it will not include analysis of the two flight recorders.
Data from radar and the aircraft’s two “black box” flight recorders will provide investigators with a clearer picture of what occurred during the final minutes of the flight.
But investigators say they have yet to start their analysis as they have been compiling other data for the inquiry.
Transport Minister Ignasius Jonan told a parliamentary hearing last week that, based on radar data, the plane had climbed faster than normal in its final minutes, and then stalled.
Investigators have found no evidence of foul play.
The NTSC will hold an annual media conference this week on its work over the past year but it is not expected to discuss details of its investigation of the AirAsia crash, said NTSC head Tatang Kurniadi.
The final report on the crash, which will be made public, must be filed within a year.
Additional reporting by Ebrahim Harris in PANGKALAN BUN, Charlotte Greenfield, Cindy Silviana and Fransiska Nangoy in JAKARTA; Writing by Randy Fabi; Editing by Paul Tait, Robert Birsel