January 28, 2015 / 3:43 AM / 3 years ago

Indonesia's search for AirAsia crash victims could end in days

A police officer stands near part of the fuselage of crashed AirAsia Flight QZ8501 inside a storage facility at Kumai port in Pangkalan Bun, January 19, 2015. REUTERS/Beawiharta

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia’s search for dozens of victims still unaccounted for from last month’s crash of an AirAsia (AIRA.KL) passenger jet could end within days if no more bodies are found, a senior government official said on Wednesday.

The Airbus (AIR.PA) A320 vanished from radar screens in bad weather over the Java Sea on Dec. 28, less than half-way into a two-hour flight from Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-biggest city, to Singapore. All 162 people on board were killed.

Indonesia’s civilian National Search and Rescue Agency said it would scour the sea for bodies for at least another week.

“Within one week we will evaluate (our search) depending on the result,” agency chief Fransiskus Bambang Soelistyo told reporters. “If we can find one or two more bodies, that means we have the opportunity to prolong the operation.”

The military withdrew from the search on Tuesday, apologising to the victims’ families for not being able to do more after a month of work.

A multinational search and recovery operation has found 70 bodies in the Java Sea and had hoped to find more after finding the fuselage of the plane. But days of rough weather and poor underwater visibility hampered navy divers’ efforts.

Divers have recovered both the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder from the sea floor.

Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee will submit its initial findings on the crash this week to the International Civil Aviation Organization, though only the final report will be made public.

Investigators say they have yet to start their analysis of the aircraft’s two “black box” flight recorders and have been compiling other data for the inquiry.

Indonesian Transport Minister Ignasius Jonan has said 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.

Additional reporting by Fergus Jensen and Nilufar Rizki; Writing by Randy Fabi; Editing by Kim Coghill and Mark Bendeich

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