, INDONESIA, Dec 30 – The hunt for a missing AirAsia passenger plane appeared over Tuesday as wreckage and dozens of bodies were spotted at sea off Indonesia, prompting raw scenes of emotion from sobbing relatives of the 162 people aboard.
The Airbus A320-200 disappeared en route from Indonesia’s second largest city Surabaya to Singapore during a storm early Sunday.
All indications now are that it crashed in the Java Sea southwest of the island of Borneo, with debris and dozens of bodies retrieved so far.
An air force plane saw a “shadow” on the seabed believed to be of the missing Flight QZ8501, National Search and Rescue Agency chief Bambang Soelistyo told a news conference in Jakarta.
Relatives of the 162 missing hugged each other and burst into tears in Surabaya as they watched footage of one body floating in the sea on a television feed of Soelistyo’s press conference.
An Indonesian warship had recovered more than 40 bodies from the sea “and the number is growing”, navy spokesman Manahan Simorangkir told AFP shortly afterwards.
AirAsia’s flamboyant chief executive, Tony Fernandes, expressed his grief over the first fatal incident to hit the region’s biggest budget airline.
– ‘I cannot bring him back to life’ –
“My heart is filled with sadness for all the families involved in QZ 8501,” Fernandes said on Twitter, adding that he was rushing to Surabaya.
Initial news of the debris dimmed the faint hopes of relatives of those missing.
“If that news is true, what can I do? I cannot bring him back to life,” said Dwijanto, 60, whose son was on the plane along with five colleagues.
“My heart will be totally crushed if it’s true. I will lose a son,” he said.
Search chief Soelistyo said all efforts were now being concentrated on the location where the “shadow” and debris had been found, around 160 kilometres (100 miles) southwest of the town of Pangkalan Bun in Central Kalimantan on Borneo island.
The town has the nearest airstrip and is not far from the plane’s last known position.
President Joko Widodo was expected in Pangkalan Bun shortly and then head to Surabaya to meet the relatives, officials said.