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Thu, 20 Aug 2015 12:28 - Updated Thu, 20 Aug 2015 12:28

Bodies, debris from missing AirAsia plane pulled from sea off Indonesia

Indonesian rescuers searching for an AirAsia plane carrying 162 people pulled bodies and wreckage from the sea off the coast of Borneo on Tuesday, prompting relatives of those on board watching TV footage to break down in tears.

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Indonesia AirAsia's Flight QZ8501, an Airbus A320-200, lost contact with air traffic control early on Sunday during bad weather on a flight from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore.

The navy initially said 40 bodies had been recovered, although other media later quoted the head of the search and rescue agency, Fransiskus Bambang Soelistyo, as saying only three bodies had been retrieved. The plane has yet to be found.

"My heart is filled with sadness for all the families involved in QZ8501," airline boss Tony Fernandes tweeted. "On behalf of AirAsia, my condolences to all. Words cannot express how sorry I am."

The airline said in a statement that it was inviting family members to Surabaya, "where a dedicated team of care providers will be assigned to each family to ensure that all of their needs are met".

Pictures of floating bodies were broadcast on television and relatives of the missing already gathered at a crisis center in Surabaya wept with heads in their hands. Several people collapsed in grief and were helped away.

Yohannes and his wife were at the center awaiting news of her brother, Herumanto Tanus, and two of his children who were on board the doomed flight.

The Tanus family had been on their way to visit Herumanto's son, who studies in Singapore and who traveled to Surabaya on Monday after the plane went missing.

"He cries every time he watches the news," Yohannes said.

The mayor of Surabaya, Tri Rismaharini, comforted relatives and urged them to be strong.

"They are not ours, they belong to God," she said.

A navy spokesman said a plane door, oxygen tanks and one body had been recovered and taken away by helicopter for tests.

"The challenge is waves up to three metres high," Soelistyo told reporters, adding that the search operation would go on all night. He declined to answer questions on whether any survivors had been found.

About 30 ships and 21 aircraft from Indonesia, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and the United States have been involved in the search.

The plane, which did not issue a distress signal, disappeared after its pilot failed to get permission to fly higher to avoid bad weather because of heavy air traffic, officials said.

It was traveling at 32,000 feet (9,753 metres) and had asked to fly at 38,000 feet, officials said earlier.

reuters

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