Jakarta: Indonesian rescuers searching for a missing AirAsia plane carrying 162 people pulled bodies and wreckage from the sea off the coast of Borneo on Tuesday as relatives of those on board broke down in tears on hearing the news.
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 said 40 bodies had been recovered as dusk fell.
The plane has yet to be found and there was no word on the possibility of any survivors. "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."
Pictures of floating bodies were broadcast on television and relatives of the missing gathered at a crisis centre in Surabaya wept with heads in their hands. Several people collapsed in grief and were helped away.
"You have to be strong," the mayor of Surabaya, Tri Rismaharini, said as she comforted relatives. "They are not ours, they belong to God." A navy spokesman said a plane door, oxygen tanks and one body had been recovered and taken away by helicopter for tests. About 30 ships and 21 aircraft from Indonesia, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and the United States have been involved in the search of up to 10,000 square nautical miles.
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 travelling at 32,000 feet (9,753 metres) and had asked to fly at 38,000 feet, officials said earlier.
Pilots and aviation experts said thunderstorms, and requests to gain altitude to avoid them, were not unusual in that area. The Indonesian pilot was experienced and the plane last underwent maintenance in mid-November, the airline said. The aircraft had accumulated about 23,000 flight hours in some 13,600 flights, according to Airbus.
AirAsia plane with 159 aboard overshoots Philippine runway
Meanwhile, an AirAsia Zest plane carrying 159 people overshot the runway and got stuck in a muddy field at an international airport in the central Philippines after landing from Manila in windy weather on Tuesday, officials said. There were no reports of injuries.
Crew members launched emergency slides to help passengers disembark from the Airbus A320-200 after it skidded off the runway in the resort town of Kalibo in Aklan province before nightfall, Giovanni Hontomin, who is in charge of AirAsia Zest's operations, said.
Initial reports indicated that three of the plane's tires got stuck in the mud, said Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines spokesman Eric Apolonio. He said the busy airport would be closed to air traffic until the stalled aircraft, which likely sustained some damage, is towed away from near the runway's end.