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Search area expanded as divers continue recovery of AirAsia victims

They will also be searching for the plane’s black box.

Image: AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim, Pool

INDONESIAN SEARCH OFFICIALS have sent divers down to the bed of the Java Sea during a break in bad weather in hopes of recovering more bodies from the wreckage of AirAsia Flight 8501.

Strong currents forced Indonesia to expand the search area for victims as efforts to reach the wreckage and black boxes beneath the sea became increasingly difficult.

Recovery teams, hampered by rough seas, have found fewer than 40 bodies since the plane crashed on 28 December, carrying 162 people from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore.

“Some divers have started to dive to the seabed,” search and rescue agency chief Bambang Soelistyo told reporters on the tenth day of the major search involving several countries.

The recovery teams have yet to find the black box flight data recorders, crucial to determining the cause of the crash, although they have located five major parts of the plane on the seabed including a “suspected tail” — where flight recorders are usually housed.

The operation has prioritised finding the bodies of the victims, all but seven of whom were Indonesian. Some bodies were found still strapped into their seats.

Indonesia Plane Members of the National Search And Rescue Agency and Indonesian soldiers carry the coffins of the victims who were aboard the AirAsia Flight 8501 to transfer them to Surabaya at the airport in Pangkalan Bun. Source: AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana

The number recovered still stood at 37 on Tuesday, another search official, S.B. Supriyadi, told AFP from Pangkalan Bun, a town on Borneo island with the nearest airstrip to the wreckage.

Recovery teams have recently expanded the area of sea being combed for bodies and wreckage, believing bodies may have drifted in strong currents.

Indonesia has also ordered the suspension of aviation officials involved in the departure of the flight. It says the crash happened when AirAsia was flying on an unauthorised schedule.

Indonesia Plane A U.S. Navy rubber boat seen during the search operation. Source: AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim, Pool

AirAsia Indonesia, a unit of Malaysia-based AirAsia, has already been suspended from flying the Surabaya-Singapore route — although Singapore officials said they had given permission for the flight at their end.

Indonesia’s transport ministry also promised action against any domestic airlines violating their flying permits.

Indonesia’s meterological agency BMKG has said weather was the “triggering factor” of the crash, with ice likely damaging the plane’s engines.

© AFP 2015, additional reporting by The Associated Press

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