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Divers Forced to Halt Search for AirAsia Jet

National Search and Rescue Agency personnel carry a bag containing parts of AirAsia Flight 8501 after being airlifted by a Singapore Navy Super Puma helicopter at the airport in Pangkalan Bun, Indonesia, Jan. 4, 2015.

Seasonal tropical weather continued to hamper search and recovery efforts for AirAsia Flight 8501 Sunday, forcing divers to turn back after nearing the suspected wreckage site.

Bambang Soelistyo, the head of Indonesia's National Search and Rescue Agency, said Sunday, "They made the dive, but in the sea-bed the visibility was zero, which means complete darkness, with muddy sea-bed.

"Also the current wind is about three to five knots. With this kind of condition, the diving effort is temporary suspended by the coordinator, they will try to use ROVs (Remotely Operated Underwater Vehicle) instead," Soelistyo said.

A group of divers prepares their gear on the deck of the Search and Rescue (SAR) ship KN Purworejo during a search operation for passengers onboard AirAsia Flight 8501 in the Java Sea, Jan. 4, 2015.
A group of divers prepares their gear on the deck of the Search and Rescue (SAR) ship KN Purworejo during a search operation for passengers onboard AirAsia Flight 8501 in the Java Sea, Jan. 4, 2015.

Bad weather has hampered efforts to locate most of the suspected 162 victims aboard in the week since Flight 8501 disappeared from radar. Murky waters forced divers to turn back Sunday after nearing what officials believe may be the main debris field.

Indonesian search and recovery teams resumed their hunt Sunday for the wreck of an AirAsia passenger jet after locating five "large objects" in the Java Sea about 90 nautical miles off the coast of Borneo Island.

Recovery teams hope to reach what they believe is the plane’s fuselage to retrieve bodies and the aircraft's flight data recorders - the "black boxes" - located in the tail section of the aircraft.

An official from Indonesia's National Search and Rescue Agency said Sunday the fuselage is believed to have broken into several parts, separating the tail from the rest of the aircraft.

“Based on the finding of pieces of debris it looks like the body of the aircraft split or cracked and was separated from its tail,” Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Johnson Supriyadi, a search and rescue official co-ordinating the operation from the southern Borneo town of Pangkalan Bun, told Reuters.

Soelistyo said, based on previous experience, "the black box will not be to far from the (aircraft) debris, which hopefully we will find tomorrow."

Nine ships from four countries have converged on the area, with teams of divers including seven Russian experts standing ready, but strong winds and four-meter high waves have kept progress agonizingly slow.

Authorities are looking for a possible break in the weather sometime during the day.

Bodies retrieved

4Indonesian officials say 31 bodies have so been retrieved after another was recovered Sunday. Nine of the victims found have been identified.

The search was widened Saturday as authorities say debris may have drifted as far away as the coastline of southern Borneo.

In a new report, Indonesia's weather bureau said weather conditions were a factor in causing the plane to plunge into the Java Sea. The findings, posted on the agency's website, reference several other flights that experienced problems like engine failure and severe turbulence during storms in the area in the past decade.

Flight 8501 crashed into the Java Sea about 40 minutes after taking off from Indonesia's second-largest city, Surabaya, en route to Singapore. The twin-engine jet disappeared from radar without a distress call nearly halfway into the flight. There were no known survivors.

Indonesian authorities have temporarily suspended AirAsia flights from Surabaya to Singapore because the airline did not have a permit to fly the route on Sundays - the day of the crash.

Officials said the search for the flight data recorders, which send out a soft pinging sound, may be hampered by the number of search vessels in the area.

Hampering search for black boxes

Toos Sanitiyoso, air safety investigation official with the National Committee for Transport Safety, noted that the water in the search area is not very deep — "30, up to 40 meters. Theoretically, we should avoid high level of noise in order to find the detail signal, because the signal is not a very big signal. It's quite weak signal from the pinger.''

Portions of the plane, including an exit door, inflatable escape ramp, suitcases and other debris have also been recovered.

Among the bodies already returned to families is that of an AirAsia flight attendant and a young Indonesian man studying at an Australian university. Most of the 162 people on board the Airbus jet came from Indonesia and were traveling to Singapore to mark New Year celebrations.

On Saturday, the airline also came under pressure from Indonesian authorities, who have suspended its Surabaya to Singapore operations, saying the carrier only had a license to fly the route on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon joined regional leaders in expressing condolences and thanking international teams in the search. Up to 29 vessels, 17 aircraft and sonar equipment are being used to help locate wreckage of the jet. Russia has joined the search alongside Singapore, the United States, Malaysia, Australia and China.

Some information came from Reuters.