Indonesian authorities believe they have located a large section of the AirAsia jet that crashed in the Java Sea, as the search for victims was hampered by poor weather.
Officials said early Wednesday sonar images suggest a large section of the plane is lying upside down on the bottom of the sea, in an area officials say is only 30 to 50 meters deep.
But AirAsia chief Tony Fernandes later played down those reports, saying there is "some visual identification, but nothing confirmed."
Search and rescue agency officials said Wednesday waves of up to three meters, strong winds and heavy rain prevented rescue planes and helicopters from participating in an aerial search of the crash site near the island of Borneo.
Search and rescue official Sunarbowo Sandi said bodies and debris were being scattered by strong currents and monsoon weather conditions.
“All the wreckage and bodies have drifted around 50 kilometers and we're expecting all the bodies will end up on the beaches around here,” Sandi told Reuters news agency.
Seven bodies recovered
Officials were able to pull four corpses from the relatively shallow waters Wednesday, bringing the total number of bodies recovered to seven. Some have been fully clothed, others nearly naked.
Police official Bambang Hermanu said the bodies of a teenage boy and a woman were being transferred to the Indonesian city of Surabaya, from where the plane departed.
None of the 162 passengers and crew on board the plane have been found alive.
The first traces of the plane were discovered Tuesday, not far from where the Airbus A320 disappeared during a storm about halfway between the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore.
Sonar images suggest the main body of the plane is lying upside down on the bottom of the sea, in an area officials say is only 30 to 50 meters deep.
The search area was narrowed to 120 square nautical miles and 22 ships continued to hunt for the remaining victims and for the plane's black box, Dwi Putranto, a senior air force official, told Reuters.
Investigators hope to determine the cause of the crash once divers locate and recover the plane's cockpit voice and flight data recorders.
US ships offer help
The destroyer USS Sampson is on the scene helping with the search. A second ship, the USS Forth Worth, is standing by in Singapore and will head to the crash site if needed.
The White House said the United States sends its condolences to the families and loved ones, and stands by to provide Indonesia with all the help it needs.
AirAsia's Fernandes has apologized to the families of the victims, saying that as head of the airline, he will not run away from his responsibilities. He said the company will provide immediate financial assistance to the families.
Air traffic controllers denied the pilot's request to fly at a higher altitude to avoid the storm because there were other planes in the area. It tried to fly around the storm instead. The pilot gave no distress call before the plane disappeared.
The passengers included 149 Indonesians, three South Koreans, and one each from Britain, Malaysia and Singapore.
Some material for this report came from Reuters.