Bambang Soelistyo, the head of Indonesia’s search-and-rescue agency, said on Sunday that sonar imaging revealed a fifth large object in the search area. He said it measured nearly 10 meters in length. On Saturday, he said four pieces of the plane had been found relatively close together on the sea floor, with the largest measuring about 18 meters. Divers haven’t made contact with that wreckage.
Mr. Soelistyo also said his team couldn’t deploy a remotely operated vehicle in the search area because currents are moving faster than the machine will allow.
Despite the adverse weather conditions, vessels equipped with sound-detection equipment are still able to scan the search area in hopes of finding the plane’s “black box” data recorders, an official with the search operation said.
Flight 8501, an Airbus A320, had 162 people on board and lost contact with air traffic control on the morning of Dec. 28 en route to Singapore from the Indonesian port city of Surabaya. The plane didn’t issue a mayday call before disappearing less than an hour into its trip near a group of intense storm cells. Meteorological experts in Indonesia said icing was the most likely weather-related cause for the crash, though they said that is just one possibility.
Mr. Soelistyo added that the search area for bodies and debris has been expanded to the east and now encompasses a total area of 20,700 nautical miles. The search area is about 160 kilometers (100 miles) southwest of Pangkalan Bun in the southwestern part of Borneo.
One more body was pulled from the water on Sunday morning, he said, bringing the total number recovered to 31.
Indonesian officials on Saturday said they would investigate why AirAsia was flying its Surabaya-to-Singapore route on Dec. 28 when it didn’t have permission to fly on Sundays.
Transport Ministry spokesman J.A. Barata said the airline was only permitted to fly the route on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
“So AirAsia has committed a violation of the route that has been given to them,” Mr. Barata said. He said the company’s flights from Surabaya to Singapore were suspended on Friday.
AirAsia used to have permission to fly the route daily, but the number of slots was cut for the period Oct. 26 to March 28 because the country was nearing its quota for flying people to Singapore, said Indonesia’s acting director general of aviation, Djoko Murjatmodjo.
Mr. Murjatmodjo added that AirAsia had been flying the route on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays rather than the four days designated by the Transportation Ministry. He said the ministry is investigating why AirAsia was flying the route outside its permitted schedule. The probe will include an investigation of the ministry.
“Frankly speaking, it’s a bit late for us to find out about this,” he said. “One thing that’s certain is the days that they are flying aren’t the same as the days they were given. There was no request for changes.”
At a news conference in Surabaya on Saturday, AirAsia Indonesia’s chief executive, Sunu Widyatmoko, said the company would cooperate fully with the government investigation. He said the management of AirAsia won’t comment further until the investigation is complete.
Some memorial services have been held for passengers lost on Flight 8501, but the majority of passengers and crew are still unaccounted for, as rough weather has hampered the recovery process in the Java Sea.
Anton Castilani, the director of Indonesia’s Disaster Victims Identification unit, said investigators will conduct autopsies on the crew but not on most of the flight’s passengers. The majority of them were Indonesian and written consent must be obtained from relatives for an autopsy to take place, or the police must open a criminal investigation, which hasn’t been done, he said.
“There are cultural issues. People refuse to allow autopsies,” he said.