AirAsia disaster: bodies, debris found; hunt on for 'black boxes'

Indonesian search and rescue officers said today they have found the AirAsia flight which went missing on Sunday with 162 people on board, and are pulling scores of bodies along with debris from the Java Sea.

The bodies and wreckage were found off Indonesia's Kalimantan Coast on Borneo Island, around 10 km from where Flight QZ8501 made its last communication with air traffic control.

About 40 bodies spotted from a helicopter in Pangkalan Bun have been taken to an Indonesian navy ship.

Aviation officials said they were also bringing in a device that can detect underwater signals from the aircraft's black boxes.

The head of the search and rescue mission told a news conference, ''We are now officially announcing that on the third day of the search, we found the debris.''

Indonesian TV showed a searcher being lowered on a winch from a helicopter to where a bloated body floated on the waves.

Avoidable disaster?

About 40 minutes after leaving Surabaya en route to Singapore, the Airbus A320-200 disappeared from the radar screens, shortly after it was denied permission to fly from 32,000 feet to 38,000 feet to avoid clouds.

Relatives gathered in Surabaya became hysterical, wailing as they watched the grisly sight at the crisis centre in the city, where many families have gathered during the search. One man passed out, others grabbed each other.

The search and rescue mission had swollen to about 30 ships and 21 aircraft from Indonesia, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and the United States.

There were 155 Indonesians on the flight, three South Koreans and one person each from Singapore, Malaysia and Britain. The co-pilot was French.

The missing Airbus belongs to the Indonesian unit of regional budget carrier AirAsia, based in Malaysia (which incidentally has just started operations in India in partnership with the Tata Group).

The disappearance of flight QZ8501 is the third devastating tragedy to strike a Malaysia-affiliated flight in less than a year. Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared in March between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing with 239 passengers and crew and has not been found, while in July, Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board.