AirAsia Flight 8501: Weather hampering search and recovery effort

Last Updated Dec 30, 2014 10:29 PM EST

PANGKALAN BUN, Indonesia - A massive hunt for the 162 victims of AirAsia Flight 8501 resumed in the Java Sea on Wednesday, focusing on an area of the aqua-colored waters where the first bodies and debris were located a day earlier.

But wind, strong currents and high surf hampered recovery efforts as distraught family members anxiously waited to identify their loved ones.

The first proof of the fate of AirAsia Flight 8501 emerged Tuesday from the shallow, aqua-colored waters of the Java Sea, confirming that the plane crashed with 162 people aboard in an area not far from where it dropped off radar screens.

Two days after the jet vanished, searchers found began finding bodies and debris that included a life jacket, an emergency exit door and a suitcase about 10 miles from the plane's last known coordinates.

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This aerial view taken from an Indonesian search and rescue aircraft over the Java Sea shows floating debris spotted in the same area as other items being investigated by Indonesian authorities as possible objects from missing AirAsia flight QZ8501 on December 30, 2014. Items resembling an emergency slide, plane door and other objects were spotted during a aerial search on December 30 for the missing AirAsia plane, according to information from the flight on which AFP was aboard.
BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images

The airliner's disappearance halfway through a two-hour flight between Surabaya, Indonesia, and Singapore triggered an international hunt for the aircraft involving dozens of planes, ships and helicopters. It is still unclear what brought the plane down.

Images of the debris and a bloated body shown on Indonesian television sent a spasm of anguish through the room at the Surabaya airport where relatives awaited news.

The first sign of the jet turned up about 10 miles from its last known coordinates. Parts of the interior, including the oxygen tank, were brought to the nearest town, Pangkalan Bun. Another find included a bright blue plastic suitcase, completely unscratched.

Search crews had also reportedly spotted a large shadow on the seafloor, believed to be the jetliner itself.

"I know the plane has crashed, but I cannot believe my brother and his family are dead," said Ifan Joko, who lost seven relatives, three of them children, as they traveled to Singapore to ring in the new year. "We still pray they are alive."

First Adm. Sigit Setiayanta, commander of the Naval Aviation Center at Surabaya Air Force base, told reporters six corpses were spotted about 100 miles from Central Kalimantan province.

CBS News' Allen Pizzey reports that the first six bodies were recovered relatively quickly, and then searchers began reporting more and more bodies floating in the sea 100 miles from land and a mere 6 miles from where the airliner was last in contact with air traffic control. , One of the bodies was that of a flight attendant identified by her trademark red uniform.

French news agency AFP reported that as many as 40 bodies had been recovered, but that information was not immediately confirmed.

Images on Indonesian television showed a half-naked bloated body bobbing in the sea. Search and rescue teams were lowered on ropes from a hovering helicopter to retrieve corpses.

Rescue workers descended on ropes from a hovering helicopter to retrieve bodies. Efforts were hindered by 6-foot waves and strong winds, National Search and Rescue Director SB Supriyadi said.

The first body was later picked up by a navy ship. Officials said as many as six others followed, but they disagreed about the exact number.

Supriyadi was on the aircraft and saw what appeared to be more wreckage under the water, which was clear and a relatively shallow 65 to 100 feet.

When TV broadcast an image of a half-naked man floating in the water, a shirt partially covering his head, many of the family members screamed and wailed uncontrollably. One middle-aged man collapsed and had to be carried out on a stretcher.

Their horror was captured by cameras on the other side of windows into the waiting room. Officials blacked out the glass later Tuesday evening.

Around 125 family members were planning to travel Wednesday to Pangkalan Bun to start identifying their loved ones. Body bags and coffins have been prepared at hospitals there. Dozens of elite military divers will join the massive search. They were desperate to search the water ahead of approaching rough weather.

The crash caps an astonishingly tragic year for air travel in Southeast Asia, and Malaysia in particular. Malaysia-based AirAsia's loss comes on top of the mystery surround Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in March with 239 people aboard, and the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in July over Ukraine, which killed all 298 passengers and crew.

Nearly all the passengers and crew are Indonesians, who are frequent visitors to Singapore, particularly on holidays.

Haidar Fauzie, 60, said his youngest child and only daughter, Khairunnisa Haidar, was a flight attendant who had worked with AirAsia for two years.

On learning about the crash, he struggled to console his grieving wife. They last saw their child six weeks ago, when she returned home on holiday.

"From the start, we already knew the risks associated with being a stewardess," Fauzie said. "She is beautiful and smart. It has always been her dream to fly. We couldn't have stopped her."

AirAsia group CEO Tony Fernandes, the airline's founder and public face and a constant presence in Indonesia since the tragedy started unfolding, said he planned to travel to the recovery site on Wednesday.

"I have apologized profusely for what they are going through," he said of his contact with relatives. "I am the leader of this company, and I have to take responsibility. That is why I'm here. I'm not running away from my obligations."

The jet's last communication indicated the pilots were worried about bad weather. They sought permission to climb above threatening clouds but were denied because of heavy air traffic. Four minutes later, the jet disappeared from the radar without issuing a distress signal.

The plane's cockpit voice and flight data recorders, or black boxes, have yet to be recovered. Scott Hamilton, managing director of aviation consultancy Leeham Co., said in a post on his website that autopsies may provide some of the earliest clues about what happened.

"If death was due to blunt-force trauma, this could suggest passengers were alive upon impact with the water," he wrote. "If death came from other circumstances, this could suggest an explosive decompression and in-flight break up occurred."

Several countries rushed to Indonesia to help with search and recovery efforts.

The United States said it was sending the USS Sampson destroyer, joining at least 30 ships, 15 aircraft and seven helicopters in the search for the jet.

State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke told CBS News: "Our embassy in Jakarta is in close touch with the Indonesian National Search and Rescue Agency. We stand ready provide additional assistance as available pending their requests."

Sources have told CBS News that because Airbus is based in France, both officials with the airlines and investigators from the French government were expected to assist in the investigation.

A Chinese frigate was on the way. Singapore said it was sending two underwater beacon detectors to try to pick up pings from the plane's all-important cockpit voice and flight-data recorders. Malaysia, Australia and Thailand are also involved in the search.