AirAsia: Recovery operations intensified

After days of searching, debris and bodies from the ill-fated plane are slowly being retrieved.

Indonesian Air Force officials show maps to journalists of the search area for the missing Malaysian air carrier AirAsia flight QZ8501, at the airport in Surabaya, East Java, on December 29, 2014. Picture: AFP.

JOHANNESBURG - Recovery operations at the site of a plane crash in the Java Sea have been intensified.

The missing AirAsia plane went down over the Java Sea on Sunday en route from Indonesia to Singapore.

It had over 100 people on board and the cause of the tragedy is unclear as the plane's black box has yet to be found.

AirAsia's Flight QZ8501 lost contact with air traffic control early on Sunday during bad weather on a flight from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore.

Families of 162 people who were on board the AirAsia plane have been dealt a devastating blow.

After days of searching, debris and bodies from the ill-fated plane are slowly being retrieved.

Debris from the plane was spotted about 10 kilometres from the aircraft's last known location.

Pictures of floating bodies were broadcast on television and relatives of the missing gathered at a crisis centre in Surabaya wept with heads in their hands. Several people collapsed in grief and were helped away.

USS SAMPSON TO HELP WITH THE SEARCH

The US has dispatched two ships to help in the search for more bodies and debris. It's joined a number of other countries in the operation.

About 30 ships and 21 aircraft from Indonesia, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and the United States have been involved in the search.

TEAM TO BE ASSIGNED TO EACH FAMILY

The airline said in a statement that it was inviting family members to Surabaya, "where a dedicated team of care providers will be assigned to each family to ensure that all of their needs are met".

The navy said 40 bodies had been recovered. The plane has yet to be found.

"My heart is filled with sadness for all the families involved in QZ8501," airline boss Tony Fernandes tweeted. "On behalf of AirAsia, my condolences to all. Words cannot express how sorry I am."

The AirAsia group, including affiliates in Thailand, the Philippines and India, had not suffered a crash since its Malaysian budget operations began in 2002.

2014 has been a deadly year in aviation. View a special feature from Eyewitness News.

Additional reporting by Reuters.