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AirAsia black box search could 'take a week'

Hopes had risen for divers to be able to examine what is believed to be the fuselage of the Airbus A320-200.

Members of an Indonesian search and rescue team transport the body of a victim from AirAsia flight QZ8501 recovered from the Java Sea in the rain at Pangkalan Bun in Central Kalimantan on 1 January, 2015. Picture: AFP.

INDONESIA - Divers waiting to inspect the possible wreck of an AirAsia Indonesia jet off Borneo were unable to resume operations because of heavy seas on Thursday and an aviation official said it could take a week to find the black box flight recorders.

Crews were on standby to descend to a large object detected by sonar on the ocean floor, lying just 30-50 metres deep. Rescuers believe it is the Airbus A320-200, which was carrying 162 people when it crashed on Sunday en route from the city of Surabaya to Singapore.

"I am hoping that the latest information is correct and aircraft has been found," airline boss Tony Fernandes tweeted on Thursday. "Please all hope together. This is so important."

But Toos Sanitiyoso, an air safety investigator with the National Committee for Transportation Safety, said the black box flight data and voice recorders could be found within a week, suggesting there was still doubt over the plane's location.

"The main thing is to find the main area of the wreckage and then the black box," he told reporters.

None of the tell-tale black box "pings" had been detected, he said.

"There are two steps of finding the black box. One is we try to find the largest portion of the wreckage," he said.

Divers would not be sent into the water without a target, search official Sunarbowo Sandi said.

"They wouldn't go in without it," he said. "The divers are not searching."

Frogman commander Lieutenant Edi Tirkayasa said the weather was making the operation extra hard.

"What is most difficult is finding the location where the plane fell - checking whether the aircraft is really there," he told Reuters.

"This is very difficult even with sophisticated equipment. With weather like this, who knows? We are still hopeful and optimistic that they'll find it. They must."

Investigators are working on a theory that the plane stalled as it climbed steeply to avoid a storm about 40 minutes into the flight.

So far, at least seven bodies have been recovered from waters near the suspected crash site, along with debris such a suitcase, an emergency slide and a life jacket.

The bodies are being taken in numbered coffins to Surabaya, where relatives of the victims have gathered, for identification. Authorities have been collecting DNA from relatives to help identify the bodies.

"We are asking universities to work with us - from the whole country," said Anton Castilani, executive director at Indonesia's disaster victims identification committee.

Most of those on board were Indonesians. No survivors have been found.

Relatives, many of whom collapsed in grief when they saw the first grim television pictures confirming their fears on Tuesday, held prayers at a crisis centre at Surabaya airport.

SEARCH EFFORTS HINDERED BY BAD WEATHER

Search teams looking for the AirAsia jet struggled to resume full-scale operations on Thursday after a small window of fine weather closed, giving way to rising seas which have dogged the search from the start.

Hopes had risen for divers to be able to investigate what is believed to be the fuselage of the Airbus A320-200, which was carrying 162 people when it crashed on Sunday during stormy weather on a flight from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore.

"Clouds have started to descend again...and the weather conditions will deteriorate again," search and rescue official Tatang Zaenudin told TV, adding that the conditions would limit air searches. "For the sea search, we will continue."

A team of 47 Indonesian Navy divers is on standby to go down to a large, dark object detected by sonar on the ocean floor, lying just 30-50 metres deep. If it is the AirAsia plane, divers would look to retrieve its black boxes.

None of the tell-tale black box "pings" had been detected, an official said.

Investigators are working on a theory that the plane went into an aerodynamic stall as it climbed steeply to avoid a storm about 40 minutes into the flight.

So far, at least seven bodies have been recovered from waters near the suspected crash site, along with debris such a suitcase, an emergency slide and a life jacket.

The bodies are being taken in numbered coffins to Surabaya, where relatives of the victims have gathered, for identification. Authorities have been collecting DNA from relatives to help identify the bodies.

"We are asking universities to work with us - from the whole country," said Anton Castilani, executive director at Indonesia's disaster victims identification committee.

Most of the 162 people on board were Indonesians. No survivors have been found.

_2014 has been a deadly year in aviation. View a _ _special feature from Eyewitness News. _