Indonesia says 'pings' detected in search for AirAsia flight recorders

A AirAsia Flight vanished from radar screens on 28 December, less than half way into a two-hour flight.

FILE: Members of the Indonesian Navy prepare equipment to be lowered into the water from the vessel KRI Banda Aceh to conduct operations to lift the tail of AirAsia flight QZ8501 in the Java Sea on 9 January, 2015. Picture: AFP

PANGKALAN BUN - Indonesian search and rescue teams hunting for the wreck of an AirAsia passenger jet detected pings they believed were from the plane's black box flight recorders on Friday, 12 days after it went missing with 162 people on board.

Indonesia AirAsia Flight QZ8501 vanished from radar screens on 28 December, less than half way into a two-hour flight from Indonesia's second-biggest city of Surabaya to Singapore. There were no survivors.

Forty-eight bodies, including at least two still strapped to their seats, have been found in waters off Borneo, but strong winds and high waves have hampered efforts to reach larger pieces of suspected wreckage detected by sonar on the sea floor.

The Airbus A320-200 carries the cockpit voice and flight data recorders, key to the investigation into why the airliner crashed, near the tail of the plane.

However, officials said it looked increasingly likely that they had become separated during the disaster.

"We detected signals about 1 km away from the location of the tail," search and rescue agency coordinator Supriyadi told reporters in Pangkalan Bun, the southern Borneo town closest to the crash site.

"Reports from the field confirm that pings are from the black box, because once the search team were out of a 500 m range, they could no longer hear it," he added.

"Tomorrow we will continue searching by air. We will add ships to the search. We will deploy divers to investigate more objects that have been detected but not yet identified."

The search operation so far appears to have relied heavily on sonar imagery and divers to locate the black boxes, but industry experts have questioned whether acoustic equipment, especially designed to pick up signals from underwater locator beacons, should have been employed more in the initial phase.

If and when the recorders are located and taken to Jakarta for analysis, it could take up to two weeks to download data, investigators said, although the information could be accessed in as little as two days if the devices are not badly damaged.

While the cause of the crash is not known, the national weather bureau has said seasonal tropical storms common in the area were likely to be a factor.