JAKARTA – Indonesian authorities have reported bodies, along with possible debris, have been spotted Tuesday in the Java Sea, where AirAsia Flight 8501 vanished three days ago, officials said.
Indonesian officials coming off a helicopter on Borneo island said they saw several bodies floating in waters near where the flight was last seen. Images on local television showed at least one bloated corpse.
The bodies, swollen but intact, were brought to an Indonesian navy ship, National Search and Rescue Director SB Supriyadi told reporters in Pangkalan Bun, the nearest town . The corpses did not have life jackets on.
Navy spokesman Manahan Simorangkir confirmed the discovery to TVOne, saying several victims were found, but he did not indicate whether they were dead or alive. Air Force spokesman Hadi Tjahjanto told MetroTV at least one body was found.
An Indonesian military aircraft earlier saw white, red and black objects about 105 miles south of Pangkalan Bun. Among those was an item that appeared to be a lifejacket, Indonesia National Search and Rescue spokesman Yusuf Latif said.
“This is the most significant finding, but we cannot confirm anything until the investigation is completed,” he said.
At least one helicopter has been dispatched to pick up debris, he said. Those items will examined at a search and rescue coordination post on Belitung island.
Indonesian National Search and Rescue chief Henry Bambang Soelistyo said debris spotted in the area where the flight is believed to have gone down is “95% likely” to be from a plane, CNN reported.
Items in the waters resembled an emergency slide, plane door and other objects, Agence France-Presse reported. A photographer for the news organization said he also saw objects resembling a life raft, life jackets and long orange tubes.
Helicopters have been searching on Tuesday for possible wreckage on land from the missing flight. The search has focused on a 70-square-nautical mile area between Belitung island, off Sumatra, and Borneo island. The water in the busy shipping lane is about 150 feet deep.
The Airbus A320, which took off from Surabaya, lost contact with air-traffic control around 7:24 a.m. Singapore time Sunday (6:24 p.m. ET Saturday), the airline said. Pilots had asked for permission to climb to avoid storm clouds, but six other aircraft were in the vicinity, so controllers temporarily denied their request. Minutes later, the plane vanished from radar screens without declaring an emergency.
Officials on Monday said they held out hope for survivors but had prepared for the worst.
“Based on the coordinates that we know, the evaluation would be that any estimated crash position is in the sea and that the hypothesis is the plane is at the bottom of the sea,” Henry Bambang Soelistyo said at a Monday news conference.
AirAsia officials said it was too early to discuss whether the airline would go through any operational changes, noting that the airline had carried 220 million passengers safely up until now.
“Until we have a full investigation and know what went wrong, we really can’t speculate,” CEO Tony Fernandes said.
The tragedy is the third commercial air disaster involving airlines in the southeast Asia region this year. Mystery still surrounds Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared March 8 without a trace en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people aboard. On July 17, another Malaysia Airlines craft was shot down over rebel-controlled eastern Ukraine while on a flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, killing all 298 people on board.