PANGKALAN BUN, Indonesia — Six bloated bodies and debris seen floating in Indonesian waters Tuesday painfully ended the mystery of AirAsia Flight 8501, which crashed into the Java Sea with 162 people aboard and was lost to searchers for more than two days.
The bodies were found about 160 kilometers (100 miles) from land and 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the plane’s last known coordinates. The plane vanished Sunday on its way from Surabaya, Indonesia to Singapore after encountering storm clouds.
The six bodies were recovered, swollen but intact, and taken to an Indonesian navy ship, First Adm. Sigit Setiayanta, the Naval Aviation Center commander at the Surabaya air force base, told reporters. The corpses did not have life jackets on.
Search and rescue teams were lowered on ropes from a hovering helicopter to retrieve the corpses, their efforts hindered by 2-meter-high (6-foot) waves and strong winds, National Search and Rescue Director SB Supriyadi told The Associated Press.
The discovery came after several pieces of red, white and black debris were spotted in the Java Sea near Borneo island. AirAsia planes are red and white.
Supriyadi said that from an aircraft above, he said he saw what appeared to be a life jacket and an emergency exit door. More wreckage could be seen beneath the water.
Indonesian television showed a half-naked bloated body of a man whose shirt partially covered his head. The images sent a spasm of pain through family members watching together in a waiting room at the Surabaya airport.
Many screamed and wailed uncontrollably, breaking down into tears while they squeezed each other. One middle-aged man collapsed and had to be taken out on a stretcher.
AirAsia group CEO Tony Fernandes tweeted, “My heart is filled with sadness for all the families involved in QZ 8501. On behalf of AirAsia my condolences to all. Words cannot express how sorry I am.”
Ifan Joko, 54, said he was still hoping for a miracle. His brother, Charlie Gunawan, along with his wife, their three children and two other family members, were traveling to Singapore on the plane to ring in the New Year.
“I know the plane has crashed, but I cannot believe my brother and his family are dead,” he said, wiping a tear. “… We still pray they are alive.”