Parts of a plane that crashed with 102 people on board have been found by fishermen or washed to shore in north-west Indonesia today, 10 days after the plane disappeared in stormy weather, officials said.
A one-yard section of tail, the back of a seat and other debris were the first pieces of wreckage to be recovered from the Boeing 737, which vanished without a trace on New Year’s Day, baffling crash investigators and sparking a massive land and sea search.
Eddy Suyanto, the head of search and rescue operations, said the serial number on the tail – found 300 yards off the western coast of Sulawesi Island - confirmed it was part of Adam Air Flight KI-574.
No survivors or bodies confirmed as being on the aircraft have been found, Suyanto said.
Metro TV broadcast the corpse of a woman washed up close to where the debris was found, but quoted a doctor as saying that its condition indicated it had been in the water for just five days.
Local police chief Gatot Haryanto told Metro the plane parts recovered today were spread over a 400 yard radius.
Scores of officers, fishermen and people living on the coast were looking for more debris.
The plane left Java island for the North Sulawesi provincial capital of Manado on January 1.
The pilot twice changed course after battling 80mph winds but did not issue a mayday or report technical difficulties before dropping off the radar halfway as it approached the western coast of Sulawesi.
With no emergency location signal to guide more than 3,600 soldiers, police and volunteers searching in Sulawesi’s dense jungles and surrounding seas, teams have fanned out over a nearly 30,000-square-mile area.
A day after the plane’s disappearance, authorities falsely reported finding its wreckage along with 12 survivors in a remote mountainous district on Sulawesi, outraging relatives of those on board.
News that debris had been found gave a comfort to one relative today.
“I cried when I heard, but I am now relieved,” said Rosmala Dewi, whose daughter was a stewardess on the flight. “At the very least we now have a sign (where the aircraft fell).”
On Tuesday, authorities said a Navy ship had detected large pieces of metal on the seabed off Sulawesi north of where the debris was washing up, but were unable to say whether they were from the downed plane.
The USNS Mary Sears, which has sonar and satellite imagery capabilities, is scanning the debris to determine whether it came from the plane. Its findings have not yet been made public.
Local fisherman told authorities they had spotted a low-flying, unstable aircraft in the area but lost sight of it after hearing a loud bang.
Suyanto said wreckage from the plane could have drifted hundreds of miles over the last 10 days.
Adam Air is one of about 30 budget carriers that sprang up in Indonesia after the industry was deregulated in 1998. The rapid expansion has led to cheap flights throughout Indonesia, but has raised concerns about maintenance.