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Bad weather hobbles Indonesia jet recovery; 7 bodies found

PANGKALAN BUN, Indonesia — Bad weather hindered efforts to recover victims of AirAsia Flight 8501 on Wednesday and sent wreckage drifting far from the crash site, as grieving relatives prayed for strength to endure their losses.

“Help us, God, to move forward, even though we are surrounded by darkness,” the Rev. Philip Mantofa, whose church lost about 40 members in the disaster, told families gathered in a waiting room at the Surabaya airport.

The massive hunt for 162 people who vanished Sunday aboard the Airbus A320 traveling from Surabaya, Indonesia, to Singapore, was severely limited due to heavy rain, wind and thick clouds. Seven bodies, including a flight attendant in her red AirAsia uniform, have been recovered, said Indonesian Search and Rescue Agency chief Henry Bambang Soelistyo.

Sonar images also identified what appeared to be large parts of the plane, but strong currents were moving the debris.

Conditions prevented divers from entering the choppy Java Sea, and helicopters were largely grounded. But 18 ships scoured the narrowed search area, and four of the seven corpses were recovered Wednesday before the search was called off for the day. Indonesia’s Meteorology and Geophysics Agency predicted conditions would worsen, with more intense rains, through Friday.

“It seems all the wreckage found has drifted more than 50 kilometers (30 miles) from yesterday’s location,” said Vice Air Marshal Sunarbowo Sandi, search and rescue coordinator in Pangkalan Bun on Borneo island, the closest town to the site. “We are expecting those bodies will end up on beaches.”

The airliner’s disappearance halfway through the two-hour flight triggered an international search involving dozens of planes, ships and helicopters from numerous countries. It is still unclear what brought the plane down.

Its last communication indicated the pilots were worried about bad weather. They sought permission to climb above threatening clouds but were denied because of heavy air traffic. Four minutes later, the jet disappeared from the radar without issuing a distress signal.