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AirAsia families accept 'sad reality' as search ends

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An Indonesian whose daughter-in-law is among 56 people unaccounted for following the December crash of an AirAsia plane said on Wednesday his family had accepted the "sad reality" that her body would never be found.

[JAKARTA] An Indonesian whose daughter-in-law is among 56 people unaccounted for following the December crash of an AirAsia plane said on Wednesday his family had accepted the "sad reality" that her body would never be found.

Rescuers called off the hunt for the remaining passengers on Tuesday, almost three months after Flight QZ8501 went down in stormy weather as it flew from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore, killing all 162 people on board.

The crash of the Airbus A320-200 sparked a huge international search, with ships and aircraft from several nations scouring the waters for the plane wreckage and the victims.

In recent weeks the hunt had already been scaled back, with just Indonesia's civilian search and rescue agency involved and only a small number of new bodies found.

Early Wednesday, the last ships involved in the search left Pangkalan Bun, the town on Borneo island which had served as a base for the hunt, said agency official SB Supriyadi.

A total of 106 bodies have been recovered, with the last three found at the weekend.

Hadi Widjaja, whose son and daughter-in-law were on the flight, praised rescuers for doing a "good job".

His son has been found but his daughter-in-law remains missing. He said her family realised it was time to move on.

"Her parents and my family have let her go in peace. We have to accept this sad reality," he told AFP.

"The rescuers spent three months on this search operation," he said, adding that his family "really appreciated their work".

Eka Santoso, whose brother, sister-in-law and their two children were on the plane, said he believed if the search operation was extended, more bodies could be found, but he had accepted the decision to end it.

The body of his brother has been retrieved, but his three other relatives remain missing.

"I have already asked AirAsia and the search and rescue agency to extend the search, but I cannot do more," said the 53-year-old, adding that he would just have to "accept that they are no longer searching for our loved ones".

Bambang Soelistyo, head of Indonesia's search and rescue agency, said the decision to end the search had been taken after consulting the victims' relatives at a meeting in Surabaya.

"The search should have ended much earlier but out of respect for family members, we extended the operation until we completely ended it yesterday (Tuesday)," he told AFP.

The Indonesian National Transportation Safety Committee has so far shed little light on what caused the flight to crash, or what occurred in the moments before the tragedy.

It has reported that the plane climbed rapidly in an area of towering storm clouds before crashing, and that the co-pilot was at the controls, rather than the more experienced pilot, in the moments before the accident.

The plane's black box flight data recorders have been recovered, and will provide vital clues as investigators seek to figure out what caused the crash.

AFP