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Indonesia calls off AirAsia search
[JAKARTA] Indonesian search and rescue teams were on Tuesday ending the hunt for victims from last year's AirAsia plane crash, an official said, with 56 people still unaccounted for.
Flight QZ8501 went down in stormy weather during what was supposed to be a short trip from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore on December 28, killing all 162 people on board.
The crash of the Airbus A320-200 into the Java Sea sparked a huge international hunt, with ships and aircraft from several nations scouring the sea for the plane wreckage and the victims.
The search was scaled back dramatically in recent weeks, with foreign vessels withdrawing as well as the Indonesian military, which had provided the bulk of personnel and equipment.
Indonesia's civilian search and rescue agency had continued the hunt, but on a smaller scale and their teams were only occasionally finding more bodies and wreckage.
S.B. Supriyadi, the search agency official coordinating the effort, told AFP that the search would "end completely" on Tuesday and that the vessels still involved would pull out.
"All four ships will return to Jakarta tomorrow (Wednesday) morning," he said.
The total number of victims found stood at 106, he said. Search teams last found more bodies on Saturday, when three were discovered under some wreckage, he added.
The last major part of the fuselage that could be recovered was pulled from the sea last month.
The decision to end the hunt came after AirAsia boss Tony Fernandes signalled last week that operations were drawing to a close.
The chief of the Malaysian low-cost airline said that the operation had been "successful" but added that it could not "go on indefinitely".
"There is a time period and we've agreed with the families that this is obviously not something that can go on indefinitely," he said.
"But it's important for us that the families agreed on this and that's why I give them credit that they didn't keep insisting that we go on forever." 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, which will provide vital clues as investigators seek to figure out what caused the crash.
Indonesia will release the final report into the crash by August, the transport minister told AFP last month.