What the Wreckage of AirAsia Flight QZ 8501 Can Tell Us

PHOTO: This aerial view shows floating debris spotted in the same area of the Java Sea as other items being investigated by Indonesian authorities as possible objects from missing AirAsia flight QZ8501, Dec. 30, 2014.PlayBay Ismoyo/AFP/Getty Images
WATCH Investigating the Mystery of AirAsia Flight 8501

The wreckage of missing AirAsia flight QZ 8501 will provide investigators with many clues to what happened as they study the size of the debris field, the condition of the plane's metal, and they recover the jetliner's black boxes.

The span of the debris field may be one of the most telling factors, aviation experts tell ABC News.

If the debris field is rather narrow, and all of the evidence is found relatively close together, that would suggest that the plane was intact when it crashed into the Java Sea on Sunday with 162 people aboard.

Fog prevented a completely clear view of the scene today, but investigators have reported that there appears to be a shadow of the plane in the relatively shallow water which hints that it is likely largely intact.

If the plane is not intact and the debris is more spread out than originally expected, that would suggest that the plane began to break apart mid-air.

The pieces of the plane will also hold important clues, first by identifying the plane using the serial number that is put on every piece of metal used to build the aircraft. Investigators will look for burn marks to determine if there was a fire on board or if there was an explosion.

The bodies have been recovered so far from the scene reportedly were not wearing life preservers. That could indicate that the catastrophe happened so suddenly that crew did not have had time to communicate with the passengers about the impending emergency.

The most telling piece of evidence will be the plane's black boxes which record the minute-by-minute account of what was going on both inside the engine and inside the cockpit, keeping track of what crew members were doing as well as the mechanisms.

Day four of the search will be underway when daylight hits Indonesia Wednesday.