AirAsia Search Area Doubled as Hunt Enters Fourth Day

Search area expanded to 13,500 square nautical miles.

— -- Searchers today doubled the area of the Java Sea that is being scanned in the hunt for the wreckage of AirAsia Flight QZ 8501.

Planes and ships are now scouring 13,500 square nautical miles in an effort to find the plane, Malaysia's Chief of Navy Abdul Aziz Jaafar said in a tweet today. The search had been focused on an area that encompassed 6,160 square nautical miles.

The area was expanded as the search for the plane that plunged into the ocean Sunday with 162 people aboard entered its fourth day.

Officials reported weather had prevented divers from going into the water and grounded helicopters, hampering efforts to recover bodies and debris. But the weather had improved as the search resumed today, officials said.

Strong currents and rough seas, however, are believed to be moving debris, including what officials said early in the search was what appeared to be a large part of the missing plane.

So far, seven bodies have been recovered, including four males and three females. All of the bodies recovered were intact. The bodies were taken to Bhayangkara Hospital in Surabaya, where officials will work to identify them. Meanwhile, the Malaysian Navy said it had spotted at least three more bodies floating in the sea but hadn't recovered them.

Bambang Soelistyo, head of Indonesia’s National Search and Rescue Agency, said Wednesday authorities are hopeful that sonar technology will reveal the main wreckage location.

“We are expecting extra vessels – hopefully they will enter the area today,” Soelistyo said, speaking at a press conference Wednesday. “They have tools to search objects under water. They will be the leading forces to be able to find a majority of the parts of the plane.”

One of the female bodies was found wearing a flight attendant uniform, Soelistyo said.

Indonesian officials have prepared 168 coffins for the crash victims, Soelistyo said.

The plane's evacuation slide was recovered Wednesday, authorities confirmed.

AirAsia Ceo Tony Fernandes shared his perspectives on Twitter.

"Reality of seeing the evacuees and some of my aircraft parts are soul destroying," he wrote.

Debris and bodies from the crash were located Tuesday, two days after the plane abruptly disappeared from radar.

Ships such as the USS Sampson are also involved in the search, U.S. 7th Fleet Public Affairs confirmed. The ship arrived in the Java Sea Tuesday and helped Indonesian crews discover debris.

“Sampson will remain on station as long as the Indonesian government feels they are providing useful assistance,” said Capt. Christopher Budde, operations director for U.S. 7th Fleet.

The water is less than 100 feet deep in the area where the objects were found, officials said.

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.

Flight QZ8501, an Airbus A320-200, lost contact with air traffic control over the Java Sea during a flight to Singapore Sunday morning, shortly after the pilots requested a change of flight plan because of weather.

There were 155 passengers on board, with 137 adults, 17 children and 1 infant. Also on board were 2 pilots, 4 cabin crews and one engineer, according to the airline.