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'Pings' clue to black box search

A search for the black boxes of a downed AirAsia plane intensified today with more "pings" heard in two different locations.

Three Indonesian ships detected the signals, said Indroyono Soesilo, coordinating minister for Maritime Affairs. They were located around two miles from where the aircraft's rear was discovered yesterday.

"The two are close to each other, just about 20 yards," Soesilo told reporters. "Hopefully, they are the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder."

However, Tonny Budiono, team coordinator at the Directorate of Sea Transportation, said the signals were intense in one area, and that he believed the recorders were likely lodged beneath wreckage. If divers are unable to free it, all of the debris will be lifted.

Other officials cautioned it was too soon to know whether the sounds were coming from the black boxes, which detached from the tail when the plane plummeted into the sea on December 28, killing all 162 people on board.

"Until now, I have not yet received reports that the black boxes have been discovered," said Henry Bambang Soelistyo, chief of Indonesia's search and rescue agency. "There are signals, or pings, which are suspected to be of the black boxes."

The Commission for Transportation Safety stopped a remote-operated vehicle from being deployed to probe the area where the pings were heard, fearing it could potentially cause damage to the boxes, said Muhammad Ilyas, head of oceanic surveys at Indonesia's technology agency. Instead, the sites will be examined by divers.

In addition, sonar today detected a large object in the same vicinity as the pings. Officials initially were hopeful it was the main section of the Airbus A320's cabin, but Soelistyo said divers had confirmed it was instead a wing and debris from the engine.

Search efforts have been consistently hampered by bad weather.

The tail's excavation was a major success in the slow-moving hunt for victims and wreckage from Flight 8501. The red metal chunk from the tail, with the words "AirAsia" clearly visible across it, was brought to the surface yesterday using inflatable balloons.

AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes expressed optimism that the effort was gaining momentum.

"Let's hope today is a major breakthrough day and we can find (the) main fuselage," he wrote in a Twitter post.

Many believe most of the victims' bodies are likely entombed inside the aircraft on the seabed. So far, only 48 corpses have been recovered.

The last contact the pilots had with air traffic control, about halfway into their two-hour journey from Indonesia's second-largest city, Surabaya, to Singapore, indicated they were entering stormy weather.

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