Frustration as crews brave rough seas in search for AirAsia Flight QZ8501

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pkg hancocks indonesia airasia 8501 search_00005615

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Searchers battle storms, exhaustion in hunt for 8501 02:08

Story highlights

  • Paula Hancocks heads out to the search zone off West Borneo in rough seas looking for any debris or remains of AirAsia Flight QZ8501
  • This particular ship is also delivering equipment to help to locate the crashed airliner's flight data recorder
  • Rough sea conditions in the Java Sea have hampered the search, frustrating search crews

Java Sea, West Borneo (CNN)The start of our 15-hour trip is stunning. Idyllic white sand beaches stretch along the coast of West Borneo, Indonesia. An occasional fishing boat is the only interruption to this part of the largely untouched coastline.

A peaceful tranquility that makes the horrors some 100 nautical miles from here seem implausible.
    As we head out into open waters with an Indonesian Search and Rescue boat, the winds pick up and the waves increase. The weather forecast Sunday was better than previous days -- the crew confirms it is an improvement -- but conditions are still rough.
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    Looking out at the vast expanse of the Java Sea, the crew tries to spot bodies or debris from AirAsia Flight QZ8501. As I think I might have seen something, it disappears beneath a wave and does not always resurface. Pieces of wood, rubbish or seaweed confuse the naked eye.
    The challenge of spotting debris or a beloved member of a distraught family in these waters is immense.
    One crew member thinks he spots something, then loses sight of it. But he is convinced enough of its import for the captain to call it in so a larger ship nearby can investigate.
    Hunt for black box
    This ship has a very specific mission. On board is a pinger locator that needs to be delivered to a vessel stationed in Sector 4 of the search zone. A crucial piece of equipment to hunt for the flight data recorder, or so-called black box, without which the mystery of the crash of this airliner may never be solved.
    But the captain is nervous. Captain Ahmad tells me his boat is not large enough to be in waters this choppy.
    Rough weather hinders search for AirAsia 8501
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    Rough weather hinders search for AirAsia 8501 01:54
    "I feel a heavy moral burden," he says. "I have a responsibility to keep those on board safe, but it is so important to help find bodies and debris."
    Ahmad says he's proud to be a part of this operation, but would not normally bring his boat out for so long in such conditions.
    Yet the mood is upbeat among the crew. In recent days the weather has forced them to stay along the coastline, scouring for bodies or debris that may have drifted from the crash site. They now seem happy to be able to deliver much-needed supplies to colleagues out at sea.
    By late afternoon, the target ship comes into view. The Baruna Jaya has been here for days and relies heavily on these deliveries.
    Transferring equipment from one boat to the other may sound like the most straightforward part of the long day. Far from it.
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    The swell of the sea pushes the ships together with a dull thud as boat-side buoys collide. A crudely taped cardboard box holding the precious acoustic cargo is hastily handed over before the waves push the boats apart again. It is deemed too dangerous for the expert accompanying the equipment to make the jump between ships.
    An hour-long attempt to transfer the inflatable boat needed to help operate the locator ends in frustration amid rough seas and fading light.
    As night falls with only half a mission accomplished, the deflated crew turns for port determined to try again tomorrow.
    They'll have a few hours sleep ahead of another long day.​