The Navy is using a special, hi-tech side-scanning sonar system to assist Indonesian authorities searching for debris and bodies from Air Asia flight QZ8501, the passenger jet which recently crashed into the Java Sea.
Called the Tow Fish side-scan sonar system, the technology uses sonar to map the ocean floor and search for debris and wreckage. The Tow Fish side-scan sonar attaches to a cable launched from an 11-meter Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat, or RHIB. The technology is deployed from the USS Fort Worth, a Navy littoral combat ship now assisting the search efforts.
The USS Sampson, a Navy destroyer, and the USS Fort Worth remain on station in the Java Sea conducting searches in support of the Indonesian-led effort.
The Tow Fish can extend from an RHIB going up to five knots and reach depths of 2,000 feet, Navy officials said.
“We can find things as small as a golf ball or things as large as an airplane,” said a Navy diver involved with the search.
Search areas have been centered in boxes approximately one nautical mile wide by one-to-two nautical miles long, according to Lt. Lauren Cole, Navy 7th Fleet spokeswoman.
The Tow Fish is designed to work in tandem with dive teams. Navy divers on-board the Fort Worth from a mobile diving and salvage unit continue to operate in the area as well, Cole explained.
Capt. Kendall Bridgewater, commanding officer of the USS Fort Worth, said his ship would continue helping with the search for as long as the Indonesian authorities needed.
“We are working closely with the Indonesians who are leading the search efforts. We are basically operating our small boats, launching our helicopters and conducting visual searches from the bridge as we transit the area,” Bridgewater said.
The USS Sampson remains on station and continues to assist in debris recovery efforts, Navy officials said. The USS Sampson recovered three bodies on Jan. 4 and transferred them to Indonesian authorities the same day.
To date, the USS Sampson has recovered 15 bodies and has taken care to follow religious customs and sensitivities, Cole said.
MH-60 helicopters from USS Sampson and USS Fort Worth continue to work together and are conducting both day and night operations in the Java Sea search area.
“Weather continues to be a challenge, but our crews are working hard around the clock to assist with search efforts,” Cole said in a written statement.
The USS Sampson also recovered airline seats Jan. 4 and are in the process of transferring the debris to Indonesian authorities, Cole added.