Part of a jetliner's tail, food trays and shards of fuselage were pulled from the sea in northeastern Indonesia, officials said Thursday, 10 days after a Boeing 737 disappeared in storm weather with 102 people on board.
No survivors or bodies were recovered, but the news brought some comfort to waiting family members.
"I cried when I heard, but I am now relieved," said Rosmala Dewi, whose 19-year-old daughter was a stewardess on the domestic carrier that disappeared from radar over Sulawesi Island's western coast, sparking a massive land and sea search.
With no emergency locator beacon to guide rescuers, nearly 3,000 soldiers, police and civilians battled thousands of square kilometers (miles) of dense jungle terrain, while sonar-equipped ships and planes spent days scouring the choppy waters.
After several false sightings including one that prompted high-ranking Indonesian officials to wrongly claim the wreckage had been found with a dozen survivors a fisherman pulled a sheared piece of the tail from the Makassar Strait.
Eddy Suyanto, the head of search and rescue operations, said Thursday the serial number on the meter-long (yard-long) tail stabilizer found 300 meters (yards) from shore confirmed it was part of Adam Air Flight KI-574.
Hundreds of people flocked to beaches close to the coastal town of Parepare, watching and in some cases joining in as soldiers, police, marines and fishermen searched the sea and combed the shore.
A piece of a chair that said "fasten seat belt," a food table and part of a tire were among the objects handed over to authorities.
The jetliner left Java island for the North Sulawesi provincial capital of Manado on New Year's Day what should have been a short, two-hour hop.
The pilot twice changed course after battling 130 kph (80 mph) winds, but did not issue a mayday or report technical difficulties before losing all contact as it headed over Sulawesi's coast.
Hundreds of anguished family members have been waiting at airports and hotels since the plane disappeared, many growing angry and frustrated as, day after day, searchers turned up empty handed.
"After all this waiting, confirmation that the plane has been found is like being given water in the desert," said Freddy Sumolang, whose daughter Inggrid was on the flight with her husband and their two children. "I hope rescuers will find my daughter and her family."
Eki Rumaser, 43, whose younger brother, Benny, was on the plane, agreed: "Dead or alive, I just hope they find him."
The search was continuing, Suyanto said, adding that currents were strong and bodies and debris could have drifted hundreds of kilometers (miles).
On Tuesday, an Indonesian naval vessel detected large pieces of metal on the seabed, roughly 200 kilometers (130 miles) from where the tail, cockpit and cabin parts were found.
Local fisherman told authorities they had spotted a low-flying, unstable aircraft in the area but lost sight of it after hearing a loud bang.
A U.S. Navy ship with sonar and satellite imagery capabilities was deployed to the area, but it was not clear if the USNS Mary Shears would be able to determine if the objects were part of the downed plane because of the water's depth.
Three Americans a man from Oregon and his two daughters were among the plane's 96 passengers. They were believed to be the only foreigners on board, reports AP.
Adam Air is one of dozens of budget carriers that sprang up in Indonesia after the industry was deregulated in the 1990s, bringing cheap air travel to the sprawling island nation.
Though experts say there is no evidence such airlines are less safe than full-fare competitors, the rapid expansion of the sector has raised concerns that growth has outpaced the supply of trained aviation professionals, regulatory oversight, parts and ground infrastructure.
A domestic Mandala Airlines passenger jet slammed into a bustling neighborhood on takeoff last year, killing at least 149 people.
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