JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia authorities said on Saturday they had stopped the search for victims of a plane crash that killed all 189 people on board, but would keep looking for the Lion Air flight's second black box, the cockpit voice recorder.
"There is nowhere left to search and we have stopped finding victims' bodies," Muhammad Syaugi, the head of the national search and rescue agency (Basarnas) told media. "We will limit our operations to monitoring."
The nearly new Boeing Co. 737 MAX passenger plane crashed into the sea on Oct. 29 just minutes after taking off from Jakarta en route to Bangka island near Sumatra.
Syaugi said 196 body bags containing human remains had been retrieved and 77 victims identified after forensic examination.
Authorities have downloaded data from one of the black boxes found last week, the flight data recorder, but are still looking for the cockpit voice recorder.
Soearjanto Tjahjono, the head of the transportation safety committee (KNKT), said finding the voice recorder would be critical to understanding the cause of the crash.
"From the black box data, we know about 70-80 percent of what happened but to 100-percent understand the cause of the accident... we need be able to know the conversation that took place in the plane's cockpit," he said, declining to elaborate on what the flight data recorder had revealed.
KNKT has brought in a pinger locator and a vessel capable of sucking up mud to help with the search for the voice recorder, in addition to remotely operated underwater vehicles equipped with cameras.
Tjahjono said he was worried the cockpit voice recorder may have been damaged on impact because KNKT had yet to detect any "ping" sounds that would indicate its location, as had happened with the first black box.
He said authorities were searching for 15 aircraft parts, including an "angle of attack" sensor on the aircraft, which helps the plane's computers understand if the aircraft is stable. Investigators have said one of these sensors had provided erroneous data.
KNKT told Reuters on Wednesday that there was a problem with the sensor on the previous flight taken by the doomed plane from the island of Bali to Jakarta. One sensor had been replaced in Bali.
(Reporting by Agustinus Beo Da Costa; Writing by Fanny Potkin; Editing by Neil Fullick)