Doomed AirAsia Flight QZ8501 "experienced an explosion before it hit the water", an Indonesian official claimed yesterday.
The news came as investigations into the cause of the disaster received a major boost when divers recovered the plane's flight data recorder.
The official, named only as Supriyadi, who is a senior search and rescue official tasked with finding the wreckage and victims of the Airbus 320, said its left side appeared to have disintegrated, possibly because of a sudden change in pressure.
"My analysis is, based on the wreckage found and other findings, the plane experienced an explosion before it hit the water," he told reporters.
The official was speaking after Indonesian navy divers finally extracted part of the plane's black box from the seabed, where it was lying beneath one of the plane's wings.
Another part of the black box, containing the cockpit voice recorder, was found around 65ft away, but had become trapped under wreckage and could not immediately be brought to the surface.
Flight QZ8501 disappeared over the Java Sea on the morning of December 28 after taking off from the Indonesian city of Surabaya. It should have landed in Singapore around two hours later, but vanished from radars around 40 minutes into its journey.
Experts say an analysis of data stored on the plane's black box - including conversations between the two pilots and information about the aircraft's performance - is crucial to understanding what caused South-East Asia's third major aviation disaster of 2014.
Tatang Kurniadi, the head of Indonesia's National Transportation Safety Committee, said that the recovered flight data recorder was in "good condition" and was expected to provide detailed information. A full analysis of the data inside would take months, he said.
Mr Supriyadi, a director with the national search and rescue agency, in first reports said an initial analysis suggested the plane had exploded on impact with the water.
"It exploded because of the pressure," he said. "The cabin was pressurised and before the pressure of the cabin could be adjusted, it went down - boom. That explosion was heard in the area."
However, an Indonesian investigator looking into the causes of the disaster dismissed claims there had been an explosion on board. "There is no data to support that kind of theory," said Santoso Sayogo, from the National Transportation Safety Committee.
By yesterday, the bodies of 48 of the 162 victims had been recovered and returned to Surabaya. The latest victims to be identified were named as Vera Chandra Kho, a 19-year-old Indonesian, and Park Seong-beom and Lee Kyung-Hwa, a married couple who were South Korean missionaries. The body of their 11-month-old daughter has yet to be found. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
Indonesian search teams believe they have discovered the black box recorders and fuselage, or main body, of the AirAsia plane that crashed in the Java Sea two weeks ago, according to the transport ministry.