Investigating AirAsia QZ8501: What needs to be done?

Updated 7:29 AM EST, Wed December 31, 2014

Story highlights

Experts: First priority is to recover bodies and return them to families

Location of debris and bodies are carefully logged and mapped

Data recorders are key pieces of evidence

Salvage operations have been used for plane crashes that were deeper than Java Sea

CNN —  

The investigation into how AirAsia Flight QZ8501 ended up at the bottom of the Java Sea, involves recovering the bodies, accessing the flight data recorders, and meticulously mapping where debris is found to reconstruct its path.

An Indonesian search and rescue official told CNN that he thinks material detected by sonar equipment in the water is from AirAsia Flight QZ8501.

So what happens next?

Priorities

The first priority is to recover the bodies and return them to their loved ones, Indonesian authorities say. Helicopters are lowering divers to bring back bodies and debris from the surface of the water.

The bodies give clues about what happened on the flight, based on where they’re found and their condition. For example, sea water in their lungs would suggest that the people on board may have been conscious when the plane struck the sea.