Indonesian rescuers searching for an AirAsia plane carrying 162 people have pulled dozens of bodies and pieces of wreckage from the sea off the coast of Borneo. 

Indonesia AirAsia's Flight QZ8501, an Airbus A320-200, lost contact with air traffic control early on Sunday during bad weather on a flight from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore.

The navy on Tuesday said 40 bodies had been recovered, Reuters news agency reported. Navy spokesman Manahan Simorangkir, however, told AFP just three bodies had been recovered and the larger figure had been a miscommunication.

An air force plane saw a "shadow" on the seabed believed to be that of the missing Flight QZ8501, National Search and Rescue Agency chief Bambang Soelistyo told a news conference in Jakarta.

Indonesian officials have said that three pieces of airplane debris sighted off Kalimantan coast in the Java Sea were likely to be from missing AirAsia jet.

At a press conference on Tuesday, the head of the search and rescue mission, said that definitive debris, including an exit door from the Flight QZ8501 was found during the search.

Key Points
  • Flight QZ8501 was en route to Singapore from Surabaya, Indonesia when contact was lost
  • 162 people were on board, including five crew and two pilots
  • Among the passengers were 16 children and an infant
  • Pilots had requested change in flight path due to bad weather
  • 149 Indonesians were on board
  • A Singaporean, a Malaysian, a Briton, a French national and three South Koreans were also on board
  • Search teams from Malaysia, Singapore, US and Australia are combing through the shallow Java Sea

Indonesia's national broadcaster reported sighting bodies floating in the waters, and cited Indonesian officials as saying that there was a shadow of the plane underneath the sea.

"The debris is red and white," Djoko Murjatmodjo, acting director-general of air transportation at the Transportation Ministry, told reporters. "We are checking if it's debris from the aircraft. It's probably from the body of the aircraft."

Flight QZ8501 went missing after air traffic controllers lost contact with the aircraft about 45 minutes after it left Juanda international airport at Surabaya in East Java at 5.20am on Sunday (22:20 GMT Saturday).

Shortly before disappearing, AirAsia said the pilot of the plane had asked permission from air traffic control to change course and climb above bad weather in an area noted for severe thunderstorms.

The search for the plane carrying 162 people, is now in its third day.

The airline said most of the passengers on board Flight QZ8501 were Indonesians, with three South Koreans and one person each from Singapore, Malaysia, Britain and France.

The aircraft was operated by AirAsia Indonesia, a unit of Malaysian-based AirAsia which dominates Southeast Asia's booming low-cost airline market. 

AirAsia said the missing jet last underwent maintenance on November 16. The company has never suffered a fatal accident.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies