A tail section from the AirAsia plane that crashed into the Java Sea late last month became the first major wreckage lifted off the ocean floor today, but the all-important black boxes were not found inside. The red metal chunk, with the words "AirAsia" clearly visible across it, was brought to the surface using inflatable balloons. The cockpit voice and flight data recorders, located in the plane's rear, must have detached when the Airbus A320 plummeted into the waters Dec. 28, said Indonesian military commander Gen. Moeldoko. Their recovery is essential to finding out why Flight 8501 crashed.
However, Moeldoko said pings believed to be coming from the black boxes were detected today. Their beacons emit signals for about 30 days until the batteries die, meaning divers have about two weeks left to find them. The debris was brought up from a depth of about 100 feet and towed to a ship, where it was hoisted onto the deck. The vertical stabilizer was still largely intact, but the attached jagged fuselage was ripped open and tangled by a mess of wires. Officials also still need to recover the plane's main fuselage, where most of the 162 victims are believed to be. So far, only 48 corpses have been recovered. (Read more AirAsia stories.)