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Tail of missing AirAsia plane found

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Air traffic controllers lost contact with AirAsia Flight QZ8501, an Airbus A320-216 passenger jet, early Sunday, Dec. 28, 2014. This photo depicts the exact aircraft missing and was taken prior to the disapearance. (Credit: Paul Spijkers)

(CNN) — Searchers have found the tail section of AirAsia Flight QZ8501 in the murky depths of the Java Sea, raising hopes that the plane’s black boxes might soon be recovered.

The tail section, marked with part of the airline’s logo, was detected by sonar early Wednesday, said search and rescue chief Bambang Soelistyo.

Divers were sent to the location and plunged into the waves. Down on the sea floor, they were able to take pictures of the wreckage.

Finding the tail section is potentially crucial because that is where the flight data and voice recorders — the so-called black boxes — are located in the Airbus 320-200, the aircraft model of Flight QZ8501.

The recorders are often considered the key piece of evidence when it comes to investigating a commercial plane disaster. They provide valuable information, from a plane’s air speed to the position of the landing gear, to pilot communications.

Investigators hope that the flight recorders will contain vital information that helps explain why the aircraft dropped off radar and went down into the sea.

One of the images released by the search agency showed what appeared to be the letters A and X, another showed the word “Air” from the AirAsia logo.

Soelistyo said divers were preparing to go back underwater in the same area, which is in one of the priority zones where search efforts have been focused.

Searchers have been scouring the choppy waters of the Java Sea for remains from the commercial jet since it lost contact on December 28 with 162 people on board.

Search teams had previously located several large pieces of wreckage believed to be from the plane, but none of them as significant as the tail.

Difficult conditions — including thunderstorms, strong winds,and big waves — have hampered the search efforts, which are now in their 11th day.

Soelistyo also said Wednesday that another body had been found in the sea, bringing the total to 40. Some of the bodies recovered previously have been discovered still strapped into seats.

By Jethro Mullen

Journalist Intan Hadidjah and translator Edi Pangerapan contributed to this report.