Last Updated 2 p.m. - At least 40 bodies have reportedly been found in the sea by searchers looking for the missing AirAsia Flight 8501, which apparently crashed into the Java Sea with 162 people aboard.

The Indonesian navy is said to have found the bodies in the sea along with what appeared to be a life jacket and an emergency exit door.

The plane vanished on Sunday halfway through a two-hour flight between Surabaya in Indonesia and Singapore after encountering storm clouds.

Crews in dozens of planes, helicopters and ships were taking part in the search, and part of the plane's interior, including an oxygen tank, was taken to the nearest town, Pangkalan Bun, along with a blue plastic suitcase that appeared to be in perfect condition.

First Admiral Sigit Setiayanta, Naval Aviation Centre commander at Surabaya Air Force base, told reporters some bodies were spotted off Borneo island about 10 miles from the plane's last known co-ordinates. The bodies and wreckage were found about 100 miles from land.

Rescue workers were shown on TV being lowered on ropes from a hovering helicopter to retrieve bodies. Efforts were hindered by 6ft waves and strong winds, National Search and Rescue Director SB Supriyadi said, adding that several bodies were later picked up by a navy ship.

Mr Supriyadi said he saw what appeared to be more wreckage under the water, which was clear and a relatively shallow 65ft to 100ft.

The images sent a spasm of pain through family members watching together in a waiting room at Surabaya airport.

Many screamed and wailed uncontrollably, breaking down into tears while they hugged each other. One middle-aged man collapsed and had to be carried out on a stretcher.

AirAsia group chief executiveTony Fernandes tweeted: "My heart is filled with sadness for all the families involved in QZ 8501. On behalf of AirAsia my condolences to all. Words cannot express how sorry I am."

By evening he had flown back to Surabaya to meet passengers' families.

Pilots of the jet had been worried about the weather on Sunday and sought permission to climb above threatening clouds, but were denied due to heavy air traffic. Minutes later, the jet was gone from the radar without issuing a distress signal.

Nearly all the passengers and crew are Indonesians, who are frequent visitors to Singapore, particularly on holidays.

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