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News Wrap: Search for AirAsia victims hindered by weather

In our news wrap Wednesday, the first two bodies recovered from the crash of AirAsia flight 8501 landed in Surabaya, Indonesia, but efforts to continue searching for more victims were delayed by strong winds and heavy rains. Also, in Afghanistan, 26 people who were celebrating a wedding were killed by a rocket during a fight between the government and Taliban insurgents.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    Search efforts in the air disaster off Indonesia made little progress today, in the face of rough conditions at sea. That left relatives of the 162 passengers and crew to endure another day of waiting for the remains of their loved ones.

    Solemn and quiet, a military honor guard carried the flower-laden coffins, marked simply one and two, down the tarmac in Surabaya, Indonesia. The bodies of a man and a woman were the first returned from AirAsia Flight 8501. They were taken to a local hospital for identification.

    But efforts to continue the search for victims were hindered by strong winds and heavy rains. By mid-afternoon, officials called off air operations.

    MOCHAMAD HERNANTO, National Search and Rescue Agency (through interpreter): The weather now is bad over there. It wouldn't be possible for divers to go into the water. Our priority now is not to search for the plane, but the retrieval of victims.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    The search is focused in relatively shallow waters of the Java Sea, where the jetliner disappeared Sunday en route to Singapore. The first bodies and pieces of wreckage were spotted yesterday, and, today, sonar detected large objects on the ocean floor that could be part of the plane's fuselage.

    There was no sign of the black box recorders that could shed light on what caused the crash. On shore, the focus was on the victims and their loved ones.

  • SUNU WIDYATMOKO, CEO, Indonesia AirAsia (through interpreter):

    They are truly shocked, looking at the reality that they are now facing. So, what we can now is to try to help with the identification process as soon as possible, so that they can get over this difficult time at the soonest.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    And at a nearby crisis center, family and friends prayed for their lost relatives.

    INDAH WINATA, Relative of AirAsia Passenger (through interpreter): We believe that our life and death are in God's hands. We must always prepare everything because we never know when we will die.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    In the wake of the tragedy, many Indonesian cities chose to cancel or tone down their New Year's Eve celebrations.

    So far, seven bodies have been recovered. Some were still fully clothed, suggesting the jetliner was intact when it hit the water. That, in turn, could indicate the plane stalled in midair, and then plunged into the sea.

    A wedding party in Afghanistan ended in a bloodbath today, with 26 dead. A rocket struck the gathering in Helmand Province during a firefight between government forces and Taliban insurgents.

    And, in Yemen, a suicide bombing killed at least 23 people and wounded 48 at a cultural center where Shiites were gathered to celebrate the Prophet Mohammed's birthday.

    The Palestinian Authority moved today to pursue war crimes charges against Israel. President Mahmoud Abbas agreed to join the International Criminal Court, setting the stage for both war crimes cases and challenges to Jewish settlements. Abbas acted one day after the U.N. Security Council refused to demand an end to Israeli control in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

  • PRESIDENT MAHMOUD ABBAS, Palestinian National Authority (through interpreter):

    We were rejected. This is not the first and not the last time. We are steadfast until we get back our rights. They don't want to give us our rights. But the Security Council is not the end of the world, and the last session is not the end.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the Palestinian move, as did the U.S. State Department.

    Kurdish forces in Northern Iraq launched a large-scale offensive against Islamic State fighters today. The target was an extensive area east of Mosul. The city has been held by the militant group since June. U.S. and coalition planes conducted a series of airstrikes in advance of the Kurdish assault.

    New Year's celebrations turned deadly this evening in China. State news reports said 35 people were killed in a stampede in downtown Shanghai shortly before midnight. Elsewhere, Sydney, Australia was one of the first major cities to welcome 2015. More than a million spectators turned out for a lavish fireworks display in the city's famed harbor. And crowds in New York City lined up early and braved the cold to secure a prime viewing spot when the ball drops in Times Square at midnight.

  • CHELSEA CHIFICI:

    I'm really cold already, and I have four jackets on and four pairs of pants. And I have four blankets and leg warmers. So, I'm hoping that I don't freeze or I get too hungry, but I think I'm good.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Security in New York was especially tight in the wake of weeks of protests and the killing of two police officers.

    Back in this country, outgoing Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley announced he's commuting the sentences of the last four inmates on that state's death row. Instead, they will serve life in prison with no parole. Maryland banned the death penalty in 2012.

    The Centers for Disease Control is warning that this year's flu season has already reached epidemic levels. Officials say 15 children have died across nine states so far, four within a single week. More than 100 children died in the last flu season.

    U.S. oil companies will be allowed to export crude for the first time in 40 years. The Commerce Department quietly announced Tuesday that it's begun approving a backlog of requests. That could mean shipments of up to a million barrels a day, but it stopped short of formally ending the export ban.

    Wall Street ended 2014 on a losing note, after oil prices fell again. The Dow Jones industrial average slumped 160 points to 17823. The Nasdaq lost 41 points to close at 4736. And the S&P dropped 21 and finished below 2059. But for the year, the Dow gained 7 percent, the Nasdaq was up 13 percent, and the S&P rose 11 percent.

    The actor Edward Herrmann died today of brain cancer in New York. His career spanned film, TV and theater, including a long-running role on "The Gilmore Girls" in the 2000s. In the 1970s, he earned Emmy nominations for portraying Franklin Roosevelt and went on to play him on five separate occasions, including this year, as the voice of Roosevelt in the Ken Burns series on PBS. Edward Herrmann was 71 years old.

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