AirAsia QZ8501: Indonesia plane ‘at bottom of sea

Singapore air crew in Hercules transport plane search for missing plane - 29 DecemberMembers of the Singapore air force have been involved in the search

The missing AirAsia Indonesia flight QZ8501 is likely to be at the bottom of the sea, the head of Indonesia’s search-and-rescue agency has said.

Bambang Soelistyo said the hypothesis was based on the co-ordinates of the plane when contact with it was lost.

The search is continuing for the aircraft, a day after it disappeared with 162 people on board, but no trace has been found so far.

The Airbus A320-200 was on a flight to Singapore.

The pilots had requested a course change because of bad weather but did not send any distress call before the plane disappeared from radar screens.

“Based on the co-ordinates given to us and evaluation that the estimated crash position is in the sea, the hypothesis is the plane is at the bottom of the sea,” Bambang Soelistyo, the head of Indonesia’s search and rescue agency, told a news conference in Jakarta.

The front page of the Beijing Times says: “Only three days before the New Year – where is the road to home?”

The reactions are similar in Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia. Many on board were travelling to see their families for the year-end holiday season.

Media reports say the families are united in their prayers, hoping against hope for a miracle.

Many newspapers have published personal stories. One that has moved many people is about the Facebook post from the daughter of one of the pilots. It simply reads: “Papa come home.”

Some are also calling 2014 a “year of tragedies” for the aviation industry, linking it with the flight MH370 that disappeared in March and hasn’t been found yet.

Beyond the emotional coverage, commentators have been asking questions about aviation safety in the region.

South-East Asia has a fast-developing aviation sector with many carriers fighting for space, observers say. Most welcome the competition, but say safety norms have to be strengthened.

Officials say they suspect that the plane is likely to be at the bottom of the sea, says Alice Budisatrijo

As the search continued on Monday, Indonesia air force spokesman Hadi Tjahnanto said it was being focused on an area where an oil spill had been spotted but it was not clear if it had been caused by the plane.

Meanwhile the Associated Press news agency quoted an Indonesian official as saying that objects had been spotted in the sea near Nangka island by an Australian search plane.

Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla said later there was “no sufficient evidence” to link this to the missing plane.

He said that 30 ships and 15 aircraft were taking part in the search, and that “even fishermen” were being asked to join in.

AirAsia’s share price fell 7% in morning trading on Monday in Kuala Lumpur.

Map

Storm clouds

Flight QZ8501 had left Surabaya in eastern Java at 05:35 on Sunday (22:35 GMT Saturday) and was due to arrive in Singapore at 08:30 (00:30 GMT).

The pilot radioed at 06:24 local time asking permission to climb to 38,000ft (11,000m) to avoid the dense storm clouds.

Suwarto, the father of one of the pilots, says he is trusting in “God’s will”

Indonesian officials said the request could not be immediately approved due to traffic, but the plane disappeared from the radar screens before the pilots gave any further response.

AirAsia boss Tony Fernandes said this was his “worst nightmare”.

Mr Fernandes flew to Surabaya and later said: “We are very devastated by what’s happened, it’s unbelievable.”

Relative pores over passenger manifests at Surabaya airport, 28 DecRelatives pored over passenger manifests at both affected airports
The missing AirAsia Airbus, December 2014The Airbus, pictured here on an earlier flight, disappeared about an hour after takeoff
Co-pilot Remi Emmanuel Plesel (left) and Captain IriyantoCo-pilot Remi Emmanuel Plesel (left) and Captain Iriyanto
A woman leaves the cordoned off area in Changi airport in Singapore, 28 DecA woman leaves the cordoned off area in Changi airport in Singapore
Indonesian Navy search and rescue commander Admiral Abdul Rashid points to search-area map - 29 DecemberThe commander of Indonesia’s naval search and rescue points to the search area on a map

Oceanographer Simon Boxall told the BBC the plane should not be too difficult to find if it went into the water.

The sea floor is within diver depth, he says, and it would be “likely that they’ll get answers within a few days”.

Difficult year

The AirAsia Indonesia plane was delivered in 2008, has flown 13,600 times, completing 23,000 hours, and underwent its last maintenance in November.

The captain, Iriyanto, had more than 20,500 flight hours, almost 7,000 of them with AirAsia, Mr Fernandes said. The co-pilot is French national Remi Emmanuel Plesel.

The AirAsia group has previously had no fatal accidents involving its aircraft. The airline has set up an emergency line for family or friends of those who may be on board. The number is +622 129 850 801.

Special centres were set up at both Singapore’s Changi airport and Juanda international airport in Surabaya.

There were 155 passengers on board, the company said in a statement:

  • 137 adults, 17 children and one infant
  • Most were Indonesian but also one UK national, a Malaysian, a Singaporean and three South Koreans
  • The BBC understands that the British national is Chi-Man Choi
  • Two pilots and five crew were also on board – one French, the others Indonesian

This has been a difficult year for aviation in Asia – Malaysia’s national carrier Malaysia Airlines has suffered two losses – flights MH370 and MH17.

Flight MH370 disappeared on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing in March with 239 passengers and crew. The wreckage, thought to be in the southern Indian Ocean, has still not been located.

MH17 was shot down over Ukraine in July, killing all 298 on board.

 

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