Jakarta/Singapore | The multinational search for the AirAsia aircraft that went missing after taking off from Indonesia with 162 people on board continued for the second day today amid preliminary suspicion that the Airbus is at the bottom of the sea. Searching for the Singapore-bound Flight QZ8501, an Indonesian helicopter today saw two oily spots in the Java Sea while an Australian search plane spotted suspicious objects near Nangka island, more than 1000 km from the location where contact with the plane was lost.
However, Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla later said the objects spotted by the Australian aircraft were not from the missing plane. It has been checked and no sufficient evidence was found to confirm what was reported, Kalla told a press conference at Surabaya airport from where the plane took off. Indonesia Air Force spokesman Rear Marshal Hadi Tjahnanto told MetroTV that an Indonesian helicopter spotted two oily spots in the Java Sea east of Belitung island, but there was no confirmation that the finding had a connection with the missing plane.
The Airbus A320-200 lost contact with air-traffic control less than an hour after takeoff yesterday. Contact with the plane was lost shortly after a request was made by the pilots to climb to a higher altitude to avoid bad weather. Based on the coordinates 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, National Search and Rescue Agency chief Bambang Soelistyo told journalists.
That’s the preliminary suspicion and it can develop based on the evaluation of the result of our search, he said. If the plane is found on the ocean floor, there would be a challenge in getting the plane to the surface because they do not have the submersible equipment, Soelistyo said. The last communication from the pilot to radar control was a request to increase altitude from 32,000 feet to 38,000 feet because of rough weather. The request was not immediately granted as there was reportedly another plane in airspace at 34,000 feet, said Bambang Tjahjono, director of the state-owned company in charge of air-traffic control.
There was also no distress signal sent out by the AirAsia jetliner. Until today, we have never lost a life, AirAsia group CEO Tony Fernandez, who is an ethnic Indian, told reporters at the Jakarta airport. AirAsia Flight QZ8501 was carrying 155 passengers — one British, one Malaysian, one Singaporean, three South Koreans, 149 Indonesians — and seven crew members — six Indonesians and a French co-pilot. Seventeen of the passengers were children. There were no Indian nationals on board.
The missing aircraft belongs to Indonesia AirAsia, which is 51 per cent owned by Fersindo Nusaperkasa with the remaining 49 per cent equity held by Malaysian company AirAsia Berhad. The plane’s Emergency Locator Transmitter should function automatically and send warning signals, but no signal has been detected by control centers in Indonesia or in neighboring countries, Indonesia’s National Search and Rescue Agency chief Soelistyo said.
He confirmed that Indonesia’s National Search and Rescue Agency is spearheading the search effort. The search was focused on a radius of 270 nautical miles off Indonesia’s Bangka island — a center of tin mining and pepper cultivation south of Singapore — and could be widened, Sulistyo said. The search area for the missing plane was later expanded, as vessels scoured the waters for it. The search area initially focused on four sectors, but it was expanded to seven sectors, the agency said. The search area was devised from data received when the plane lost contact, as well as supplementary data such as weather conditions.
Twelve ships, tens of boats and two helicopters for the search have been deployed by the Indonesian agency for the massive search operation. Malaysia and Singapore are each deploying three ships and one Hercules plane, the Indonesian Air Force is deploying two Hercules planes, one Boeing 737 and two Puma aircraft, and the Indonesian Navy is deploying two warships, authorities said. Additionally, the Australian Defence Force has deployed an AP-3C Orion maritime patrol Aircraft to assist in the search. The Indonesia military’s search and rescue team at Manggar in East Belitung have also been briefing fishermen of the search area.
Five nations, including India, have offered help in the massive search and rescue operation for the missing plane. The six-year-old Airbus A320-200 was flying over the Java Sea in Indonesian airspace when communication with air traffic control ceased about 42 minutes after take-off from Juanda Airport. The aircraft was to landed at Singapore’s Changi Airport at 8.30 am. The pilot had asked for a new route minutes before he went off the radio, air traffic control said.
The plane’s last detected position was 100 nautical miles south-east of Tanjung Pandan on Belitung Island. Indonesian air transportation director Joko Muryo Atmodjo said the plane was flying at 32,000 feet and had requested for a slight change in its flight path by flying to the left and at 38,000 feet to avoid clouds.
Indonesian Vice President Kalla said no wreckage had been found. Kalla appealed to families of missing passengers to remain patient. Up to now, there is no sign of wreckage that has been spotted. No indication towards that yet, he was quoted as saying by media reports. Kalla noted that some reports on wreckage seen but dismissed them as false.
The Vice President stressed that there was no time frame for the search mission and anything found will be treated with utmost importance. Indonesia hopes there will be survivors but is prepared for the worst, Kalla said. Thirty ships and aircraft from regional countries are searching for the missing plane. Indonesia was also considering help from the United Kingdom and France. Belitung Island search and rescue chief Joni Supiardi said his operation centre was activated as soon as the plane was confirmed missing. Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said three naval vessels and C130 aircraft had been sent to assist Indonesia in the search and rescue operations, adding that his ministry and the Armed Forces were ready to provide any assistance.
Singapore also activated its Rescue Co-ordination Centre (RCC) and offered help with two C130 aircraft on standby. AirAsia group chief executive officer Fernandes in a Twitter message had said, This is my worst nightmare. Weather conditions around the Java Sea towards year end are known to be violent but not unmanageable, Malaysian aviation experts said. Retired pilot Jalil Mat Dom said thunderstorms in the region could be quite intense and that pilots could ask for a change in their flight plans. Hesaid that pilots before departing an airport were aware of weather conditions as they were briefed by the meteorological departments in the areas concerned.
Malaysian Institute of Aviation Technology senior expert Ahmad Maulan Bardai said communication systems on aircraft such as the A320-200 was designed to work in bad weather. He said bad weather alone could not account for QZ8501′s disappearance, adding that more than one factors were usually present. Indonesia’s transport minister said the government would review AirAsia’s operations in the country following the disappearance of a plane. We will do a ground check as well as a review of AirAsia’s operations in Indonesia to ensure that all of its activities are better in the future, Ignasius Jonan told reporters.