AirAsia victim with life jacket raises questions about plane’s last moments…
- Experts say plane likely intact when it hit water
- Bad weather hampers search
- Preparations made to identify bodies
A body recovered on Wednesday from the crashed AirAsia plane was wearing a life jacket, an official with Indonesia’s search and rescue agency said, raising questions about how the disaster unfolded.
Rescuers believe they have found the plane on the ocean floor off Borneo, after sonar detected a large, dark object beneath waters near where debris and bodies were found on the surface.
Ships and planes had been scouring the Java Sea for Flight QZ8501 since Sunday, when it lost contact during bad weather about 40 minutes into its flight from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore.
Seven bodies have been recovered from the sea, some fully clothed, which could indicate the Airbus A320-200 was intact when it hit the water. That would support a theory that it suffered an aerodynamic stall.
The fact that one person put on a life jacket would appear to indicate those on board had at least some time before the aircraft hit the water, or after it hit the water and before it sank.
And yet the pilots did not issue a distress signal. The plane disappeared after it failed to get permission to fly higher to avoid bad weather because of heavy air traffic.
“This morning, we recovered a total of four bodies and one of them was wearing a life jacket,” Tatang Zaenudin, an official with the search and rescue agency, told Reuters.
He declined to speculate on what the find might mean.
Hernanto, head of the search and rescue agency in Surabaya, said rescuers believed they had found the plane on the sea bed with a sonar scan in water about 30 to 50 metres (100 to 165 feet) deep. The black box flight data and cockpit voice recorder has yet to be found.
Authorities in Surabaya were making preparations to receive and identify bodies, including arranging 130 ambulances to take victims to a police hospital and collecting DNA from relatives.
“We are praying it is the plane so the evacuation can be done quickly,” Hernanto said.
Most of the people on board were Indonesians. No survivors have been found.
Officials said waves two to three metres (six to nine feet) high and winds were hampering the hunt for wreckage and preventing divers from searching the crash zone.
“The fact that the debris appears fairly contained suggests the aircraft broke up when it hit the water, rather than in the air,” said Neil Hansford, a former pilot and chairman of consultancy firm Strategic Aviation Solutions.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo said his priority was retrieving the bodies.
Widodo, speaking in Surabaya on Tuesday after grim images of the scene in the Java Sea were broadcast on television, said AirAsia would pay an immediate advance of money to relatives, many of whom collapsed in grief when they saw the television pictures from the search.
AirAsia Chief Executive Tony Fernandes has described the crash as his “worst nightmare”.
About 30 ships and 21 aircraft from Indonesia, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and the United States have been involved in the search.
Singapore said it was sending two underwater beacon detectors to try to pick up pings from the black boxes, which contain cockpit voice and flight data recorders.
The plane was travelling at 32,000 feet (9,753 metres) and had asked to fly at 38,000 feet. When air traffic controllers granted permission for a rise to 34,000 feet a few minutes later, they received no response.
Online discussion among pilots has centred on unconfirmed secondary radar data from Malaysia that suggested the aircraft was climbing at a speed of 353 knots, about 100 knots too slow, and that it might have stalled.
Investigators are focusing initially on whether the crew took too long to request permission to climb, or could have ascended on their own initiative earlier, said a source close to the inquiry, adding that poor weather could have played a part as well.
A Qantas pilot with 25 years of experience flying in the region said the discovery of the debris field relatively close to the last known radar plot of the plane pointed to an aerodynamic stall. One possibility is that the plane’s instruments iced up, giving the pilots inaccurate readings.
The Indonesian captain, a former air force fighter pilot, had 6,100 flying hours under his belt and the plane last underwent maintenance in mid-November, said the airline, which is 49 percent owned by Malaysia-based budget carrier AirAsia .
Three airline disasters involving Malaysian-affiliated carriers in less than a year have dented confidence in the country’s aviation industry and spooked travellers.
Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 went missing in March on a trip from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 passengers and crew and has not been found. On July 17, the same airline’s Flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board.
On board Flight QZ8501 were 155 Indonesians, three South Koreans, and one person each from Singapore, Malaysia and Britain. The co-pilot was French.
The AirAsia group, including affiliates in Thailand, the Philippines and India, had not suffered a crash since its Malaysian budget operations began in 2002.
Update: Bodies, wreckage recovered from sea
Indonesia’s search-and-rescue agency obtained a sonar image it says may be the body of the missing plane at the bottom of the Java Sea.
The newspaper quoted the agency as saying that the image appeared to show an aircraft upside down in 24-30 metres of water.
National Search and Rescue Agency chief Bambang Soelistyo said on Wednesday that six bodies had now been recovered, including a woman in crew uniform.
“As soon as the weather is clear, the bodies will be brought to Pangkalan Bun,” the town with the nearest airstrip to the crash site, said Soelistyo.
Supriyadi said that hundreds of people from the military, police and national rescue agency were on standby waiting for clear weather in Pangkalan Bun.
Meanwhile, Indonesian President Joko Widodo said his priority was getting bodies off the bottom of the Karimata Strait in the Java Sea, where rescuers retrieved a plane door and other debris on Tuesday, so victims could be identified.
“I feel a deep loss over this disaster and pray for the families to be given fortitude and strength,” Widodo said in Surabaya on Tuesday after grim images of the scene in the Java Sea were broadcast on television.
Widodo said AirAsia would pay an immediate advance of money to relatives, many of whom collapsed in grief when they saw the television pictures of debris and a body.
AirAsia Chief Executive Tony Fernandes has described the crash as his “worst nightmare”.
At least 30 ships and 21 aircraft from Indonesia, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and the United States have been involved in the search.
Flight QZ8501 went missing after air traffic controllers lost contact with the aircraft while travelling to Singapore from Surabaya in East Java on Sunday.
Shortly before disappearing, AirAsia said the pilot of the plane had asked permission from air traffic control to change course and climb above bad weather in an area noted for severe thunderstorms.
The airline said most of the passengers on board Flight QZ8501 were Indonesians, with three South Koreans and one person each from Singapore, Malaysia, Britain and France.
— Earlier News on AirAsia Flight —
Search operation for flight QZ8501 launched after Airbus with 162 people lost communication with air traffic control.
An AirAsia flight from Surabaya, Indonesia to Singapore has lost contact with air traffic control after take-off, the airline has said, in the third air incident connected to Malaysia.
AirAsia, a regional low-cost carrier with presence in several Southeast Asian countries, said in a statement that the missing plane was an Airbus A320-200 with 162 people on board, and was supposed to land in Singapore at 8:30am local time on Sunday.
It also said a search-and-rescue operation was under way.
Flight QZ8501 was carrying 155 passengers, most of them Indonesians, AirAsia said in a statement. Sixteen children and one infant were among the passengers. The plane had an Indonesian captain and a French co-pilot and five cabin crew.
“At the present time we unfortunately have no further information regarding the status of the passengers and crew members on board, but we will keep all parties informed as more information becomes available,” the Malaysia-based airline said in a statement on Facebook.
The statement added that the pilots requested “deviation due to en route weather before communication with the aircraft was lost while it was still under the control of the Indonesian Air Traffic Control [ATC]”.
The airline said it had established an emergency call centre for family or friends of those who were travelling on the aircraft.
There was no distress signal from the cockpit when the plane disappeared from radar, Djoko Murjatmodjo, Indonesia’s acting director general of transportation, told reporters.
AirAsia had a good safety track record and had never lost a plane before. The aircraft lost contact with the Jakarta air traffic control tower at 6:17am (2317 GMT) local time, Hadi Mustofa, Indonesia’s transport ministry official, told reporters.
The flight had been due in Singapore at 8:30am (0030 GMT). The Singapore airport said on its website the status of the flight was “delayed”.
Joint search effort
Singapore Civil Aviation Authority said Singapore air force and navy had joined the search effort with two C-130 planes.
“It is more than likely that the plane has gone down, seeing that with a relatively short flight of 2.5 hours, four hours endurance is the likely amount of fuel it had on board,” Ron Bartsch, a Sydney-based aviation consultant, told Al Jazeera.
“It is very early in the situation and obviously a very grave situation at this stage,” he added.
Flightradar24, a flight tracking website, said the plane was delivered in September 2008, which would make it six years old.
It said the plane was flying at 32,000 feet, the regular cruising altitude for most jetliners, when the signal from the plane was lost.
The incident comes at the end of a disastrous year for Malaysia’s airlines. National carrier Malaysia Airlines lost two aircraft this year.
Its Flight MH370 went missing on March 8 on a trip from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 passengers and crew on board.
On July 17, Flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board. Source: Aljazeera and Agencies