As ships and planes search Indonesian waters, official says jet carrying 162 people is presumed crashed at sea.
by Al Jazeera
The AirAsia plane that went missing with 162 people on board after takeoff from Indonesia is likely at the bottom of the sea, Indonesia’s National Search and Rescue Agency chief said as aircraft and ships were dispatched to search for the jet.
“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,” Bambang Soelistyo told reporters on Monday.
“That’s the preliminary suspicion and it can develop based on the evaluation of the result of our search.”
First Admiral Sigit Setiayana, the Naval Aviation Center Commander at the Surabaya air force base, said that 12 navy ships, five planes, three helicopters and a number of warships were searching an area of east and southeast of Indonesia’s Belitung island and nearby waters.
Malaysia, Singapore and Australia have joined the operation.
The Airbus A320-200 went missing after air traffic controllers lost contact with the aircraft about 45 minutes after it left Juanda international airport at Surabaya in East Java at 5:20am on Sunday (22:20 GMT Saturday).
Shortly before disappearing, AirAsia said pilots of the plane had asked permission from Jakarta air traffic control to change course and climb above bad weather in an area noted for severe thunderstorms.
Al Jazeera’s Scott Heidler, reporting from Surabaya, said investigators were checking all passenger profiles and footage of X-rays of the luggage taken on board, as well as looking into the maintenance of the plane.
“There are also reports that some fishermen might have heard something before the news that the plane had disappeared off radar came out,” he said.
The airline said 155 of those on board Flight QZ8501 were Indonesians, with three South Koreans and one person each from Singapore, Malaysia, Britain and France.
Steven Wallace, a former accident investigator for the US Federal Aviation Authority, told Al Jazeera he was confident that the plane would be found..
“Typically airplanes break up and light interior components, sometimes even pieces like the tail, float to the surface,” he told Al Jazeera.
“And if the recorder is under water, it will emit a ping. For at least 30 our up to 90 days it will send out a signal to help investigators locate the wreckage.”
The aircraft was operated by AirAsia Indonesia, a unit of Malaysian-based AirAsia which dominates Southeast Asia’s booming low-cost airline market.
Disastrous year for Malaysian aviation
AirAsia said the missing jet last underwent maintenance on November 16. The company has never suffered a fatal accident.
An official from Indonesia’s Transport Ministry said the pilot asked to ascend by 6,000 feet to 38,000 feet to avoid heavy clouds.
“The plane is in good condition but the weather is not so good,” Djoko Murjatmodjo told a press conference at Jakarta’s airport, addressing reports of severe storms in the area where the jet went missing.
Climbing to dodge large rain clouds is a standard procedure for aircraft in these conditions.
The plane’s disappearance comes at the end of a disastrous year for Malaysian aviation.
Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, carrying 239 people, vanished in March after inexplicably diverting from its Kuala Lumpur-Beijing course. No trace of it has been found.
Another Malaysia Airlines plane went down in July in rebellion-torn eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 aboard. It was believed to have been hit by a surface-to-air missile.