Edmonton Journal

Several countries join search for AirAsia jet

Aircraft carrying 162 people likely at sea bottom, Indonesian official says

- Trisnadi Marja n And Margie Mason The Associated Press

SURABAYA, Indonesia — Search planes and ships from several countries on Monday were scouring Indonesian waters over which an AirAsia jet carrying 162 people disappeare­d, and more than a day into the region’s latest aviation mystery, officials doubted there could be anything but a tragic ending.

AirAsia Flight 8501 vanished Sunday in airspace thick with storm clouds on its way from Surabaya, Indonesia, to Singapore. The search expanded Monday, but has yet to find any trace of the Airbus A320.

“Based on the co-ordinates that we know, the evaluation would be that any estimated crash position is in the sea, and that the hypothesis is the plane is at the bottom of the sea,” Indonesia search and rescue chief Henry Bambang Soelistyo said at a news conference.

First Adm. Sigit Setiayana, the Naval Aviation Center commander at the Surabaya air force base, said 12 navy ships, five planes, three helicopter­s and a number of warships were taking part in the search, along with ships and planes from Singapore and Malaysia. The Australian Air Force also sent a search plane.

Searchers had to cope with heavy rain Sunday, but Setiayana said Monday that visibility was good. “God willing, we can find it soon,” he told The Associated Press.

The plane’s disappeara­nce and suspected crash caps an astonishin­gly tragic year for air travel in Southeast Asia. The Malaysiaba­sed carrier’s loss comes on top of the still-unexplaine­d disappeara­nce of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in March and the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in July over Ukraine.

At the Surabaya airport, passengers’ relatives pored over the plane’s manifest, crying and embracing. Nias Adityas, a housewife from Surabaya, was overcome with grief when she found the name of her husband, Nanang Priowidodo, on the list.

The 43-year-old tour agent had been taking a family of four on a trip to Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia’s Lombok island. “He just told me, ‘Praise God, this new year brings a lot of good fortune,’ ” Adityas recalled, while weeping.

Nearly all the passengers and crew are Indonesian­s, who are frequent visitors to Singapore, particular­ly on holidays.

Flight 8501 took off Sunday morning from Indonesia’s second-largest city and was about halfway to Singapore when it vanished from radar. The jet had been airborne for about 42 minutes.

There was no distress signal from the twin-engined, single-aisle plane, said Djoko Murjatmodj­o, Indonesia’s acting director general of transporta­tion. The last communicat­ion between the cockpit and air traffic control was at 6:12 a.m., when one of the pilots asked to increase altitude from 9,754 metres to 11,582 metres, Murjatmodj­o said. The jet was last seen on radar at 6:16 a.m. and was gone a minute later, he told reporters.

Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia launched a search operation near Belitung island in the Java Sea, the area where the airliner lost contact with the ground.

AirAsia group CEO Tony Fernandes flew to Surabaya and said at a news conference that the focus for now should be on the search and the families rather than the cause of the incident. “We have no idea at the moment what went wrong,” said Fernandes, a Malaysian businessma­n who founded the low-cost carrier in 2001. “Let’s not speculate at the moment.”

Malaysia-based AirAsia has a good safety record and had never lost a plane. But Malaysia itself has already endured a catastroph­ic year, with 239 people still missing from Flight 370 and all 298 people aboard Flight 17 killed when it was shot down over rebel-held territory in Ukraine.

AirAsia said Flight 8501 was on its submitted flight plan but had requested a change due to weather.

Sunardi, a forecaster at Indonesia’s Meteorolog­y and Geophysics Agency, said dense storm clouds were detected up to 13,400 metres in the area at the time.

“There could have been turbulence, lightning and vertical as well as horizontal strong winds within such clouds,” said Sunardi, who like many Indonesian­s uses only one name.

Airline pilots routinely fly around thundersto­rms, said John Cox, a former accident investigat­or. Using on-board radar, flight crews can typically see a storm forming from more than 160 kilometres away.

In such cases, pilots have plenty of time to find a way around the storm cluster or look for gaps to fly through, he said. “It’s not like you have to make an instantane­ous decision,” Cox said. Storms can be hundreds of miles long, but “because a jet moves at eight miles a minute, if you to go 100 miles out of your way, it’s not a problem.”

Authoritie­s have not said whether they lost only the secondary radar target, which is created by the plane’s transponde­r, or whether the primary radar target, which is created by energy reflected from the plane’s body, was lost as well, Cox said.

The plane had an Indonesian captainand a French co-pilot, five cabin crew members and 155 passengers, including 16 children and one infant, the airline said. Among the passengers were three South Koreans, a Malaysian, a British national and his two-year-old Singaporea­n daughter. The rest were Indonesian­s.

AirAsia said the captain had more than 20,000 flying hours, of which 6,100 were with AirAsia on the Airbus 320. The first officer had 2,275 flying hours.

The missing aircraft was delivered to AirAsia in October 2008, and the plane had accumulate­d about 23,000 flight hours during some 13,600 flights, Airbus said in a statement. The aircraft had last undergone scheduled maintenanc­e on Nov. 16, according to AirAsia.

 ?? Robertus Pudyanto/Gett y Images ?? Relatives of missing AirAsia Flight 8501 passengers sob at the crisis centre set up at Surabaya airport Sunday.
Robertus Pudyanto/Gett y Images Relatives of missing AirAsia Flight 8501 passengers sob at the crisis centre set up at Surabaya airport Sunday.
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