Hopes fade for AirAsia flight as ‘objects’ sighted

An AirAsia plane is parked on the tarmac at the Changi International Airport on Monday. Pic: AP Photo/Wong Maye-E
An AirAsia plane is parked on the tarmac at the Changi International Airport on Monday. Pic: AP Photo/Wong Maye-E
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THE missing AirAsia Indonesia flight could be lying “at the bottom of the sea”, officials said today.

The search is continuing for the jet, a day after it went missing with 162 people on board.

The head of Indonesia’s search-and-rescue agency has suggested the plane could be at the bottom of the sea, as objects were spotted in the sea by a search plane hunting for the missing jet.

Jakarta’s Air Force base commander Rear Marshal Dwi Putranto said he had been informed that an Australian Orion aircraft had detected suspicious objects near Nangka island, about 100 miles south-west of Pangkalan Bun, near central Kalimantan – 700 miles from where the plane lost contact.

“However, we cannot be sure whether it is part of the missing AirAsia plane,” he said. “We are now moving in that direction, which is in cloudy conditions.”

The Airbus A320-200 disappeared early on Sunday on a flight to Singapore.

The pilots had requested a course change asking permission to climb to 38,000ft 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.

Soelistyo said “the capability of our equipment is not optimum,” adding that Indonesia would reach out to other countries including the UK, France and US for technology that might be required to retrieve the plane from the seabed. No wreckage has been found.

First Admiral Sigit Setiayana, the Naval Aviation Centre commander at 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.

He said visibility was good, adding: “God willing, we can find it soon.”

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

The Airbus A320 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-engine, single-aisle plane. The last communication between the cockpit and air traffic control was at 6.13am local time, when one of the pilots asked to increase altitude to 38,000ft. The jet was last seen on radar at 6.16am local time, and was gone a minute later, he told reporters.

Local weather experts said the area could have suffered turbulence, lightning and vertical as well as horizontal strong winds.Malaysia-based AirAsia has a good safety record and had never lost a plane.