The Jakarta Globe, Dec 31, 2014
Jakarta. The search for the missing Indonesia AirAsia plane carrying 162 people appeared to be over on Tuesday evening after rescuers pulled bodies and debris from the sea off the coast of Kalimantan.
The Indonesian Navy confirmed that more than 40 bodies had been pulled from the sea as dusk fell, and authorities will continue with an extensive recovery operation on Wednesday.
The military chief, Gen. Moeldoko, refused, though, to confirm the Navy’s comments about the bodies and said all statements about the number of bodies recovered would have to go through Indonesia’s National Search and Rescue Agency, or Basarnas, which is coordinating the search efforts.
Basarnas chief Bambang Soelistyo said at a press conference that six bodies were found and three had been retrieved as well as some of the debris from the water and all of those were brought to the Central Kalimantan town of Pangkalan Bun.
“We’ve been able to verify that three of the bodies are those of two women and one man,” he said at the agency’s headquarters in Jakarta.
Items resembling an emergency slide, plane door and other objects were spotted in the sea during an aerial search for Flight QZ8501 about midday.
Basarnas confirmed with certainty that the items spotted during an aerial search was debris from the plane.
“Today we can confirm 100 percent that the debris and bodies are from the plane that we have been looking for,” Soelistyo said.
The breakthrough came more than 48 hours after the plane disappeared over the Java Sea en route from Surabaya to Singapore.
There were 155 passengers on board, including 149 Indonesians, three South Koreans, one Singaporean, one Malaysian and one Briton. The seven-member crew consisted of six Indonesians and the French co-pilot.
A number of vessels were on their way to the waters of the Karimata Strait, some 160 kilometers from Pangkalan Bun, to collect the debris on Tuesday.
The navy later confirmed a large part of the missing Airbus A320-200 was also found 62 kilometers from the area where debris was first spotted.
“We have found some more debris and the cargo hold, which is still 65 percent intact,” 1st Lt. Galang told news portal Detik.com.
An extensive search
President Joko Widodo spoke at a press conference at Juanda International Airport in Surabaya at around 7 p.m. to express his condolences to family members of the passengers and crew of the flight, adding that an extensive search will be conducted on Wednesday.
“Tomorrow morning, there will be a huge search operation by using aircraft and vessels,” Joko said. “I’ve instructed the National Search and Rescue Agency to make a joint operation to find the body of the airplane and also passengers and flight crew. I’ve instructed them to focus on retrieving the passengers and flight crew.
“I also want to thank and give my highest appreciation to the National Search and Rescue Agency, the Indonesian Armed Forces, the National Police, the volunteers and also the fishermen who have helped in the search of the airplane, the passengers and flight crew.
“I also want to thank the neighboring countries who have joined in in the search — from Singapore, Malaysia and Australia,” he said.
“For the families of the passengers and flight crew, I’m also at a loss from this incident and I’m sending my prayers to the families so that they can find the strength to get through this misfortune,” Joko said.
AirAsia Group chief executive Tony Fernandes was also present at the press conference, saying that he hoped that the flight recorder box will be recovered as part of the investigation as to why the aircraft went down into the sea. He defended the captain’s experience and the performance of the aircraft but accepted responsibility as leader of the company.
“You don’t know what went wrong,” Fernandes said. “This is a scar that will be with me for the rest of my life.”
He offered his condolences to the family members of the passengers and crew, adding that the focus would be on the recovery of remains and the aircraft.
“Words can’t express what they’re going through, but I’ve talked to the families with my limited bahasa Indonesia,” Fernandes said.
Compensation will be given to the families, he said, but he will wait for an investigation on the cause of the aircraft’s accident.
“We’ll keep investigating what went wrong during the accident,” he said.
Soelistyo of Basarnas said in an interview with Metro TV at around 8:30 p.m. that the extensive search will commence at 6 a.m. on Wednesday and will include 47 divers to the nine who are already stationed at Pangkalan Bun. The nine divers were supposed to help in the search on Tuesday but were held back because of bad weather, he said.
Soelistyo had told reporters earlier in the day that a “shadow” on the seabed spotted by an Air Force plane was believed to be the missing AirAsia jet.
“On information regarding shadows on the seabed, we received that information from one of our units. We will investigate based on the information and find out whether it’s the airplane or another object. I will deploy vessels that have sonar systems to investigate it,” Soelistyo told Metro TV.
Relatives of the 155 passengers and seven crew members burst into tears and hugged each other after footage of a body was broadcast during the Basarnas press conference on Tuesday afternoon.
Surabaya Mayor Tri Rismaharini comforted relatives at the airport and told them “to be strong.”
About 30 ships and 21 aircraft from Indonesia, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and the United States have been involved in the search of up to 10,000 square nautical miles.
The plane, which did not issue a distress signal, disappeared after its pilot failed to get permission to fly higher to avoid bad weather because of heavy air traffic, officials said.
The flight was led by Capt. Irianto, who had a total of 6,100 flying hours under his belt. His first officer had clocked in 2,275 flying hours.
Air traffic controllers lost contact with the plane about 45 minutes after it left Surabaya’s Juanda International Airport at 5:36 a.m. on Sunday.
AirAsia Indonesia said in a statement that its employees have been sent to the site and will cooperate fully with Indonesian authorities.
The airline said it would invite victims’ families to Surabaya and where a team of dedicated carers would be assigned to each family. Counselors and “religious and spiritual personnel” had also been invited, the company said.
Sunu Widyatmoko, chief executive of Indonesia AirAsia, said the company would like to extend its sincerest sympathies to the family and friends of those on board the flight.