Storms hamper QZ8501 search

Bad weather has prevented divers from searching for wreckage, bodies and black boxes of doomed AirAsia flight QZ8501, which plunged into the water at the weekend carrying 162 people.

Waves of between two and three metres and winds hampered searchers in the crash zone looking for the sunken remains of the flight, which vanished on Sunday about 40 minutes into its flight from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore.

Ships and planes resumed the search on Wednesday, but air force rescue coordinator SB Supriyadi told AFP rescuers were experiencing bad weather.

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Searchers found three bodies on Wednesday morning (local time), including a flight attendant still wearing her AirAsia uniform, bringing the total to six so far, said the head of the search and rescue agency, Fransiskus Bambang Soelistyo.

An official from Indonesia’s search and rescue agency said a sonar image showed a large, dark object under the sea which was presumed to be the missing AirAsia plane.

“It’s about 30 to 50 metres under water,” said the official, Hernanto.

“We are praying it is the plane so the evacuation can be done quickly.”


Relatives of the crashed AirAsia plane passengers pray at Juanda Airport, in Surabaya, Indonesia. Photo: AAP

Aviation experts believe that, weather permitting, the fuselage may be easily found by divers as the aircraft probably only broke up when it hit the water.

Fully clothed bodies could also indicate the plane was intact when it hit the water and support a theory that the Airbus A320-200 suffered an aerodynamic stall and plunged into the sea.

“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.

Australian help no longer required

Two Australian defence aircraft deployed to Indonesia to assist with the search will return home.

The two Orions left a Darwin RAAF Base on Tuesday after the federal government offered assistance to Indonesian authorities.

Indonesian authorities advised the two Australian aircraft are no longer required, the Australian Defence Force (ADF) confirmed in a statement.

“The ADF will continue to maintain two liaison officers at Indonesia’s National Search and Rescue Agency (BASARNAS) and the Australian Defence Force stands ready to provide further assistance,” the statement read.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of the victims at this difficult time.”

A New Zealand Air Force P3 Orion had also been deployed to Indonesia to assist with the search, while the United States sent the warship USS Sampson.

Indonesia AirAsia flight QZ8501 lost contact with air traffic control early on Sunday during bad weather.

The plane was carrying mostly Indonesians. No survivors have been found.

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,” Mr Widodo said in Surabaya on Tuesday after grim images of the scene in the Java Sea were broadcast on television.

AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes

AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes. Photo: AAP

AirAsia chief executive Tony Fernandes described the crash as his “worst nightmare”.

Mr 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.

The United States said its destroyer USS Sampson and combat ship USS Fort Worth were awaiting instructions from the Indonesian search command on the recovery operation.

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.

About 30 ships and 21 aircraft from Indonesia, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and the United States have been involved in the search.

Qantas pilot backs theory about plane stall in bad weather

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.

It was travelling at 32,000 feet 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 from the aircraft.

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.


Indonesian national search and rescue agency members and Indonesian Air Force crew carry a dead body from a helicopter. Photo: AAP

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, most likely due to bad weather.

One possibility is that the plane’s instruments iced up in a tropical thunderstorm, giving the pilots inaccurate readings.

The lack of a distress call indicated the pilots may have realised too late they were in trouble and were too busy struggling to control the aircraft to issue a call, the Qantas pilot said.

The Indonesian pilot, a former air force fighter pilot with 6,100 flying hours under his belt, was experienced and the plane last underwent maintenance in mid-November, said Indonesia AirAsia, which is 49 per cent 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 across the region.


Floating debris from AirAsia flight QZ8501 in the Java Sea.

Malaysian 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.

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