AirAsia disaster: Bodies, wreckage found

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Search and rescue teams today began recovering bodies after debris from Indonesia AirAsia Flight 8501 was spotted in the sea near Borneo.

The flight from Surabaya to Singapore vanished from radar screens early on Sunday morning over the Java Sea. 155 passengers and seven crew were on board. Most were Indonesians, with three South Koreans, one Malaysian, one Brit and one French person on board.

An Indonesian naval ship today recovered at least three bodies. TvOne broadcast uncensored footage that was seen by distressed relatives at Juanda International Airport, where the plane departed. TvOne has apologised and switched to blurred-out footage.

The crashed aircraft, photographed in April.
Image: Oka Sudiatmika.

Yesterday evening searchers stated they were using twelve helicopters, eleven planes, and 32 vessels. Australia, Singapore, and Malaysia sent assistance with the search. Local fishing boats have also joined. The US, UK, and France have been asked for help locating submerged remains. USS Sampson, a US Navy destroyer, is due to join search efforts today.

National Search and Rescue Agency head Bambang Soelistyo says a "shadow" on the seabed, spotted by the air force, is thought to be the wreck site. The nearest airstrip is in Pangkalan Bun, Borneo, about 160km away.

AirNav, the Indonesian national air traffic control (ATC) facility, yesterday said the aircraft was given permission to divert to avoid bad weather; the area was experiencing thunderstorms. That was at 6:12 local time. The flight crew next asked to climb from 32,000ft to 38,000ft.

Controllers conferred with Singapore and agreed the plane could climb as high as 34,000ft with another flight preventing a higher altitude. When they radioed permission at 6:14 they received no answer. The flight vanished from radar at 6:17. The transponder ceased to be received a minute later.

A leaked screenshot from an ATC radar screen shows the flight ascending without permission through 36,000ft with a ground speed of 353knts. The aircraft would normally be travelling faster, with an Emirates jet also on the screen showing a ground speed of 503knts at 36,000ft. An insufficient speed can cause an aircraft to stall.

Indonesian Pilot Iriyanto and French co-pilot Remi Emmanuel Plesel did not explain their request to climb. They have over 8,000 hours experience between them. They were flying Airbus A320-200 registration PK-AXC and serial number 3648, which was six years old. It last underwent maintenance in November. Management company Doric own and lease the aircraft. The plane had accumulated 23,000 flying hours on 13,600 flights. It went missing around 40 minutes into a flight to Changi International Airport.

Iriyanto's previous employers include the Indonesian Air Force, Merpati Airlines, and Adam Air. The 53-year-old also has ten years experience as a pilot trainer. He has flown for AirAsia for three years.

Investigations are to be led by the Indonesian National Transportation Safety Committee. France-based airframer Airbus, the BEA, which investigates aviation mishaps in France, and the US National Transportation Safety Board have all offered assistance.

Reuters spoke to an anonymous source within the investigation. "Why did [Iriyanto] request to climb at that stage?" said the source. "Should he have climbed earlier? Other aircraft were flying at a higher altitude in that area. How did the two pilots react to the weather? We are asking those questions." The source said radar, weather, and communications data was being analysed.

AirAsia owner Tony Fernandes said he has "full confidence in my[...] crew[...][Iriyanto] was extremely experienced". He added Iriyanto "came from the air force, one of their best graduates. He came from Surabaya, so he knows the area very well." Fernandes said it was "too early to speculate" about causes.

AirAsia is based in Malaysia. 2014 has been a year of air disasters for the country; Malaysia Airlines flight 370 has been missing since March with 239 on board and in July Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down in Ukraine with 298 casualties. Both involved Boeing 777 aircraft.

AirAsia has a good record with no previous fatal accidents.

AirAsia Emergency Contact Number: +622129850801
Juanda Airport: [031] 8690945