Missing plane likely at bottom of sea, Indonesian officials say


Decemebr 29, 2014

BEIJING — Rescue crews in the Java Sea widened the search Monday for a missing AirAsia plane with 162 people aboard even as Indonesia authorities speculated the main wreckage was already at the bottom of the sea.

AirAsia plane goes missing; relatives anxiously wait for news

Decemebr 29, 2014

BEIJING — Rescue crews in the Java Sea widened the search Monday for a missing AirAsia plane with 162 people aboard even as Indonesia authorities speculated the main wreckage was already at the bottom of the sea.

AirAsia plane goes missing; relatives anxiously wait for news

A second day of reconnaissance yielded little and hopes for survivors faded.

An Indonesian helicopter crew spotted only two oily patches. Search officials, however, said was unclear whether they were related to the Singapore-bound aircraft — whose last air traffic contact Sunday was a request by the pilot to climb to 38,000 feet after encountering rough weather.

The sudden disappearance and frustrating maritime search is eerily familiar to Malaysia Airlines jetliner last contacted over the Indian Ocean in March. That plane, with 239 people on board, is still lost.

Indonesian authorities called their belief that the jet plunged to the seabed a “preliminary suspicion.” National Search and Rescue Agency chief Bambang Soelistyo at a press conference said the theory was based on the plane’s last coordinates and the estimated crash position.

But Soelistyo said Indonesia lacks the equipment needed to find and retrieve a plane from such depths and has reached out to other countries for help, including the United States, Britain and France.

Meanwhile, more vessels and planes joined the search.

Indonesia’s vice president, Jusuf Kalla, told reporters 30 ships and 15 aircraft have been deployed. Included in the search are vessels and planes from Malaysia, Singapore and Australia. And South Korea said it also planned to send a surveillance plane to help.

Crew of Indonesian Air Force C-130 airplane of the 31st Air Squadron scan the horizon during a search operation for the missing AirAsia flight 8501 jetliner over the waters of Karimata Strait in Indonesia, Monday, Dec. 29, 2014.

The Airbus A320-200 encountered a string of thunderstorms and heavy clouds over the Java Sea while flying from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore.

Indonesia’s state-owned navigation provider AirNav several local media on Monday an account of the plane’s last communication with air traffic controllers.

AirNav safety and standard director Wisnu Darjono said the pilot asked Soekarno-Hatta Airport’s air traffic control at 6:12 a.m. for permission to turn left to avoid bad weather. Permission was granted, and the plane turned seven miles to its left flank, the Jakarta Post reported.

The pilot then requested to climb from 32,000 to 38,000 feet, but did not explain why.

Jakarta’s air traffic control conferred with Singapore-based counterparts for a few minutes and agreed to allow increasing the altitude to 34,000 feet because a second AirAsia flight QZ8502 was flying above at 38,000 feet.

By the time they relayed the permission to climb at 6:14 p.m., there was no reply, Darjono said.

Investigators are trying to locate debris from the crash and then work backwards following currents to find the wreckage on the seabed. To do so, they will need ships equipped with advanced sonar and search vehicles that can look for signs of the wreckage underwater, experts said.

Once the wreckage is found, the cockpit voice and flight data recorders would offer the most substantial clues as to what went wrong.

Indonesian authorities are searching near Belitung island in the Java Sea, where flight QZ8501 lost contact. At nightfall Monday, authorities suspended the air search until morning, but said ships will remain in the search zone overnight.

And after two days of challenging search conditions, authorities can expect “perfect weather” on Tuesday and Wednesday, said Adi Eka Sakya, the head of Indonesia’s Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency at a Jakarta press conference. But those favorable conditions could turn severe by Friday with torrential rains.

An Australian search plane reported Monday afternoon seeing objects hundreds of miles away, but Indonesian officials later ruled it out as an unrelated plane.

Even as the reason for the crash remained unclear, shares of AirAsia dropped sharply in trading Monday.

A member of Indonesian National Search and Rescue Agency (BASARNAS) shows a map of searching area prior to a search and rescue operation of missing AirAsia flight QZ8501.

The belief by Indonesian officials that the plane has already plunged underwater would explain the lack of a signal from the plane’s emergency locator transmitter, said Australia-based aviation security expert Desmond Ross.

“All these aircraft have this beacon that triggers on impact and sends a signal to satellites,” Ross said. “If it’s gone to the bottom of the sea, we probably wouldn’t hear that signal.”

Experts said the plane’s disappearance prompts several tantalizing questions.

Bad weather appeared to play a role, but it is unclear why the pilot wasn’t able to avoid it earlier, said Ross, noting that modern commercial jets are equipped with radar that can spot bad weather more than 100 miles ahead of its path.

The speed of the airplane will likely be at the forefront of any investigation, said John Cox, a former accident investigator. Radar suggests the plane was flying at a low speed, Cox said. Overly slow speed at a high altitude could cause an airplane to stall with insufficient lift to sustain flight, he said.

Geoffrey Thomas, editor of airlineratings.com, said he reviewed radar data of the flight obtained by other A320 pilots showing the plane at an altitude of 36,300 feet and climbing and traveling at 353 knots or roughly 406 miles per hour — a relatively low speed for that altitude.

Many experts have compared the AirAsia flight to the crash of an Air France flight in 2009 in which airspeed measurements failed, leading pilots to put the plane into a stall. While wreckage of the Air France flight was spotted within days, it took two years for the black-box recorder to be found and retrieved.

“I don’t think it will take nearly as long in this case,” said Cox. Indonesian authorities have big advantages over previous searchers searchers for Air France flight and the still unrecovered MH370 Malaysia Airline plane that vanished this spring. The waters now being searched are much shallower and the search area smaller.

Another Malaysia Airlines jet was shot down over eastern Ukraine in July, killing all 298 people aboard.

While no one was sure if weather was the cause of the disappearance, it probably complicated things, according to AccuWeather.com meteorologist Alex Sosnowski, who said, “The storms in the area were capable of producing severe turbulence, strong wind shear, frequent lightning and icing.” December and January are the wettest months in Indonesia.

Aviation experts could only speculate as to why there was no distress call. One likely possibility was that a sudden and probably catastrophic depressurization incapacitated the pilots or the communications equipment.

Courtesy: Washington Post