Indonesia Searches for AirAsia Flight QZ8501 – Wall Street Journal
JAKARTA, Indonesia—Indonesia called off until Monday the search for an
plane with 162 passengers and crew that went missing on Sunday.
The plane lost contact with air-traffic control Sunday on a morning flight from Surabaya, Indonesia, as it was climbing to a higher altitude to avoid bad weather, officials said.
Indonesia sought help from neighbors in the search, but as night fell, Indonesian Vice President
said no debris had been found after 10 hours and that the search would resume on Monday.
AirAsia said those onboard included 155 Indonesians, three South Koreans, one French citizen, one Malaysian, one Singaporean and one citizen of the U.K. The flight had two pilots and five other crew members aboard. The French citizen, it said, was the plane’s co-pilot, which the French Foreign Ministry confirmed. The passengers included 17 children.
The search was focused on a radius of 270 nautical miles off Indonesia’s Bangka island, a center of tin mining and pepper cultivation south of Singapore, and could be widened, said
the head of Indonesia’s search and rescue agency.
Indonesia AirAsia is 49%-owned an affiliate of AirAsia Bhd., the Malaysian discount carrier which has and created a network of local franchises as it has expanded its network air travel across Asia over the past decade.
The disappearance of Flight 8501 is the group’s first significant incident. It follows the loss of two aircraft earlier this year by Malaysia Airlines, whose Flight 370 remains missing after vanishing en route to China in March with 239 people on board.
State-owned AirNav Indonesia, which provides air-navigation services, said the AirAsia plane took off at 5:32 a.m. local time. It said it was cruising at 32,000 feet and at 6:12 a.m. it contacted traffic control at Jakarta’s airport to say it was moving left from the flight path and rising to 38,000 feet to avoid a cloud. At 6:16 a.m. the plane was still appearing on the radar, it said. At 6:18 a.m. it disappeared from radar.
Acting Air Transportation Director General
said that Jakarta air controllers had given the plane a green light to veer away from its flight path but not to ascend to 38,000 feet due to traffic conditions and pending confirmation with other controllers.
Indonesia deployed eight ships, two helicopters and three airplanes in a search that focused on waters near Bangka and the island of Belitung east of Sumatra. President
said he had instructed the armed forces to help and was also welcoming assistance from neighboring countries.
Singapore deployed one C130 aircraft and Malaysia sent three vessels and one plane on Sunday. In addition, Australia’s government said it offered to send a P-3 Orion search plane to help.
The White House said U.S. President Barack Obama, who is vacationing in Hawaii, has been briefed on the missing flight. “White House officials will continue to monitor the situation,” said spokesman Eric Schultz.
South Korea said it is considering sending a surveillance plane to the region to help with the search and that the three South Koreans on board the plane were a man and a woman in their 30s and an infant.
A church in Yeosu, a fishing village 455 kilometers south of Seoul, said the three Koreans were Park Seong-beom, 37 years old, his wife Lee Kyung-hwa, 36, and their 12-month daughter Park Yuna.
The couple had been sent to Indonesia as Christian missionaries and were travelling to Singapore to renew their visas, according to Choi Hong-koo, an official at the Yeosu First Presbyterian Church.
“I still can’t believe the family is missing,” said Mr. Choi.
Singapore’s Transport Ministry said the Singaporean on board was a 2-year-old girl traveling with her father, who was British. The U.K.’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office confirmed that a British national was on board and the passenger’s next of kin has been informed.
At Singapore’s Changi Airport, where the plane had been due to arrive at 8:30 a.m., authorities set up a holding area for friends and relatives of the flight’s passengers.
Hendra Hartanto, in a telephone interview from Surabaya, said his cousins, Ferny Yufina Purnomo, 27 years old, and Christien Aulia Purnomo, 21 years old, were heading to Singapore on the Indonesia AirAsia flight for the New Year holiday.
“They were traveling to Singapore with three other friends,” he said. “They just came back from the engagement of their sister in Malang yesterday,” referring to a town about two hours south of Surabaya.
Changi Airport Group said 47 friends and family members of 57 of the flight’s passengers registered at the holding area at Singapore’s airport. Support was being provided by care officers and counselors. It said 16 relatives were traveling to Surabaya on Sunday night. Many Indonesians travel for business or holiday to Singapore.
Surabaya is Indonesia’s second-largest city, a busy port on the eastern end of Java island that is home to more than 3.1 million people and many of Indonesia’s largest companies.
AirAsia said the missing plane, an
A320-200, underwent its last scheduled maintenance on Nov. 16. It said the captain had a total of 6,100 flying hours experience and the co-pilot had a total of 2,275 hours.
Airbus Group NV said the Indonesia AirAsia plane was delivered in October of 2008 and had accumulated about 23,000 flying hours in 13,600 flights and had CFM 56-5B engines.
Aviation experts cautioned that until more information becomes available and the “black box” recorders are recovered, it is premature to speculate on specific causes of the plane’s disappearance.
But amid reports of thunderstorms and indications that the crew may have been trying to find a way around the worst of the weather, some of the investigative focus, at least at the beginning, may include the possibility of a high-altitude stall and various other factors that could result in loss of control by the pilots.
An official from Indonesia’s meteorological agency said it was slightly rainy in areas the plane was estimated to be flying through, with thick cumulonimbus clouds as high as 45,000 feet.
“In general, cumulonimbus is quite dangerous for aviation activities because it causes thunderstorms and heavy rain,” she said.
Since the June 2009 crash of an Air France widebody Airbus jet in the Atlantic Ocean, airlines, plane manufacturers and regulators have stepped up efforts to train pilots to identify and cope with the hazards of high-altitude upsets.
American and European authorities have questioned the air-safety records of many Asian nations, including Indonesia. AirAsia and its affiliated airlines in Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and India have to date a clean safety record and Indonesia AirAsia isn’t on a list of airlines banned by European authorities over safety concerns.
AirAsia is one of the largest operators of the Airbus A320 in the world and holds orders for hundreds more jets from Airbus. The carrier operates its A320s in a single-class arrangement with 180 seats, the maximum allowed.
Indonesia’s airlines are among the biggest customers for both Boeing Co. and Airbus jets as the archipelago nation ramps up flights to connect its islands, which span longer than the contiguous U.S.
—Jon Ostrower, Andy Pasztor, Joko Hariyanto and In-Soo Nam contributed to this article.
Write to I Made Sentana at I-Made.Sentana@wsj.com