Bad weather wreaks havoc on search for victims of AirAsia flight disaster

31 Dec 2014 | Author: | No comments yet »

AirAsia QZ8501 LIVE: Poor weather hampers search operation, 10 bodies recovered from Java Sea.

BEIJING — Indonesian search crews battled storms and high waves Wednesday as they tried to recover more bodies and find the underwater wreckage of a missing AirAsia jet carrying 162 passengers and crew. Rescuers pulled bodies and debris from the Java Sea on Tuesday as Indonesia officials said they were “95 percent sure” they had found the AirAsia passenger jet that disappeared with 162 people aboard.

A sonar image showing a large, dark object under the sea was presumed to be the missing AirAsia plane, an official with Indonesia’s search and rescue agency said on Wednesday. At least six bodies have been recovered, search officials said, including one wearing uniform of a flight attendant, which local media have identified as 20-year-old trainee Khairunisa Haidar Fauzi. Heavy rain, wind, and thick clouds have prevented divers from carrying out their recovery operations and largely grounded helicopters, though ships were still scouring the area. Ships and planes involved in the operation to find the doomed plane resumed on Wednesday, but are being hampered by unfavorable weather conditions in the area. Father of one of the stewardesses – Khairunnisa Haidar – who was on board Flight QZ8501, has revealed that working for the airline was his daughter’s dream job.

The Indonesian AirAsia Airbus A320-200 carrying 162 people disappeared on Sunday morning amid poor weather as it was flying from Indonesia’s second-largest city of Surabaya to Singapore. Our sympathies also go out to the families of our dear colleagues,” Sunu Widyatmoko, Chief Executive Officer of AirAsia Indonesia, said in the statement. Another victim was wearing a life jacket, which may raise questions about whether the passengers may have known that the plane was going down, despite the lack of a distress call from the pilots. “One individual with a life jacket doesn’t tell much,” Greg Waldron, the Asia managing editor for industry publication Flightglobal, told The Wall Street Journal. “It could be a person who thought that the plane was going down and put the life jacket on. Indonesia’s president and the head of AirAsia travelled to Surabaya — Indonesia’s second-largest city and where the flight originated — to be with grieving relatives who’d gathered there waiting for news. The airliner’s disappearance halfway through a two-hour flight between Surabaya, Indonesia, and Singapore triggered an international search for the aircraft involving dozens of planes, ships and helicopters.

After two days of scouring the sea for signs of the aircraft, the search teams started encountering debris and bodies on Tuesday, diminishing hopes of relatives of the missing people that their loved ones could be found alive. As grisly images of floating bodies were broadcast on television screens where the families were gathered, relatives sobbed and buried their heads in their hands. The plane needs to be located and its cockpit voice and flight data recorders, or black boxes, recovered before officials can start determining what caused the crash. Images of the debris and a bloated body shown on Indonesian television sent a spasm of anguish through the room at the Surabaya airport where relatives awaited news. AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes told reporters in Surabaya that he is confident rescuers will find the cockpit recorders and full wreckage to determine what brought down the passenger plane.

Another find included a bright blue plastic suitcase, completely unscratched. “I know the plane has crashed, but I cannot believe my brother and his family are dead,” said Ifan Joko, who lost seven family members, three of them children, as they traveled to Singapore to ring in the new year. “We still pray they are alive.” Rescue workers descended on ropes from a hovering helicopter to retrieve bodies. Philip Mantofa urged the crowd to hold onto their faith, despite their pain. “Some things do not make sense to us, but God is bigger than all this,” he said. “Our God is not evil … help us God to move forward even though we are surrounded by darkness.” Before breaking up, those gathered stood together and sang with their hands reaching upward: “I surrender all.

Supriyadi was on the aircraft and saw what appeared to be more wreckage under the water, which was clear and a relatively shallow 20 to 30 meters (65 to 100 feet). Authorities in Surabaya were making preparations to receive and identify bodies, including arranging 130 ambulances to take victims to a police hospital and collecting DNA from relatives. The fully-clothed bodies indicate the Airbus A320-200 was intact when it hit the water and support a theory that it suffered an aerodynamic stall. “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.

In the 2009 Air France Flight 447 crash, to which many experts have compared the AirAsia situation, the majority of bodies were not recovered until authorities found the submerged fuselage. When TV broadcast an image of a half-naked man floating in the water, a shirt partially covering his head, many of the family members screamed and wailed uncontrollably.

Strong wind and waves hampered the search and with visibility at less than a kilometre (half a mile), the air operation was called off in the afternoon. Three vessels of Singapore Navy have change their original search area for the wreckage of an AirAsia plane and are expected to reach their new location this morning, a media report said. Relatives, many of whom collapsed in grief when they saw the first grim television pictures confirming their fears on Tuesday, held prayers at a crisis centre at Surabaya airport. However, Surabaya airport general manager Trikora Hardjo later said the trip was canceled after authorities suggested they stay to avoid slowing down the operation.

The spotters on the plane also saw what looked like a shadow on the seabed in the shape of a plane, which search officials believe could be the main wreckage. 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.

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. Supriyadi added that hundreds of people from the military, police and national rescue agency were on standby waiting for clear weather in Pangkalan Bun. The Indonesian captain, a former air force fighter pilot, had 6,100 flying hours under his belt and the plane last underwent maintenance in mid-November, said the airline, which is 49 percent owned by Malaysia-based budget carrier AirAsia .

It could take up to three days to fully study the data, he added. “It’s important to know because that tells you whether it was a force like a storm that destroyed the airplane in air or if it was a matter of the pilots losing control and never able to recover from it,” said Australia-based aviation security expert Desmond Ross. The AirAsia group, including affiliates in Thailand, the Philippines and India, had not suffered a crash since its Malaysian budget operations began in 2002. The airline said in a statement that it was inviting family members to Surabaya, “where a dedicated team of care providers will be assigned to each family to ensure that all of their needs are met”. “My heart is filled with sadness for all the families involved in QZ8501,” Airline boss Tony Fernandes tweeted. “On behalf of AirAsia, my condolences to all.

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.

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