December 29, 2014


[Bambang Soelistyo, the head of the National Search and Rescue Agency in Indonesia, offered even more sobering comments earlier on Monday when he said that the aircraft was probably “at the bottom of the sea” and that Indonesia lacked adequate equipment to conduct an underwater search.]

Planes Near Flight 8501 Around the Time It Disappeared.
Source: Flight paths from FlightRadar24 By Gregor Aisch
JAKARTA, Indonesia After a second day of searching without any confirmed sighting of wreckage, the Indonesian authorities on Monday sought to lower expectations about finding survivors from a missing AirAsia jet carrying 162 people.
“We realize that we have to be prepared for the worst,” Jusuf Kalla, Indonesia’s vice president, told reporters in Surabaya, the city from which the Singapore-bound plane took off on Sunday.
Mr. Kalla said that roughly 30 ships and 15 aircraft from at least three countries had joined the search for the jet in the Java Sea, amid the islands of Borneo, Java and Sumatra.
Bambang Soelistyo, the head of the National Search and Rescue Agency in Indonesia, offered even more sobering comments earlier on Monday when he said that the aircraft was probably “at the bottom of the sea” and that Indonesia lacked adequate equipment to conduct an underwater search.
Relatives of the plane’s passengers gathered in airports in Surabaya and Singapore, waiting in hopes of news.
A woman at the Surabaya airport wandered around looking stunned and bereft, holding a framed photograph of a family of five.
“They were on their way to Singapore to visit their 12-year-old daughter,” said the woman, Nani, who said she was the family’s maid and who, like many Indonesians, uses only one name. “That girl is now an orphan.”
But with officials offering few hard details, experts and some news reports were speculating on the cause of the disappearance, from bad weather to fears that the aircraft was traveling too slowly to stay airborne.
Search teams, which included fishing boats pressed into service and vessels from Australia, Malaysia and Singapore, covered a large area of sea near the island of Belitung, the last known location of the plane, an Airbus A320-200.
Officials said the countries were working together “seamlessly,” but they were hard-pressed to search underwater.
“The capability of our equipment is not optimum,” Mr. Bambang said.
Search-and-rescue teams on Monday spotted debris that turned out to be unrelated flotsam, the same kind of false alarms that plagued the search efforts for the Malaysia Airlines plane that disappeared over the Indian Ocean in March.
Although weather was suspected as a factor in the aircraft’s disappearance, Pramintohadi Sukarno, an official at the Transportation Ministry who is helping lead the search, said background checks were being carried out on all passengers as part of standard procedure.
Shortly before contact was lost, the cockpit crew informed air traffic controllers in Jakarta that it was planning to raise the plane to 38,000 feet from 32,000 feet to avoid a cloud, Djoko Murjatmodjo, the acting director general of air transport at Indonesia’s Ministry of Transportation, said at a news conference in Jakarta.
The newspaper Kompas in Indonesia quoted Mr. Djoko as saying that the plane’s request to divert from its flight path had been approved but that air traffic controllers had denied the request to ascend to 38,000 feet “because of traffic.” He did not elaborate.
Mr. Djoko said the authorities had not detected any emergency distress beacons that would normally be triggered by an accident.
Some experts expressed fears that, faced with stormy weather, the aircraft may have been traveling at an angle and speed that would not sustain flight. This was a central factor in the crash of an Air France flight over the Atlantic Ocean in 2009, when pilots, encountering foul weather and with instruments seeming to malfunction, failed to recognize that their aircraft had entered an aerodynamic stall.
Hugh Ritchie, the Singapore-based chief executive of Aviation Consultants International, said the plane was flying roughly 100 knots below the general cruising speed, well within the safe envelope for flight but possibly a sign that it was climbing, had experienced severe icing or slowed to better manage turbulence.
“My personal opinion is, they should not fly through this type of weather,” he said. “I think this is probably a combination of severe weather and pilot error in terms of the flight path.”
Flight 8501 was operated by the Indonesian affiliate of AirAsia, a regional budget carrier based in Malaysia. Aside from the Malaysia Airlines jet, Flight 370, that disappeared in March, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine in July.
But the connections appeared to be nothing more than awful coincidence.
Richard L. Aboulafia, an aviation analyst at the Teal Group in the United States, said that Flight 370 “was most likely an act of human malfeasance or terrorism, while this looks for all the world like bad weather.”

Many Indonesians were frustrated at the slow pace of news and the country’s sluggish response to the jetliner’s disappearance.
 “Many countries acted fast to help us,” said Gunawan, a travel agent who uses only one name. “Singapore, Malaysia were fast. Indonesia wasn’t fast.”
He said one of his employees was on the flight.
The mayor of Surabaya, Tri Rismaharini, said AirAsia had been too slow in providing details.
“We have lost 81 people from Surabaya with no explanation, no help,” she said. “AirAsia gave us names, but that’s it.”
The Indonesian news media was investigating the life and habits of the flight’s captain, Iriyanto, who uses only one name. It quoted friends and relatives as saying that the captain took his family last week to visit the grave of his younger brother, who died recently. He was also described as a fan of motorcycles and a devoted member of his local mosque.
He had previously worked as a pilot at Adam Air, a troubled Indonesian airline with a poor safety record. The newspaper Kompas quoted the pilot’s cousin as saying that Captain Iriyanto moved to AirAsia after Adam Air shut down in 2008.
Adam Air epitomized a low point in Indonesian aviation. Amid a string of other mishaps and malfunctions, a Boeing 737 belonging to the airline spiraled into the sea in bad weather in 2007, killing all 102 people on board. The impact of the crash on the water was so severe that the aircraft disintegrated; the first trace of wreckage was found 10 days after the crash.
Yet while Sunday’s disappearance is yet another blow to Indonesia’s aviation safety record, it is not necessarily a reflection of a systemic failure at AirAsia or of the civic aviation safety system.
The airline, the leading Asian budget carrier, had carried 250 million passengers since its founding more than a decade ago without a fatal accident.
The possibility that bad weather played a role in the disappearance has renewed debate over whether pilots have access to enough data to warn them of weather-related dangers.
“The fact is, there’s more technology and automated alerting on some of the apps on your smartphone than are on these planes today,” said Bob Marshall, chief executive of Earth Networks, a company that provides global weather data. “The vast majority of the world lacks adequate technology and alerting that pilots need to help keep the plane out of harm’s way.”

Reporting was contributed by Jeffrey Hutton from Surabaya, Indonesia; Austin Ramzy from Hong Kong; Nicola Clark from Paris; Christopher Drew from Washington; and Poypiti Amatatham and Muktita Suhartono from Bangkok.