Bodies, debris pulled in AirAsia plane search
Relatives of passengers began crying hysterically and fainting as television footage showed a body floating in the sea
Rescuers retrieved several bodies and wreckage in the search for an AirAsia plane carrying 162 people that crashed in the Indonesian sea, the country’s navy said on Tuesday, prompting relatives of those on board watching TV footage to collapse in agony.
Indonesia AirAsia's Flight QZ8501, an Airbus A320-200, lost contact with air traffic control early on Sunday during bad weather on a flight from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore.
A navy spokesman told AFP on Tuesday that more than 40 bodies had been recovered, but he later said that report was a miscommunication by his staff.
In a statement posted on its website, the airlines said: “AirAsia Indonesia regrets to inform that The National Search and Rescue Agency Republic of Indonesia (BASARNAS) today confirmed that the debris found earlier today is indeed from QZ8501.”
Tony Fernandes, Group CEO of AirAsia said: “I am absolutely devastated. This is a very difficult moment for all of us at AirAsia as we await further developments of the search and rescue operations but our first priority now is the wellbeing of the family members of those onboard QZ8501.”
The airlines statement said family members of the victims will be invited to Surabaya, “where a dedicated team of care providers will be assigned to each family to ensure that all of their needs are met.”
Pictures of floating bodies were broadcast on television and relatives of the missing already gathered at a crisis center in Surabaya wept with heads in their hands. Several people collapsed in grief and were helped away.
Yohannes and his wife were at the center awaiting news of her brother, Herumanto Tanus, and two of his children who were on board the doomed flight.
The Tanus family had been on their way to visit Herumanto's son, who studies in Singapore and who travelled to Surabaya on Monday after the plane went missing.
"He cries every time he watches the news," Yohannes said, according to Reuters.
The mayor of Surabaya, Tri Rismaharini, comforted relatives and urged them to be strong.
"They are not ours, they belong to God," she said.
Searching through the night
A navy spokesman said a plane door, oxygen tanks and one body had been recovered and taken away by helicopter for tests.
"The challenge is waves up to three meters high," Fransiskus Bambang Soelistyo, head of the Search and Rescue Agency, told reporters, adding that the search operation would go on all night. He declined to answer questions on whether any survivors had been found.
About 30 ships and 21 aircraft from Indonesia, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and the United States have been involved in the search.
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.
It was travelling at 32,000 feet (9,753 meters) and had asked to fly at 38,000 feet, officials said earlier.
Pilots and aviation experts said thunderstorms, and requests to gain altitude to avoid them, were not unusual in that area.
The Indonesian pilot was experienced and the plane last underwent maintenance in mid-November, the airline said.
Online discussion among pilots has centered 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 probe, adding that poor weather could have played a part as well.
He cautioned that the investigation was at an early stage and the black box flight recorders had yet to be recovered.
Clues when things go wrong
The plane, whose engines were made by CFM International, co-owned by General Electric and Safran of France, lacked real-time engine diagnostics or monitoring, a GE spokesman said.
Such systems are mainly used on long-haul flights and can provide clues to airlines and investigators when things go wrong.
Three airline disasters involving Malaysian-affiliated carriers in less than a year have dented confidence in the country's aviation industry and spooked travelers across the region.
Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 went missing on March 8 on a trip from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 passengers and crew on board and has not been found. On July 17, the same airline's Flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board.
Bizarrely, an AirAsia plane from Manila skidded off and overshot the runway on landing at Kalibo in the central Philippines on Tuesday. No one was hurt.
On board Flight QZ8501 were 155 Indonesians, three South Koreans, and one person each from Singapore, Malaysia and Britain. The co-pilot was French.
U.S. law enforcement and security officials said passenger and crew lists were being examined but nothing significant had turned up and the incident was regarded as an unexplained accident.
Indonesia AirAsia is 49 percent owned by Malaysia-based budget carrier AirAsia.
The AirAsia group, including affiliates in Thailand, the Philippines and India, had not suffered a crash since its Malaysian budget operations began in 2002.
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