AirAsia search finds two ‘big parts’ of plane

Indonesia’s search and rescue chief said the operation came across the objects in the Java Sea off the island of Borneo

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Search teams found two big parts of AirAsia Flight 8501, which crashed into the sea last weekend with 162 people on board, a top Indonesian search official told Agence France-Presse on Saturday.

Search and rescue agency chief Bambang Soelistyo confirmed to reporters that the huge relief operation came across the objects in the Java Sea off the island of Borneo late on Friday night.

“With the discovery of an oil spill and two big parts of the aircraft, I can assure you these are the parts of the AirAsia plane we have been looking for,” Soelistyo told reporters in the capital Jakarta.

He said the larger of the objects was around 10 meters by five meters.

“As I speak we are lowering an ROV (remotely operated underwater vehicle) underwater to get an actual picture of the objects detected on the sea floor. All are at the depth of 30 meters,” Soelistyo said.

He added however that a strong current was making it difficult to operate the ROV.

Rough weather in recent days has hampered the search for bodies and the fuselage of the Airbus A320-200, which disappeared from radar and crashed into the sea during a storm.

Flying an ‘unauthorized’ schedule

Also on Saturday, Indonesian officials said that the doomed flight had been flying an unauthorized schedule adding that they may revoke AirAsia’s permission to fly the route.

The country’s transport ministry will investigate all Indonesia AirAsia flight schedules from Monday, a government official told Reuters on Saturday, as part of a government probe into the passenger jet that crashed.

“We are going to investigate all AirAsia flight schedules,” Djoko Muratmodjo, acting general director for air navigation in the transport ministry said.

“Hopefully we can start on next Monday. We won't focus on licences, just schedules.”

“It might be possible to revoke AirAsia's license in Indonesia,” Muratmodjo added.

When Flight 8501 crashed into the Java Sea early Sunday, it was flying at a time that was not cleared by officials, director general of air transport Djoko Murjatmodj said.

“It violated the route permit given, the schedule given, that’s the problem,” he told AFP.

“AirAsia’s permit for the route has been frozen because it violated the route permit given.”

He said the permit would be frozen until investigations were completed.

A statement from transport ministry spokesman J.A. Barata said AirAsia was not permitted to fly the Surabaya-Singapore route on Sundays and had not asked to change its schedule.

Before take-off, the pilot of Flight 8501 had asked for permission to fly at a higher altitude to avoid a storm, but the request was not approved due to other planes above him on the popular route, according to AirNav, Indonesia’s air traffic control.

In his last communication shortly before all contact was lost, he said he wanted to change course to avoid the menacing storm system.

So far 30 bodies have been recovered in the search, which had been narrowed Friday to an area of 1,575 square nautical miles -- a tenth of the size of Thursday’s search -- with 29 ships and 17 aircraft engaged in the operation.

Finding the plane’s black boxes is crucial to determining the cause of the crash.