Saturday, January 3, 2015

Not permitted to fly but flew

AirAsia flight QZ8501 search team finds four large objects on seabed

  • Wreckage thought to be part of aircraft’s fuselage located
  • Airline’s permit to fly route frozen while crash investigated
Indonesian navy divers prepare their equipment as the search for the wreckage of the AirAsia jet continues
Indonesian navy divers prepare their equipment as the search for the wreckage of the AirAsia jet continues Photograph: Agung Kuncahya B./Agung Kuncahya B./Xinhua Press/Corbis
The search team scouring the ocean floor for the wreckage of the AirAsia plane that crashed off Indonesia have detected four large objects, officials said on Saturday.
The announcement came after the country’s transport ministry said AirAsia flight QZ8501 was flying on an unauthorised schedule, adding that it had now frozen the airline’s permission to fly the route.
The biggest piece of wreckage found, measuring 18 metres (59 feet) buy 5.4 metres, appeared to be part of the jet’s fuselage, Henry Bambang Soelistyo, the head of the National Search and Rescue Agency, said.
Strong currents and big surf have prevented divers from entering waters to get a visual of the wreckage, but officials are hopeful they will find many of the 162 passengers and crew who were aboard the plane still strapped in their seats inside.
After nearly a week of searching, only 30 bodies have been found. Two large parts of the plane were found on the seabed late on Friday.
Indonesia’s acting director general of air transport, Djoko Murdjatmodjo, said earlier on Saturday that officials had not cleared the plane’s flight time, and that the ministry would investigate all AirAsia schedules from Monday.
Flight QZ8501 crashed into the Java Sea with 162 people on board en route from Indonesia’s second city of Surabaya to Singapore early on Sunday.
“It violated the route permit given, the schedule given. That’s the problem,” Murdjatmodjo told Agence France-Presse on Saturday.
The permit would be frozen until investigations were completed, he told Reuters.
AirAsia’s licence in Indonesia might be revoked.
Sunu Widyatmoko, AirAsia Indonesia’s chief, said the airline would cooperate with the inquiry. 
“The government has suspended our flights from Surabaya to Singapore and back,” he said. “They are doing the evaluation process. AirAsia will cooperate fully with the evaluation.”
A statement from the 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. It was unclear how the airliner had been able to fly without the necessary authorisation.
The plane was operated by AirAsia Indonesia, a unit of the Malaysia-based AirAsia, which previously had a solid safety record.
On Saturday, the head of Indonesia’s search and rescue agency said that two large parts of the plane had been found at a depth of around 30 metres, raising hopes that its black boxes would be recovered soon.
Bambang Soelistyo told reporters in Jakarta that the international search team came across the objects 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,” he said.
He said the larger of the two objects was around 10 metres by 5 metres.
“As I speak, we are lowering an ROV [remotely operated vehicle] underwater to get an actual picture of the objects detected on the sea floor,” Soelistyo said.
He added, however, that a strong current was making it difficult to operate the craft.
The families of victims have been preparing funerals as the bodies recovered are identified in Surabaya, where a crisis centre has been set up at a police hospital with facilities to store 150 bodies.
Before takeoff, the pilot of flight QZ8501 had asked for permission to fly at a higher altitude to avoid a storm, but the request was not approved because there were other planes above him on the route, according to AirNav, Indonesia’s air traffic control.
In his last communication shortly before contact was lost, he said he wanted to change course to avoid the menacing storm.

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