An AirAsia jet with 162 people on board disappeared Sunday morning while flying from western Indonesia to Singapore on a scheduled two-hour flight. Below is a look at the key developments in the flight’s timeline.
Searchers found objects and oil slicks hundreds of miles apart from each other and were trying to determine whether any of them were connected to AirAsia Flight 8501.
Air Force spokesman Rear Marshal Hadi Tjahnanto told MetroTV that an Indonesian helicopter spotted two oily spots in the Java Sea east of Belitung island, not far from the point where air-traffic controllers lost contact with the plane. He said oil samples would be collected and analyzed to see if they are connected to the missing plane.
Jakarta’s Air Force base commander Rear Marshal Dwi Putranto said an Australian Orion aircraft had detected “suspicious” objects near Nangka island. The objects were about 700 miles (1,120 kilometers) from the location where the plane lost contact.
“We cannot be sure whether it is part of the missing AirAsia plane,” Putranto said. “We are now moving in that direction, which is in cloudy conditions.”
Search and rescue crews have been looking for the plane in at least 15 ships, seven aircraft and four helicopters, national search and rescue spokesman Jusuf Latif said. Most are Indonesian but Singapore, Malaysia, and Australia have contributed planes, and a ship and aircraft from Thailand were awaiting clearance from Indonesian foreign ministry.
Those numbers do not include Indonesian warships taking part in the search. Many fishermen from Belitung island also have joined in, and all vessels in that area of the sea have been alerted to be on the lookout for anything that could be linked to the plane.
The local rescue agency in East Belitung, the closest district to the area where the plane disappeared from radar, deployed more than 10 boats near Nangka island following reports that people there had heard an explosion Sunday morning. Andriandi, the head of the agency, said the vessels searched around several small islands but found no clue to the plane’s whereabouts.
Soelstyo, head of the national search and rescue agency, said that if the plane is found on the sea floor, Indonesia lacks the capability to haul it to the surface, so the agency and the foreign ministry are arranging to borrow equipment from the United Kingdom, France, or the United States.
The Search Area
Djoko Murjatmodjo, Indonesia’s acting director general of transportation, said the Airbus A320-200 is believed to have gone missing somewhere over the Java Sea between Tanjung Pandan on Belitung island and Pontianak, on Indonesia’s part of Borneo island. Authorities on Monday greatly expanded the search area, which covers tens of thousands of square kilometers.
Cockpit Request Denied
In the cockpit’s last communication with air traffic control, one of the pilots asked to turn left and climb to 11,582 meters (38,000 feet) to avoid clouds. Air traffic control was not able to immediately grant the request because another plane was in airspace at 34,000 feet, said Bambang Tjahjono, director of the state-owned company in charge of air-traffic control. He said that by the time clearance could be given, Flight 8501 had disappeared.
Families in Shock
Dozens of relatives of those aboard the plane waited in agony for any word in a room at Surabaya airport.
In Sidoarjo, the East Java home of the pilot, Iryanto, neighbors, relatives and friends gathered Monday to pray and recite the Quran to support the distraught family. Neighbors described Iryanto as an experienced Air Force pilot who flew F-16 fighter jets before becoming a commercial airline pilot, and said he had been the neighborhood chief for the last two years.
The CEO’s Response
Malaysian businessman Tony Fernandes, AirAsia’s chief and the face of the company, said on Twitter, “My heart bleeds for all the relatives of my crew” and the passengers. He did not address compensation issues or any changes that may be made to the airline as a result of this incident, but tweeted that among Indonesians he has received “nothing but pure support.
Keeping positive and staying strong. My heart bleeds for all the relatives of my crew and our passangers. Nothing is more important to us.
— Tony Fernandes (@tonyfernandes) December 29, 2014
Speaking to reporters at Jakarta’s airport, Fernandez noted that AirAsia had zero fatal accidents before Sunday and added, “any airline CEO who says he can guarantee that his airline is 100 percent safe, is not accurate.”
“We have carried 220 million people up to this point,” he said. “Of course, there’s going to be some reaction, but we are confident in our ability to fly people, and we’ll continue to be strong and continue to carry people who never could fly before.”
AirAsia, a low-cost carrier, has dominated cheap traveling in the region for years with about 100 destinations and affiliate companies in several Asian countries.
Reporting by The Associated Press