AirAsia Update: Two 'large objects' found; bodies of 30 victims recovered so far - Emirates24|7

AirAsia Update: Two 'large objects' found; bodies of 30 victims recovered so far

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Ships searching for the wreck of an AirAsia passenger have pinpointed two ‘big objects’ on the sea floor, the head of Indonesia's search and rescue agency said on Saturday.

The Airbus A320-200 plunged into the Java Sea on Sunday while en route from Indonesia's second-biggest city Surabaya to Singapore. No survivors have been found.

"We have detected two objects underwater (at) 30 metres depth," said search and rescue agency chief Fransiskus Bambang Soelistyo. "At this moment we are operating the ROV to take pictures of the objects."

The latest break in the massive search and recovery operation comes after Indonesian authorities questioned whether the pilot had followed correct weather report procedures, and suspended Indonesia AirAsia's Surabaya to Singapore flights for apparently infringing the terms of its licence for the route.


[Caskets containing the remains of passengers from AirAsia QZ8501 are carried into an Indonesian military cargo plane to be transported back to Surabaya where the flight originated, at the airport in Pangkalan Bun, Central Kalimantan January 3, 2015 (Reuters)]

The first object measured 9.4 metres by 4.8 metres by 0.4 metres (30 feet by 15 feet by 1.3 feet), while the second is 7.2 metres by 0.5 metres (24 feet by 1.6 feet), he said.

Officials said 21 bodies were pulled from the sea on Friday, including two still strapped in their seats, bringing the total number of victims recovered to 30.

First victim buried; 9 bodies retrieved so far

Relatives held the first funeral for a victim of AirAsia Flight QZ8501 Thursday as bad weather hampered efforts to locate the wreckage of the plane which crashed in the sea off Borneo with 162 aboard.

Nine bodies have so far been retrieved in the search for the Airbus A320-200, which disappeared from radar during a storm Sunday en route from Indonesia's second city of Surabaya to Singapore.

Search officials said the return of rough weather was hindering efforts to locate the plane and the rest of the bodies.

"The problem we faced today is unfriendly weather conditions," search and rescue agency chief Bambang Soelistyo told a press conference. "The waves were between three and four metres."

Pointing to weather charts, he said the search teams would persevere even though conditions were expected to remain bad for days to come.

"From tomorrow until the fourth, with the existing forces, calculations and tactics we have, we will still be fighting, but I hope we can still get some results despite having to face such conditions."


Indonesian military officers examine a piece of wreckage from AirAsia flight QZ8501, lost over the Java Sea, at the military base in Pangkalan Bun, the town with the nearest airstrip to the crash site, in Central Kalimantan on January 2, 2015. Relatives held the first funeral for a victim of AirAsia Flight QZ8501 on January 1 as bad weather hampered efforts to locate the wreckage of the plane which crashed in the sea off Borneo with 162 aboard on December 28. AFP

He said a National Transport Safety Committee team was in Pangkalun Bun, a town on Borneo island with the nearest airstrip to the crash site.

"Tomorrow they will depart to try to find the flight recorder," he said.

French and Singaporean experts were also set to join the search for the black boxes, which are crucial to determining the cause of the crash.

First funeral

The first funeral took place Thursday afternoon after one of the bodies was formally identified as a woman named Hayati Lutfiah Hami, and was handed over to her family in Surabaya.

After prayers at her home, the coffin was taken for burial at a Muslim cemetery nearby, with more than a hundred neighbours in attendance.

"I am grateful to God that my sister-in-law was found and I hope the rescuers find the others as soon as possible," Agung Wahyu Darmono, 38, said.

Police said they were still working on formal identification of one young man.


Indonesian Air Force personnel carry suspected debris after it was delivered by helicopter from a recovery mission for the missing AirAsia flight QZ850 at the airport in Pangkalan Bun, Central Kalimantan January 2, 2015. REUTERS

A crisis centre for identifying the victims has been set up at a hospital in Surabaya with facilities to store 150 bodies.

AirAsia chief Tony Fernandes said Thursday the search appeared to be closing in on its final location.

"I am hoping that the latest information is correct and aircraft has been found. Please all hope together. This is so important," Fernandes said on Twitter.

It was not clear what his source was and the Indonesian naval commander heading the international search fleet was more cautious.

"We cannot be sure," of the exact location, First Admiral Rasyid Kacong, commander of the warship KRI Banda Aceh, told AFP.

"The plan is we want some divers to embark on the Banda Aceh. Then we can go to the suspected location," he said.

"I can only be sure that it is a plane after we dive. We are also looking for the black boxes."

Search for black boxes

Indonesian national air safety investigator Toos Sanitioso told AFP they "hope optimistically" to find the plane in the near future but warned it could take at least a week.

The plane is believed to be in relatively shallow water of around 25-32 metres (82-105 feet).

During searches Tuesday, which retrieved wreckage giving the first confirmation that the flight had crashed, an air force plane saw a "shadow" on the seabed believed to be the missing plane. All efforts are now being concentrated there.


Members of an Indonesian search and rescue team carry the body of a victim recovered in the search for wreckage of AirAsia flight QZ8501, lost over the Java Sea, in Pangkalan Bun, the town with the nearest airstrip to the crash site, in Central Kalimantan on January 2, 2015. Relatives held the first funeral for a victim of AirAsia Flight QZ8501 on January 1 as bad weather hampered efforts to locate the wreckage of the plane which crashed in the sea off Borneo with 162 aboard on December 28. AFP

Debris found so far includes an exit door, an emergency slide, several suitcases and part of an AirAsia trolley.

Before take-off the pilot had asked for permission to fly at a higher altitude to avoid a storm. But his 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, Captain Iriyanto, an experienced former air force pilot, said he wanted to change course to avoid the menacing storm system. Then all contact was lost, about 40 minutes after the plane had taken off.

Of the 162 passengers and crew on board Flight QZ8501, 155 were Indonesian, with three South Koreans, one Singaporean, one Malaysian, one Briton and a Frenchman -- co-pilot Remi Plesel.

The plane was operated by AirAsia Indonesia, a unit of Malaysia-based AirAsia, which previously had a solid safety record.

The crash came at the end of a disastrous year for Malaysian air travel.

After the disappearance of Flight MH370 in March, en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 passengers and crew, another Malaysia Airlines flight -- MH17 -- was shot down over Ukraine in July, killing all 298 on board.

In further bad news for AirAsia, one of its pilots tested positive for morphine, AirAsia Indonesia president director Sunu Widyatmoko said Thursday, adding however that further tests were needed since the pilot had been taking flu medicine which could give a false result.

Earlier, as search teams hunt for the black boxes of AirAsia Flight QZ8501, analysts say the pilot may have managed to make an emergency water landing, only for the plane to be overcome by high seas.

The Airbus A320-200 left the Indonesian city of Surabaya early Sunday and disappeared from radar over the Java Sea during a storm, but it failed to send the transmissions normally emitted when a plane crashes or is submerged.

Experts say this suggests the experienced former air force pilot, Captain Iriyanto, conducted an emergency water landing which did not have a destructive impact.

"The emergency locator transmitter (ELT) would work on impact, be that land, sea or the sides of a mountain, and my analysis is it didn't work because there was no major impact during landing," said Dudi Sudibyo, a senior editor of aviation magazine ‘Angkasa.’

"The pilot managed to land it on the sea's surface," he added.

The plane, carrying 162 people to Singapore, was cruising at a height of 32,000 feet when the pilot requested a change of course to avoid storms.

Although permission was granted to turn left, the pilot was not immediately allowed to ascend owing to heavy air traffic, and the plane disappeared from radar soon afterwards.

Some analysts have suggested the plane stalled because it was travelling too slowly or climbed too steeply. It is unclear why there was no mayday distress signal from the cockpit.

Indonesia's search team scoured the sea for more than 48 hours before the first debris was spotted off the island of Borneo after a tip-off from fishermen.

Mid-air explosion unlikely

So far the search team has found eight bodies which appear to be intact.

"The conclusions I have come to so far are that the plane did not blow up mid-air, and it did not suffer an impact when it hit a surface, because if it did so then the bodies would not be intact," Chappy Hakim, a former air force commander, told AFP.

The fuselage is also thought to be largely intact after aerial searchers saw a ‘shadow’ on the seabed, where operations are now being focused.

An emergency exit door and an inflatable slide were among the first items recovered by the search team, suggesting the first passengers may have started the evacuation process once the plane landed on water.

Former transport minister Jusman Syafii Djamal was convinced the discovery of the floating exit door meant "someone had opened it".

Passengers may have been waiting for a flight attendant to inflate a life raft when a high wave hit the nose and sank the plane, Djamal added.

"High waves may have hit the plane, the nose, and sunk the plane."

Flight safety standards require that all passengers can be evacuated from a plane in 90 seconds.

The cause and more details of the crash will remain unclear until investigators find the all-important black boxes, which will answer questions such as why the underwater locator beacon did not work.

Experts from France and Singapore have joined Indonesian transport safety investigators in their hunt for wreckage of the plane operated by AirAsia Indonesia, a unit of Malaysia-based AirAsia which previously had a good safety record.

If found, the cockpit voice recorder should detail the conversations of the pilots for the whole of the short flight and reveal their last moments.

"We can only find out from the black box," said Sudibyo.

EARLIER REPORT

Bodies recovered so far have been fully clothed, including a flight attendant

A break in bad weather on Thursday raised hopes that divers would be able to investigate what is believed to be the sunken wreck of an AirAsia jet off Borneo and retrieve the plane's black box that should explain the cause of the crash.

The Airbus A320-200, carrying 162 people, fell from the sky while trying to climb above stormy weather early on Sunday, during a flight from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore. The pilots did not issue a distress signal.

So far, at least eight bodies have been recovered from waters near where sonar has detected a large, dark object on the ocean floor, lying just 30-50 metres (100-165 feet) deep. But so far rough seas have prevented divers from investigating it.

"They will try again this morning," said Siahala Alamsyah, a naval officer involved in the search. He said that on Wednesday night, bad weather had prevented a team of 47 Indonesian Navy divers from even flying out to warships at the crash site.

However, the skies over Pangkalan Bun air base near the site cleared on Thursday morning and the seas calmed, raising hopes that the search effort could be stepped up.

The plane's black box flight data and cockpit voice recorder should help solve the mystery of the crash. Investigators are working on a theory that it went into aerodynamic stall as the pilot climbed steeply to avoid a storm.

Bodies recovered from the Java Sea are being taken in numbered coffins to Surabaya, where relatives of the victims have gathered, for identification. Authorities have been collecting DNA from the relatives to help identify the bodies.

Some of the bodies recovered so far have been fully clothed, including a flight attendant still wearing her AirAsia uniform. That could indicate the Airbus was intact when it hit the water and also support the aerodynamic stall theory.

Most of the 162 people on board were Indonesians. No survivors have been found.

Hunt for ‘Black Box’

Strong wind and waves hampered the search, and with visibility at less than a kilometre (half a mile), the air operation was called off on Wednesday afternoon.

Speaking on Wednesday evening, Fransiskus Bambang Soelistyo, the head of the search and rescue agency, said the weather was "challenging in the field, with waves up to 5 metres high, wind reaching 40 km per hour (and) heavy rain, especially in the search area."

Indonesian President Joko Widodo said his priority was retrieving the bodies.

Relatives, many of whom collapsed in grief when they saw the first grim television pictures confirming their fears on Tuesday, held prayers at a crisis centre at Surabaya airport.

Earlier, radar data being examined by investigators appeared to show that AirAsia Flight QZ8501 made an ‘unbelievably’ steep climb before it crashed, possibly pushing it beyond the Airbus A320's limits, said a source familiar with the probe's initial findings.

The data was transmitted before the aircraft disappeared from the screens of air traffic controllers in Jakarta on Sunday, added the source, who declined to be identified.

"So far, the numbers taken by the radar are unbelievably high. This rate of climb is very high, too high. It appears to be beyond the performance envelope of the aircraft," he said.


Royal Malaysian Navy search and rescue crews retrieving a victim from AirAsia flight QZ8501 during their search and rescue operations in Indonesia's Java Sea. (AFP)

The source added that the data on which those assumptions had been made were incomplete. Colleagues and friends of the Indonesian captain on board have described him as an experienced and professional pilot.

The preliminary findings sharpen the focus on the role bad weather and the crew's reaction to storms and clouds in the area had to play in the plane's crash into the Java Sea which killed all 162 people on board.

Finding the six-year-old plane's cockpit voice recorder (CVR) and flight data recorder (FDR), more commonly known as black boxes, was vital to complement the radar data already available.

"With the CVR and FDR, we can establish what went on in the cockpit and what was going on with the aircraft. We can conclude if the radar information is accurate," added the source.

Climbing too slowly?

At 6.12 a.m. on Sunday, 36 minutes after taking off from Surabaya's Juanda Airport on a flight to Singapore, the pilot asked for permission to climb to 38,000ft from 32,000ft and deviate to the left to avoid bad weather.

Two minutes later, Jakarta responded by asking QZ8501 to go left seven miles and climb to 34,000ft. There was no response from the cockpit. The aircraft was still detected by the ATC's radar before disappearing at 6.18 a.m.

An image that was reportedly leaked from AirNav Indonesia, which manages the country's air space, and shared on several websites, appeared to show QZ8501 at an altitude of 36,300ft and climbing at a speed of 353 knots.

The source declined to confirm if that image was accurate. Officials from AirNav Indonesia declined to comment.

Two veteran pilots told Reuters that, if accurate, the image and information released so far pointed to the fact that the aircraft may have climbed suddenly and then lost speed.

This can result in the aircraft stalling in mid-air before plunging to the sea, they said.

One pilot explained that an A320 would cruise at a speed of around Mach 0.78 while at an altitude of 32,000ft. That translates into roughly 516 knots.

"If you encounter turbulence, you go slower at what we call the turbulence penetration speed to get through it. If you climb to avoid turbulence, you slow down to have a better climb rate. That could be around Mach 0.76," he said. "But if you climb suddenly and start to lose speed, you will stall."

The source close to the probe said other aircraft in the area at the time of the crash were flying at higher altitudes. Aircraft tracking website flightradar24.com said that they were at between 34,000 and 39,000 feet.

"We know that there was severe local weather and big clouds. But they (the other planes) were higher and did not appear to encounter any major problems. We want to look into that too," added the source.

Industry sources told Reuters that there could be parallels between this incident and the crash of Air France flight AF447 in 2009.

The investigation into that Airbus A330 showed that the co-pilot lost speed readings due to icing on the airframe.

His panic reaction meant that he kept trying to climb despite repeated stall warnings, and the crew failed to recognise the situation, eventually sending the aircraft plunging into the Atlantic.

Incidents like these show that the margin for error at higher altitudes is smaller than at takeoff or lower down, say industry experts.

They add that the A320's systems usually prevent pilots from doing anything outside usual safe flight parameters. But these protections can be disabled in some circumstances, handing control to the pilots and leaving it to manual flying skills.

EARLIER REPORT:

Indonesia believes it has found plane on sea bed

Indonesian rescuers believe they have found the wreck of a crashed AirAsia plane on the ocean floor off Borneo, after sonar detected a large, dark object beneath waters where debris and bodies were found floating.

Ships and planes had been scouring the Java Sea for Flight QZ8501 since Sunday.

Indonesian rescuers have recovered various bits of debris, including luggage, and seven bodies floating in shallow waters.

"It's about 30 to 50 metres (100 to 165 feet) underwater," Hernanto, head of the search and rescue agency in Surabaya, said of the object on the sea bed.

Authorities in Surabaya were making preparations to receive and identify bodies, including arranging 130 ambulances to take victims to a police hospital and collecting DNA from relatives.

"We are praying it is the plane so the evacuation can be done quickly," Hernanto said.

Most of the people on board were Indonesians. No survivors have been found.

Officials said waves two to three metres (six to nine feet) high and winds were hampering the hunt for wreckage and preventing divers from searching the crash zone.

Among the bodies found on Wednesday was a flight attendant.

The fully clothed bodies could indicate the Airbus A320-200 was intact when it hit the water and support a theory that it suffered an aerodynamic stall.

"The fact that the debris appears fairly contained suggests the aircraft broke up when it hit the water, rather than in the air," said Neil Hansford, a former pilot and chairman of consultancy firm Strategic Aviation Solutions.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo said his priority was retrieving the bodies.

"I feel a deep loss over this disaster and pray for the families to be given fortitude and strength," Widodo said in Surabaya on Tuesday after grim images of the scene in the Java Sea were broadcast on television.

Widodo said AirAsia would pay an immediate advance of money to relatives, many of whom collapsed in grief when they saw the television pictures from the search.

AirAsia Chief Executive Tony Fernandes has described the crash as his "worst nightmare".

About 30 ships and 21 aircraft from Indonesia, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and the United States have been involved in the search.

Singapore said it was sending two underwater beacon detectors to try to pick up pings from the black boxes, which contain cockpit voice and flight data recorders.

NO DISTRESS CALL

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.

It was travelling at 32,000 feet (9,753 metres) and had asked to fly at 38,000 feet. When air traffic controllers granted permission for a rise to 34,000 feet a few minutes later, they received no response.

Online discussion among pilots has centred 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 inquiry, adding that poor weather could have played a part as well.

A Qantas pilot with 25 years of experience flying in the region said the discovery of the debris field relatively close to the last known radar plot of the plane pointed to an aerodynamic stall. One possibility is that the plane's instruments iced up, giving the pilots inaccurate readings.

The Indonesian captain, former air force fighter pilot with 6,100 flying hours under his belt, was experienced and the plane last underwent maintenance in mid-November, said the airline, which is 49 per cent owned by Malaysia-based budget carrier AirAsia.

EARLIER REPORT: A body recovered from the crashed AirAsia plane on Wednesday was wearing a life jacket, an official with Indonesia's search and rescue agency said.

"This morning, we recovered a total of four bodies and one of them was wearing a life jacket," said Tatang Zaenudin, an official with the search and rescue agency.

Bad weather hampers search

Ships and planes resumed the search for wreckage, bodies and black boxes of a doomed AirAsia plane on Wednesday after Indonesian rescuers found several bodies and debris floating in shallow waters off the coast of Borneo.


Members of Indonesia's Marine Police board their search and rescue crafts as they prepare a search operation for the missing AirAsia flight QZ8501, at Pangkal Pinang port in Sumatra Island, Monday Dec. 29, 2014 in Indonesia. Search planes and ships from several countries on Monday were scouring Indonesian waters over which the AirAsia jet disappeared, more than a day into the region's latest aviation mystery. The Flight 8501 vanished Sunday in airspace thick with storm clouds on its way from Surabaya, Indonesia, to Singapore. (AP)

Searchers found three bodies on Wednesday morning, including a flight attendant, bringing the total to six so far, said the head of the search and rescue agency, Fransiskus Bambang Soelistyo.

Indonesia's search-and-rescue agency had obtained a sonar image it says may be the body of the missing plane at the bottom of the Java Sea, the ‘Wall Street Journal’ said.

The newspaper quoted the agency as saying the image appeared to show an aircraft upside down in 24-30 metres (78-98 feet) of water.

But waves two to three metres (six to nine feet) high and winds prevented divers from searching the crash zone for the sunken remains.

Relatives distraught as bodies found in sea

Relatives of passengers on AirAsia flight QZ8501 began crying hysterically and fainting on Tuesday as Indonesian television footage showed a body floating in the sea during aerial searches for the plane.

At least two distraught family members were carried out on stretchers from the room where they had been waiting for news in Surabaya, Indonesia's second largest city -- the take-off point for the aircraft that disappeared during a storm on Sunday.

"My heart will be totally crushed if it's true. I will lose a son," 60-year-old Dwijanto, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, told AFP.


Government security officials carry a family member of passengers onboard AirAsia flight QZ8501 after she collapsed at a waiting area in Juanda International Airport, Surabaya, December 30, 2014. (Reuters)

More than 48 hours after the Airbus A320-200 lost contact carrying 162 people to Singapore, aerial searchers spotted items in the Java Sea which officials said were from the plane.

As the first body was shown floating in the water on rolling television news, relatives burst into tears and hugged one another amid cries for more ambulances, said an AFP reporter at the scene.

One man covered his face and had to be held up by two other men before he fainted and was taken out by stretcher. Another woman was screaming and crying as she was supported by the mayor of Surabaya.


An MH-60R helicopter, attached to the USS Sampson (DDG 102), approaches an Indonesian patrol vessel while searching for debris, during the Indonesian-led search and recovery operations for the downed AirAsia flight QZ8501, in the Java Sea in this December 31, 2014 handout photo released by the U.S. Navy. Ships and planes resumed the search for wreckage, bodies and black boxes of the AirAsia plane on Wednesday after Indonesian rescuers found several bodies and debris floating in shallow waters off the coast of Borneo. (REUTERS)

A female AirAsia officer shouted at the television media for showing footage of a floating body, while about 200 journalists were barred from the room holding the families, the windows of which were boarded up.

"Is it possible for you not to show a picture of the dead? Please do not show a picture of a dead body," said the officer. "That's crazy."

'Now there is some closure'

Munif, a 50-year-old whose younger brother Siti Rahmah was on the plane, said he had been trying hard to keep the other families calm.


Members of the Indonesian air force carry items retrieved from the Java sea during search and rescue operations for the missing AirAsia flight QZ8501, in Pangkalan Bun, Central Kalimantan on December 30, 2014. (AFP)


Family members of passengers onboard the missing Malaysian air carrier AirAsia flight QZ8501 react after watching news reports showing an unidentified body floating in the Java sea, inside the crisis-centre set up at Juanda International Airport in Surabaya on December 30, 2014. Items resembling an emergency slide, plane door and other objects were spotted during a aerial search on December 30 for the missing AirAsia plane, according to information from the flight on which AFP was aboard. (AFP)

"But the atmosphere was very different after the footage of a dead body was shown. Families became hysterical," he said.

"Because everyone was wailing and yelling, I couldn't deal with it so I decided to leave the room."

Agus Panjaya, 36, had six relatives on the plane but was prepared for bad news.

"Of course we feel sad about our loved ones but we had prepared ourselves for the worst," said the businessman, who lost his 80-year-old grandmother Go Indree, along with his aunt and uncle and their three children.

"Before this everything was unclear. At least there is now some form of closure. For the past three days, we were really sad. We couldn't sleep well," he told AFP.

Panjaya said he was going to wait in Surabaya for the bodies.

"We don't think of compensation at the moment. As long as the bodies are being brought back, we are already grateful. That's what we are thinking right now," he said.

In Malaysia, families of those on the MH370 flight that went missing without a trace in March hoped those lost in the latest tragedy could at least have a proper burial.

"The families can now have a closure and have a peace of mind which I am dying for," said Selamat Omar, whose 29-year-old son was on the Malaysia Airlines plane.

EARLIER REPORT

Indonesian rescuers searching for an AirAsia plane carrying 162 people pulled bodies and wreckage from the sea off the coast of Borneo on Tuesday, prompting relatives of those on board watching TV footage to break down in tears.

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.


The guided-missile destroyer USS Sampson (DDG 102) arrives for a scheduled port visit in this U.S. Navy handout picture taken at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, November 6, 2014. Sampson has been assigned to assist in the search for AirAsia flight QZ8501 which went missing Sunday morning enroute to Singapore. (REUTERS)

The navy said 40 bodies had been recovered. The plane has yet to be found.

"My heart is filled with sadness for all the families involved in QZ8501," airline boss Tony Fernandes tweeted. "On behalf of AirAsia, my condolences to all. Words cannot express how sorry I am."

The airline said in a statement that it was inviting family members 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 centre in Surabaya wept with heads in their hands. Several people collapsed in grief and were helped away.

"You have to be strong," the mayor of Surabaya, Tri Rismaharini, said as she comforted relatives. "They are not ours, they belong to God."

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 metres 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.


Family members of passengers onboard the missing Malaysian air carrier AirAsia flight QZ8501 react after watching news reports showing an unidentified body floating in the Java sea, inside the crisis-centre set up at Juanda International Airport in Surabaya on December 30, 2014. (AFP)

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 metres) 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.

The aircraft had accumulated about 23,000 flight hours in some 13,600 flights, according to Airbus.


A member of the Indonesian air force carries an item retrieved from the Java sea during search and rescue operations for the missing AirAsia flight, in Pangkalan Bun, Central Kalimantan on December 30, 2014. (AFP)

Online discussion among pilots has centred 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.

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.

Reuters


Indonesian Search and Rescue crews unload one of two bodies of AirAsia passengers recovered from the sea, at the airport in Pangkalan Bun, Central Kalimantan, December 31, 2014. A sonar image showing a large, dark object on the sea bed is believed to be a missing AirAsia plane, an official with Indonesia's search and rescue agency said on Wednesday after bodies and debris were found in the area.
Ships and planes have been scouring the Java Sea for Flight QZ8501 since Sunday, when it vanished with 162 people on board during bad weather about 40 minutes into its flight from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore. (REUTERS)

EARLIER REPORT: Indonesian officials tell local TV 'victims' spotted near site where Air Asia plane disappeared, reported AP.

Tony Fernandes, Group CEO of Air Asia, took to social media to express his grief, saying: “My heart is filled with sadness for all the families involved in QZ8501. On behalf of AirAsia my condolences to all. Words cannot express how sorry I am.”

Fernandes stated he is rushing to Surabaya.

Earlier, an Indonesian transport official said that the red and white debris spotted off the coast of Indonesia's part of Borneo island is likely to be part an Air Asia plane carrying 162 people which is presumed to have crashed two days ago.

Media quoted an air force official as saying a suspected body, luggage and a life vest were among the debris.

"As we approached, the body seemed bloated," said First Lieutenant Tri Wibowo, who was on board a Hercules during the search operation, was quoted by the Kompas.com website as saying.

The sighting of the body was not confirmed. (Reuters)

Pilots could not get OK to change course

Pilots sought permission to climb above threatening clouds. Air traffic control couldn't say yes immediately — there was no room. Six other airliners were crowding the airspace, forcing Air Asia Flight 8501 to remain at a lower altitude.

Minutes later, the jet carrying 162 people was gone from the radar without ever issuing a distress signal. The plane is believed to have crashed into Indonesia's Java Sea, but broad aerial surveys on Monday turned up no firm evidence of the missing Airbus A320-200.

Family members of passengers of missing AirAsia flight QZ8501 gather at Juanda international airport in Surabaya in East Java on December 28, hours after the news the flight went missing. (AFP)

Searchers spotted two oily patches and floating objects in separate locations, but it was not known any of it was related to the plane that vanished Sunday halfway into what should have been a two-hour hop from Surabaya, Indonesia, to Singapore. The area is a busy shipping lane. Officials saw little reason to believe the flight met anything but a grim fate.

An AirAsia Airbus A320 passenger jet lands at Sukarno-Hatta airport in Tangerang on the outskirts of Jakarta in this January 30, 2013 file picture. An AirAsia flight from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore lost contact with air traffic control on December 28, 2014 Indonesian media said, citing a Transport Ministry official. (REUTERS)

Based on the plane's last known coordinates, the aircraft probably crashed into the water and "is at the bottom of the sea," Indonesia search-and-rescue chief Henry Bambang Soelistyo said. Still, searchers planned to expand their efforts onto land on Tuesday.

The last communication from the cockpit to air traffic control was a request by one of the pilots to climb from 32,000 feet (9,754 meters) to 38,000 feet (11,582 meters) because of the weather. The tower was not able to immediately comply because of the other planes, said Bambang Tjahjono, director of the state-owned company in charge of air traffic control. (AP)

Indonesia asks US help in finding missing plane

The State Department said Monday that Indonesia has asked the United States for help in locating a missing Air Asia jet, and the Pentagon said it could include detection equipment deployed by air, surface and sub-surface.

The Navy's 7th Fleet said it is sending the USS Sampson, a destroyer. The Pentagon said it could include detection equipment deployed by air, surface and sub-surface.


An Indonesian woman lays flowers as people pray for passengers of the missing AirAsia flight QZ8501 in Malang, East Java on December 30, 2014. The hunt for a missing AirAsia passenger plane appeared over on December 30 as wreckage and dozens of bodies were spotted at sea off Indonesia, prompting raw scenes of emotion from sobbing relatives of the 162 people aboard. (AFP)

The jet carrying 162 people is believed to have crashed into Indonesia's Java Sea. The State Department says no Americans were on board.

The US Embassy in Jakarta received a diplomatic note from Indonesian officials on Monday asking for assistance finding the plane. State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke says the US is identifying how best to help.

The Pentagon's press secretary, Rear Adm. John Kirby, said in a brief statement that while details are being coordinated, the assistance "could include air, surface and sub-surface detection capabilities."

"We stand ready to assist in any way possible," Kirby said.

AirAsia Flight 8501 vanished Sunday morning on its way from Surabaya, Indonesia, to Singapore.

Object spotted in sea not from AirAsia plane: Indonesian VP

An object spotted during a sea search for an AirAsia plane was not from the aircraft, Indonesia's vice president said on Monday, after reports that an Australian surveillance aircraft had found something.

"It has been checked and no sufficient evidence was found to confirm what was reported," Jusuf Kalla told a press conference at Surabaya airport from where the ill-fated plane departed.

Kalla said there were 15 ships and 30 aircraft searching the area.

A Changi Airport staff holds up a sign to direct possible next-of-kins of passengers of AirAsia flight QZ 8501 from Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore, at Changi Airport in Singapore December 28, 2014. Indonesia's Transport Ministry official Hadi Mustofa said the aircraft, flight number QZ 8501, lost contact with the Jakarta air traffic control tower on Sunday at 6:17 a.m local time (2317 GMT). The Airbus 320-200 had 155 passengers and crew on board, another Indonesian Transport official said. (REUTERS)

"It is not an easy operation in the sea, especially in bad weather like this," he said.

Indonesian Air Force spokesman Hadi Tjahjanto told AFP the search was now focused on a patch of oil spotted off Belitung island in the Java Sea.

"We are making sure whether it was avtur (aviation fuel) from the AirAsia plane or from a vessel because that location is a shipping line," he said.

Australia, Singapore and Malaysia have deployed planes and ships to assist in the Indonesian search for Flight QZ8501, which disappeared over the Java Sea on Sunday en route to Singapore. (AFP)

Australian plane spots objects in sea

An Indonesian official says objects have been spotted in the sea by a search plane hunting for the missing AirAsia jet.

Jakarta's Air Force base commander Rear Marshal Dwi Putranto says he was informed on Monday that an Australian Orion aircraft had detected suspicious objects near Nangka island, about 160km southwest of Pangkalan Bun, near central Kalimantan, or 1,120km from the location where the plane lost contact.


Passengers wait at the AirAsia check-in counter inside terminal 1 at Changi international airport in Singapore on December 28, 2014. AirAsia flight QZ8501 with 162 people on board went missing en route from Indonesia to Singapore on December 28, officials and the airline said, in the third major incident to affect a Malaysian carrier this year. (AFP)

"However, we cannot be sure whether it is part of the missing AirAsia plane," Putranto says, "We are now moving in that direction, which is in cloudy conditions."

Air Asia plane likely 'at bottom of sea': Indonesia search chief

The Air Asia plane which went missing with 162 people on board en route for Singapore is likely at the bottom of the sea, Indonesia's National Search and Rescue Agency chief said Monday.

"Based on the coordinates given to us and evaluation that the estimated crash position is in the sea, the hypothesis is the plane is at the bottom of the sea," Bambang Soelistyo told a press conference.

"That's the preliminary suspicion and it can develop based on the evaluation of the result of our search."

Meanwhile, in its latest statement the carrier said: "AirAsia Indonesia has received confirmation from The National Search and Rescue Agency Republic of Indonesia (Basarnas) that an international search and rescue mission from Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia has been mobilized in the search of flight QZ8501.”

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EARLIER STORIES

Indonesia searches Java Sea

Indonesia searched the Java Sea on Monday for an AirAsia plane carrying 162 people that went missing after its pilot failed to gain permission to alter course to avoid a storm cell during a flight from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore.

Flight QZ8501 did not issue a distress signal and disappeared five minutes after requesting a change of course on Sunday, said government and transport officials.


People queue at an AirAsia sales counter in terminal 1 at Changi international airport in Singapore on December 28, 2014. AirAsia flight QZ8501 with 162 people on board went missing en route from Indonesia to Singapore on December 28, officials and the airline said, in the third major incident to affect a Malaysian carrier this year. (AFP)

Air Force spokesman Hadi Thahjanto said two C-130 Hercules planes were focusing their search efforts in areas northeast of Indonesia's Bangka island, which lies roughly halfway between Surabaya and Singapore, in the Java Sea.

Singapore said it had sent two naval vessels to help look for the Airbus A320-200 operated by Indonesia AirAsia, adding a C-130 took part in the search on Sunday.

Malaysia would send three naval vessels and a C-130 to assist, Singapore's Channel News Asia television reported. An Australian P3 Orion surveillance plane left Darwin to join the search, Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio said. The United States, Britain, South Korea and India also offered help.

"We have been coordinating with parties from Singapore, Malaysia and Australia who have (expressed) a willingness to assist," Tataog Zainuddin, director of operations at the Indonesian National Search and Rescue Agency, told Reuters.

Indonesia halts search for missing plane as night falls

Indonesia called off until first light a search for an AirAsia plane with 162 people on board that went missing on Sunday after pilots asked to change course to avoid bad weather during a flight from Indonesia's Surabaya city to Singapore.

Indonesia AirAsia Flight QZ8501, an Airbus 320-200 carrying 155 passengers and seven crew, lost contact with Jakarta air traffic control at 6:17 a.m. (2317 GMT on Saturday). No distress signal had been sent, said Joko Muryo Atmodjo, an Indonesian transport ministry official.

On board were 155 Indonesians, three South Koreans and one each from Singapore, Malaysia and Britain, plus a French pilot, the airline said in a statement, correcting earlier information.

Tatang Kurniadi, head of Indonesia's National Committee of Safety Transportation, expressed hope of locating the aircraft quickly and said it was too early to detect any of the so-called electronic pings from its black box recorder.


Family members of passengers of missing AirAsia flight QZ8501 gather at Juanda international airport in Surabaya in East Java on December 28, hours after the news the flight went missing. (AFP)

"We are using our capacity to search on sea and land. Hopefully we can find the location of the plane as soon as possible," he told a news conference.

"What I need to emphasise is until now, we have not found out how the plane fell or what kind of emergency it was."

Indonesia AirAsia is 49 per cent owned by Malaysia-based budget carrier AirAsia, which has had a clean safety record since it began operating 13 years ago. The AirAsia group also has affiliates in Thailand, the Philippines and India.

The aircraft had accumulated approximately 23,000 flight hours in some 13,600 flights, according to Airbus.

The pilots of QZ8501 "was requesting deviation due to en-route weather before communication with the aircraft was lost," the airline said in a statement.

Singapore, Malaysia, Britain, South Korea and Australia offered to help in the search and any investigation. Malaysia said it was sending vessels and a C130 aircraft while Singapore had also sent a C130. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said a P3 Orion aircraft was on standby if needed.

ANXIOUS RELATIVES

Flight QZ8501 was between Tanjung Pandan on Indonesia's Belitung island and Pontianak, in West Kalimantan province on Borneo - almost halfway between Surabaya and Singapore - when it went missing. There was bad weather over Belitung at the time and the aircraft had been flying at 32,000 feet before asking to fly at 38,000 feet to avoid clouds.

In both Surabaya and Singapore, anxious relatives of people on the plane awaited news.

Louise Sidharta was at Singapore's Changi Airport waiting for her fiancée to return from a family holiday.

"It was supposed to be their last vacation before we got married," she said.

A man named Purnomo told TVOne in Surabaya of a lucky escape.

"I should have been on the flight," he said. "We, seven people, had planned to go to Singapore for vacation but this morning I had an emergency. I had my passport in hand."


Family members of passengers of missing Malaysian air carrier AirAsia flight QZ8501 gather at Juanda international airport in Surabaya in East Java on December 28, 2014 hours after the news the flight went missing. The AirAsia Airbus plane with 162 people on board went missing en route from Indonesia to Singapore early on December 28, officials and the airline said, in the third major incident to affect a Malaysian carrier this year. (AFP)

Tony Fernandes, chief of Malaysia's AirAsia, said he was heading to Surabaya.

"My only thoughts are with the passengers and my crew. We put our hope in the SAR (search and rescue) operation and thank the Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysian governments," he said on Twitter.

AirAsia swapped its distinctive bright red logo for a grey background on its website and social media accounts.

EARLER UPDATE: Search halted for missing AirAsia jet as night falls

Rescuers scouring the Java Sea for a missing AirAsia plane with 162 aboard halted their search at nightfall on Sunday, Indonesia's transport ministry said.

"We ended at 5:30 pm (1030 GMT) because it was getting dark. The weather was also not too good as it was getting really cloudy," transport ministry official Hadi Mustofa told AFP.


Family members of passengers of missing Malaysian air carrier AirAsia flight QZ8501 gather at Juanda international airport in Surabaya in East Java on December 28, 2014 hours after the news the flight went missing. The AirAsia Airbus plane with 162 people on board went missing en route from Indonesia to Singapore early on December 28, officials and the airline said, in the third major incident to affect a Malaysian carrier this year. (AFP)

"Tomorrow we will begin at 7 am, or even earlier than that if the weather is good," he added.

Missing flight had asked to fly higher to avoid clouds

The Indonesia AirAsia flight that went missing on Sunday was about half way between its origin of Surabaya in Indonesia and its destination of Singapore, an Indonesian transport official said.

The aircraft was between the Indonesian port of Tanjung Pandan and the town of Pontianak, in West Kalimantan on Borneo island, when it went missing, Joko Muryo Atmodjo, air transportation director at the Transport Ministry, told a news conference.


Family members of passengers of missing Malaysian air carrier AirAsia flight QZ8501 gather at Juanda international airport in Surabaya in East Java on December 28, 2014 hours after the news the flight went missing. The AirAsia Airbus plane with 162 people on board went missing en route from Indonesia to Singapore early on December 28, officials and the airline said, in the third major incident to affect a Malaysian carrier this year. (AFP)

The aircraft had been flying at 32,000 feet and had asked to fly at 38,000 feet to avoid clouds, he said.

3 South Koreans on board missing flight

South Korea's foreign ministry said on Sunday there were at least three South Koreans on board the missing Indonesia AirAsia.

The three passengers confirmed by Indonesian authorities to the South Korean foreign ministry were one male and one female in their thirties and an infant, the ministry said.

Britain confirms one of its nationals on missing jet

A British national was on board the AirAsia plane carrying 162 people that went missing in bad weather Sunday en route from Indonesia to Singapore, the Foreign Office confirmed.


Authorities monitor progress in the search for AirAsia Flight QZ8501 in the Mission Control Center inside the National Search and Rescue Agency in Jakarta. (Reuters)

"We are aware of an incident regarding Air Asia flight QZ 8501," said a statement from the ministry. "We have been informed by the local authorities that one British national was on board. Their next of kin has been informed, and we stand ready to provide consular assistance."

EARLIER REPORT

An Air Asia flight bound for Singapore from Indonesia has lost contact with air traffic control in the early hours of Sunday with 162 people on board.

The airline has confirmed the news, stating flight QZ8501, departing from Surabaya, Indonesia, went missing at 7.24am (Indonesian time).


AirAsia Group CEO Tony Fernandes ponders during a press conference at Juanda International Airport in Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia. (AP)

Air Asia stated the missing plane had 155 passengers on board, with 138 adults, 16 children and one infant.

Also on board were two pilots and five cabin crew.

In a statement the airline further added: “The nationalities of passengers and crew onboard are as follows: one Singapore, one Malaysia, one France, three South Korea and 156 Indonesia.”


A flight arrival information signboard shows the status of AirAsia flight QZ 8501 from Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore at Changi Airport in Singapore December 28, 2014. Indonesia's Transport Ministry official Hadi Mustofa said the aircraft, flight number QZ 8501, lost contact with the Jakarta air traffic control tower on Sunday at 6:17 a.m local time. (2317 GMT). The Airbus 320-200 had 155 passengers and crew on board, another Indonesian Transport official said. (REUTERS)

Live flight tracking website, Flight Radar 24, stated the AirAsia QZ8501 was flying at 32,000 feet over the Java Sea when the ADS-B signal was lost.

In a statement, the airline said: “AirAsia Indonesia regrets to confirm that flight QZ8501 from Surabaya to Singapore has lost contact with air traffic control at 07:24 (Surabaya LT) this morning.

“The flight took off from Juanda International Airport in Surabaya at 0535hours.

“The aircraft was an Airbus A320-200 with the registration number PK-AXC. There were two pilots, four flight attendants and one engineer on board.”

The airline has also revealed the captain in command had a total of 6,100 flying hours and the first officer a total of 2,275 flying hours.”

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The statement further adds that at this time, search and rescue operations are being conducted under the guidance of The Indonesia of Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

“The aircraft was on the submitted flight plan route and was requesting deviation due to en route weather before communication with the aircraft was lost while it was still under the control of the Indonesian Air Traffic Control (ATC),” it added.

The aircraft had undergone its last scheduled maintenance on 16 November 2014.

The aircraft was an Airbus A320-200 with the registration number PK-AXC.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) also issued a statement to the same, saying: “Indonesia AirAsia has advised that one Singaporean is on board the missing flight, QZ8501.

“We have already made contact with the relatives of the Singaporean and are providing them with all necessary assistance and support.

“A Relatives’ Area (RA) at Changi Airport Terminal 2 has been set up to provide assistance to next-of-kin (NOK) of passengers on-board. NOKs are advised to go to the information counter located in the middle of Terminal 2 Arrival Hall (Level 1).”

It further added: “We remain ready to provide any assistance to support the search and rescue effort. The CAAS and Changi Airport Group (CAG) Crisis Management Centres have already been activated.

“We are working with the airline’s crisis management team,” said the CAAS.

The aircraft was in the Indonesian Flight Information Region (FIR) when contact was lost, more than 200nm southeast of the Singapore-Jakarta FIR boundary.

The CAAS has added two C130s are already on stand-by for assistance in the search and rescue.

Meanwhile, the airline has established an Emergency Call Centre for family or friends of those who may have been on board the aircraft.

For Indonesians, the number is: +622129850801

For Singaporeans, the number is: +60321795950

Air Asia, which is headquartered in Malaysia, is another incident marking a disastrous year for Malaysia’s airlines.

National flag carrier Malaysia Airlines lost two aircraft this year.

Its flight MH370 went missing on March 8 on a trip from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 passengers and crew on board.

On July 17, Flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board.

ALSO READ: Latest reports on missing Malaysian plane MH370

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