The search resumed at dawn for an AirAsia flight that went missing while flying from Surabaya in Indonesia to Singapore yesterday with 162 people on board.
Indonesian officials remained hopeful of locating the Airbus 320-200 quickly but said it was too early to detect any of the electronic “pings” from the jet’s black box recorder.
“We have resumed the search for the missing AirAsia plane at 6:00 am. We are heading to east Belitung island,” Tatang Zainuddin, deputy operations chief of the national search and rescue agency, said.
“We are sending out four aircraft today to help locate the AirAsia plane. We hope we can find it soon. There will also be help from various search and rescue offices in the cities around the area.
“We are expecting vessels and planes from Malaysia and Singapore. We are processing the papers and hopefully they can join us in an hour at the earliest. We hope we can find the plane as soon as possible.”
Indonesia has also accepted Australia’s offer of a RAAF plane to join the search.
A P-3 Orion left Darwin this morning and is heading to the search area.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott spoke to the Malaysian prime minister and Singaporean prime minister about the missing plane as well as to the Indonesian president last night to convey his sympathies and offer assistance.
Meanwhile, British media identified a British national on board the AirAsia plane as Chi Man Choi, a manager working for Alstom Power electricity company in Indonesia.
The reports said he was travelling with his two-year-old daughter Zoe, who has Singaporean nationality.
His wife and son travelled on an earlier flight.
“We have been informed by the local authorities that one British national was on board,” a ministry statement read.
“Their next of kin has been informed, and we stand ready to provide consular assistance.”
Relatives’ fraught night waiting for news
More than 100 distraught relatives of passengers aboard missing flight QZ8501 spent the night hunkered down at a makeshift crisis centre at Surabaya airport in East Java, waiting anxiously for news.
AirAsia Malaysia chief Tony Fernandes was at the airport himself trying to comfort the families, but the airline could offer little besides food, a hotel for the night and assurances that all was being done to find the lost plane.
“We’ve been given accommodation from AirAsia but I couldn’t rest with this on my mind,” said one man who gave his name as Haryanto and who has four relatives on board.
He said he had been waiting at the airport for 10 hours.
Mr Fernandes, an English Premier League soccer club chairman and former Warner Music executive, addressed the relatives at a makeshift crisis centre set up in offices next to the terminal.
“Indonesian authorities are doing their best now for search and rescue, it’s best not to speculate,” he said.
“Our first priority is to look after the families.”
Information on the fate of the plane that went missing on Sunday is scant.
The pilots asked to change course to avoid bad weather about midway through a journey from Surabaya to Singapore, but issued no distress call.
Indonesia’s air transport director Joko Muryo Atmodjo said the aircraft had been flying at 32,000 feet and had asked to fly at 38,000 feet to avoid clouds before it lost contact.
AirAsia Indonesia yesterday confirmed the flight lost contact with air traffic control at 07:24am (Surabaya time).
The flight took off from Juanda International Airport in Surabaya at 05:35am.
On board were 155 Indonesians, three South Koreans and one each from Singapore, Malaysia and Britain, plus a French pilot.
Singapore, Malaysia, Britain, South Korea and Australia have offered to help in the search and investigation.
AirAsia has not had a crash since it started operating in 2002.
Experts intrigued by lack of distress signal
Neil Hansford, from Strategic Aviation Solutions, said the airline was well regarded for its safety record.
“What enhances it is that the aircraft fleet is very young. This aircraft was only six years old,” Mr Hansford told AM.
“The average fleet in Indonesia AirAsia is 3.6 years, so that’s a very young fleet of Airbus 320s.”
What is intriguing to experts such as Mr Hansford is why no distress signal was sent out.
“Any twin-engine aircraft of this type is quite capable for flying for 60 to 90 minutes on one engine to give you time to make a diversion,” he said.
“Even if he’d lost an engine and hadn’t had a fire, he still could have continued to fly on one engine, but then he would have put out a pan-pan, that he had a fire and he wanted to divert. And there’s no message from the aircraft at all.”
Aviation expert Peter Marosszeky said it looked like the aircraft hit a severe weather event.
“Everything tends to point to the fact that the pilot did request an altitude change to a high altitude maybe at the wrong time, and it was caught in a fairly severe sort of updraft and the aircraft possibly went into a stall condition,” Mr Marosszeky said.
“Also we have to remember that this aeroplane is not a large aircraft, it’s a fairly light aircraft and flying into those severe conditions in the tropics, particularly around the equator, can be very challenging.
“I suspect very strongly that the aircraft maybe should not have been in that area at that time, but that’s another thing for the investigators to talk about.”
Mr Hansford said another aspect of the flight was that an unconfirmed passenger manifest shows 23 people who booked to fly did not show up.
He said this was explainable, but it is something that authorities should investigate.
“If it’s all a connected group, there’s nothing of any complexity in it,” he said.
“But if they were 23 people who just didn’t make it, we could start to wonder why so many people didn’t join the plane.”