news Wednesday, March 11, 2015 - 05:30

The News Minute | December 29, 2014 | 07L03 pm IST 

Jakarta: Suspicious looking objects were detected Monday in the Java Sea where an AirAsia plane disappeared as the search operation expanded with more countries joining the sea and aerial hunt.

Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla told a press conference at Surabaya airport that he received reports that an Australian Orion surveillance plane had spotted suspicious looking objects near the Nangka Island, 1,120 km from the point where the jetliner lost contact, Xinhua reported.

However, the vice president said he could not confirm whether the objects were parts of the missing QZ8501 flight.

They "have not been clarified", he said, adding that rescuers and searchers were verifying the reports.

Meanwhile, air force spokesman Hadi Tjahnanto said an Indonesian helicopter had spotted an oil slick some 100 nautical miles (185 km) off the east coast of Belitung island.

"We haven't been able to confirm, however, whether it was the fuel of the AirAsia aircraft," he said.

Earlier, an Indonesian official told the media that the missing jet with 162 people on board was believed to have sunk to the bottom of the sea.

"Because the coordinate that was given to us and the evolution from the calculation point of the flight track is at sea, our early conjecture is that the plane is at the bottom of the sea," said Bambang Sulistyo, head of the National Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas).

Should the projection be true, Indonesia would need to cooperate with other countries to bring the wreckage to the surface, he added.

The Airbus A320-200 disappeared Sunday en route from Surabaya in Indonesia's East Java to Singapore after the pilot requested a change of flight plan due to stormy weather.

The flight lost contact with the ground after air traffic control consented to the pilot's request to change the flight route but it did not approve the request to raise its height of flight to 34,000 feet (10,303 metres).

The aircraft, which sent no distress signal, must have run out of fuel if it kept flying, said Djoko Murjatmodjo, director general of air transport in the Indonesian transport ministry.

Aircraft and ships from Singapore, Malaysia and Australia have been deployed to assist Indonesia's search efforts, which is centred on waters around the Belitung island in the Java Sea across from Kalimantan on Borneo Island.

"Indonesia has engaged six vessels from Basarnas (National Search and Rescue Agency), the navy and the fishery and maritime ministry. From the air, Indonesia has dispatched four helicopters and 15 fixed-wing planes," Sutono, a spokesman at the search and rescue command at Pangkalpinang airport, said Monday,

"Singapore and Malaysia sent C-130 Hercules planes each. Meanwhile Australia sent two maritime patrol AP-3C Orion planes," he told Xinhua.

Areas combed by those planes and vessels were focused on five points in a large quadrant square perspective map that spans to the Indonesian waters near Singapore, he said.

According to AirAsia, a Malaysia-based budget airline, 155 of those on board flight QZ8501 were Indonesians, with three South Koreans and one person each from Singapore, Malaysia, Britain and France, including 16 children and an infant.

The ill-fated plane vanished from the radar screen at 6.17 a.m. Sunday, 42 minutes after it took off from Surabaya in Indonesia's East Java province.

After Sunday's mishap, the Indonesian government vowed to check the safety standards of all AirAsia planes operating in Indonesia.

"We will carry out ramp checks, and also review operation of AirAsia in Indonesia to convince customers that all the activities will be better in the future," Transport Minister Ignasius Jonan told a press conference at Jakarta airport.

The incident is possibly the third Malaysia-linked air disaster this year. Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, a Boeing 777 with 239 people on board, disappeared March 8 after diverting from its Kuala Lumpur-Beijing course. No trace of the jetliner has been found despite massive search efforts.

Months later, MH17, also a Boeing 777, went down July 17 in war-torn eastern Ukraine en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, killing all 298 aboard.

AirAsia, a low-cost carrier established in 2001, has dominated cheap travel in the region for years with about 100 destinations and affiliate companies in several Asian countries. 


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