No trace of AirAsia plane, second day's search futile

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Jakarta, Dec 29: No significant sign has been found after the second day's search for the missing AirAsia flight QZ8501 Monday, a senior official of Indonesia's seacrh and rescue agency said while another official dismally said the plane might well be at the bottom of the sea.

All efforts to locate the missing plane would continue in the coming days, Sutono, a senior official of the Indonesian Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas), said on the sidelines of a teleconference with Indonesian President Joko Widodo.

AirAsia

Asked on findings of alleged debris of QZ8501 near the Nangka island in the Java Sea by an Australian AP-3C Orion plane and spotting of an oil slick and debris off the eastern Belitung island, Sutono said there has been no credible evidence to confirm those reports.

"We will survey them again tomorrow. The search would still be conducted from sunrise to dusk. We have seven days to search for the plane, which could be extended depending on developments of search operations," Sutono told Xinhua.

The search and rescue command centre, set up in the Pangkalpinang airport premises, is supervising the joint international search for the missing plane, focusing on waters between Bangka Belitung and West Kalimantan provinces and the Karimata Strait.

Singapore, Malaysia and Australia have sent planes and vessels to join in the search operation, and a South Korean AP-3C Orion plane is scheduled to arrive Tuesday.

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 at 6.17 a.m. after air traffic control consented to the pilot's request to change the flight route but it did not approve the request to raise the 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.

The ill-fated plane was carrying 162 people, including 155 Indonesians, three South Koreans, and one person each from Malaysia, Singapore, Britain and France.

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.

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.

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 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 Basarnas.

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

Indonesian Transport Minister Ignasius Jonan Monday said the ministry would review the operations of AirAsia Indonesia following Sunday's incident.

"We will review the entire operations of AirAsia Indonesia to make sure its performance can be better in future," Jonan said at a press conference.

"We will review a lot of things, including its business operations so that we can later see safety improvements," the Jakarta Post quoted the minister as saying.

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 yet despite massive international search efforts.

Months later, flight 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.

According to a report, AirAsia's share price dropped to a low of 2.56 Malaysian ringgits (about $0.73) Monday following the disappearance of flight QZ8501.

The shares fell 7.8 percent, the biggest drop since September 2011, Xinhua reported.

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

IANS

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