AIRASIA officals have confirmed debris and bodies found in the sea are from its Airbus A320 aircraft, with which air traffic controllers lost contact on Sunday.
As reports came through of at least 40 bodies being found in the Java Sea, AirAsia chief executive Tony Fernandes said he was “absolutely devastated”.
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The Foreign Office confirmed one of the 155 passengers aboard the flight from Surabaya in Indonesia to Singapore was Briton Choi Chi Man.
AirAsia said the passengers included 17 children and one infant. There were also seven crew members.
Mr Fernandes said: “I am absolutely devastated. This is a very difficult moment for all of us at AirAsia as we await further developments of the search-and-rescue operations, but our first priority now is the wellbeing of the family members of those on board QZ8501.”
AirAsia said: “We regret to inform the National Search and Rescue Agency, Republic of Indonesia (BASARNAS) today confirmed the debris found earlier today is indeed from QZ8501.
“The debris of the aircraft was found in the Karimata Strait around 110 nautical miles south west from Pangkalan Bun [in Indonesia]. There were 155 passengers on board, with 137 adults, 17 children and one infant. Also on board were two pilots, four cabin crew and one engineer.”
The airline’s statement went on: “At the present time, search and rescue operations are still in progress and further investigation of the debris found at the location is still under way.
“AirAsia Indonesia employees have been sent to the site and will be fully co-operating with BASARNAS, the National Transportation Safety Committee and relevant authorities.”
AirAsia’s chief executive, Sunu Widyatmoko, said: “We are sorry to be here today under these tragic circumstances. We would like to extend our sincere sympathies to the family and friends of those on board QZ8501. Our sympathies also go out to the families of our dear colleagues.”
Choi Chi Man, thought to have been living in Singapore, is believed to have been travelling with his daughter Zoe on tickets bought on Boxing Day.Some family members seeing TV pictures of the rescue work in a waiting room at Surabaya airport reportedly screamed and wailed uncontrollably at the sight of debris being found, breaking down in tears while they hugged one another.
The bodies found so far were spotted by the Indian navy, by what appeared to be a lifejacket and an emergency exit door.
Crews in dozens of planes, helicopters and ships were searching and part of the plane’s interior, including an oxygen tank, was taken to the nearest town, Pangkalan Bun, along with a blue plastic suitcase seemingly in perfect condition.
First Admiral Sigit Setiayanta, naval aviation centre commander at Surabaya Air Force base, said some bodies were spotted off Borneo island about ten miles from the plane’s last known co-ordinates. The bodies and wreckage were found about 100 miles from land.
Rescue workers were shown on TV being lowered on ropes from a hovering helicopter to retrieve bodies, their efforts hindered by six-foot waves and strong winds. What appeared to be more wreckage was seen under water, which was clear and about 65ft to 100ft deep.
Pilots of the jet had been worried about the weather on Sunday and sought permission to climb above threatening clouds, but were denied due to heavy air traffic. Minutes later, the jet was gone from the radar without issuing a distress signal.
Nearly all the passengers and crew are Indonesians, who are frequent visitors to Singapore, particularly on holidays. Toulouse-based aircraft company Airbus, whose planes’ wings are made in the UK, said: “The company wishes to offer sincere sympathies.
“In line with international convention, the official investigation into this accident is being led by the Indonesian National Transportation Safety Committee (NTSC), which will be supported by relevant international safety agencies.”
Airbus said the release of all further information related to the progress of the investigation and the publication of findings would be by the NTSC.
Meanwhile, an AirAsia plane was involved in a landing in which passengers had to disembark via emergency slides after an over-shooting of the runway in bad weather at Kalibo on Panay Island in the Philippines.
One passenger, Ms Jet Damazo-Santos, tweeted: “Just landed in Kalibo on an AirAsia flight that overshot runway. Had to deplane using emergency slide.Nobody hurt. Weather was bad. Plane came to very abrupt stop.”
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