THE missing AirAsia jetliner is probably “at the bottom” of the Java Sea, Indonesian officials conceded last night, amid fading hopes for finding any of the 162 passengers and crew alive.
The second day of a vast international search and rescue mission failed to find any trace of the aircraft, which last made contact with air traffic control on Sunday morning after taking off from Surabaya.
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Despite sightings of objects in the sea, Henry Bambang Soelistyo, the head of Indonesia’s search and rescue agency, said it was likely the Airbus A320-200 was on the ocean floor.
He said: “Based on the co-ordinates given to us and evaluation that the estimated crash position is in the sea, the hypothesis is that the plane is at the bottom of the sea.”
Yesterday an Indonesian helicopter saw two oily spots in the water and an Australian search plane spotted objects elsewhere in the Java Sea, but officials said it was too early to know whether either was connected to Flight 8501.
Jakarta’s air force base commander, Rear Marshal Dwi Putranto, said an Australian Orion aircraft detected “suspicious” objects near Nangka island, about 100 miles off central Kalimantan – some 700 miles from where the plane lost contact, but within the greatly expanded search area.
“We cannot be sure whether it is part of the missing AirAsia plane,” Mr Putranto said. “We are now moving in that direction, which is in cloudy conditions.”
Air force spokesman Rear Marshal Hadi Tjahnanto said an Indonesian helicopter spotted two oily spots in the Java Sea east of Belitung island, much closer to where the plane lost contact than the objects viewed from the Australian plane. He said oil samples would be collected and analysed to see if they were connected to the missing plane.
The aircraft vanished in air space thick with storm clouds on its way to Singapore. Wary of bad weather, one of the pilots had asked to raise the plane’s altitude just before it vanished, but was refused because another aircraft was in the way.
The last communication from the cockpit to air traffic control was a request by the pilot to increase altitude from 32,000 feet to 38,000 feet due to the rough weather. By the time clearance could be given, Flight 8501 had disappeared, according to the state-owned air traffic control company.
The twin-engine, single-aisle plane, which never sent a distress signal, was last seen on radar four minutes after the final communication from the cockpit.
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