Investigators searching for the missing AirAsia jet find dozens of bodies, the Indonesian Navy says, as it is confirmed that debris found in the Karimata Strait earlier is from the airliner.
Manahan Simorangkir Kadispenal, a spokesman for Indonesia’s navy, told Reuters that 40 bodies have been found by search and rescue teams looking for the 162 people who were on the Airbus A320-200.
And Tatang Zaenudin, an official at the country’s search and rescue agency, told the agency that the debris found within the presumed crash zone was from the AirAsia jet.
The airline later confirmed that it has also been told by the National Search and Rescue Agency Republic of Indonesia that the debris was indeed from its missing Flight QZ8501.
In a statement, the company said that the debris was found in the Karimata Strait, around 110 nautical miles south west from Pangkalan Bun. It added that it was cooperating with investigators and that search and rescue operations were still in progress, with further investigation of the debris ongoing.
Sunu Widyatmoko, chief executive of AirAsia Indonesia 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.”
Tony Fernandes, the AirAsia group’s chief executive, 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 onboard QZ8501.”
AirAsia Indonesia said it would be inviting family members to Surabaya, “where a dedicated team of care providers will be assigned to each family to ensure that all of their needs are met”.
Debris found by search and rescue teams, thought to be from the missing airliner
The Airbus A320-200 disappeared in poor weather early on Sunday during a flight from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore.
Pictures of floating bodies were broadcast on television and relatives of the missing gathered at the crisis centre in Surabaya were shown weeping, their heads in their hands.
“You have to be strong,” the mayor of Surabaya, Tri Rismaharini, said as she comforted relatives. “They are not ours, they belong to God.”
A navy spokesman said a plane door and oxygen tanks have been recovered and taken away by helicopter for tests. And Djoko Murjatmodjo, acting director general of air transportation at the transportation ministry, told reporters some of the debris spotted was red and white, AirAsia’s colours.
About 30 ships and 21 aircraft from Indonesia, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and the United States were searching up to 10,000 square nautical miles on Tuesday.
The plane, which did not issue a distress signal, disappeared after its pilot failed to get permission to fly higher to avoid bad weather because of heavy air traffic, officials said.
Pilots and aviation experts said thunderstorms, and requests to gain altitude to avoid them, were not unusual in that area.
The Indonesian pilot was experienced and the plane last underwent maintenance in mid-November, the airline said.
Three airline disasters involving Malaysian-affiliated carriers in less than a year have dented confidence in the country’s aviation industry and spooked travellers across the region.
Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 went missing on 8 March on a trip from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 passengers and crew on board and has not been found. On 17 July, the same airline’s Flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board.
On board Flight QZ8501 were 155 Indonesians, three South Koreans, and one person each from Singapore, Malaysia and Britain. The co-pilot was French.
US law enforcement and security officials said passenger and crew lists were being examined but nothing significant had turned up and the incident was regarded as an unexplained accident.
Indonesia AirAsia is 49 per cent owned by Malaysia-based budget carrier AirAsia.
The AirAsia group, including affiliates in Thailand, the Philippines and India, had not suffered a crash since its Malaysian budget operations began in 2002.
India is waiting to know what went wrong with the missing plane and will investigate if AirAsia India is following all safety procedures, a senior Indian aviation ministry official told Reuters. AirAsia India, a joint venture of the Malaysian carrier, started flying this year and is expanding operations.
The plane’s disappearance came at a sensitive time for Indonesia’s aviation authorities, as they strive to improve the country’s safety reputation to match its status as one of the airline industry’s fastest growing markets.