Mystery of missing AirAsia missing Flight QZ8501 was partly solved when rescue teams retrieved and tallied a grim inventory of bodies and debris from the crash site off Indonesia coast.
The mystery of Indonesia’s missing airliner was partly solved on Tuesday, when rescue teams retrieved and tallied a grim inventory of bodies and debris from the plane off the coast of southwestern Borneo.
But it remained unknown what caused the plane, AirAsia Flight 8501, to plunge into sea Sunday, less than an hour after taking off from Surabaya bound for Singapore.
Although Indonesian officials did not say so explicitly, their comments on Tuesday suggested that it was unlikely that survivors would be found.
“I am so very sorry for this accident,” Joko Widodo, Indonesia’s president, said before meeting with families of passengers here. “I hope families can stay strong while facing tragedy.”
Throughout the afternoon, the Indonesian authorities built up an inventory of debris collected by ships and helicopters from the sea surface, including life vests, aircraft parts and what appeared to be a small blue suitcase. Indonesian television showed a rescuer descending from a helicopter towards a corpse, which like other bodies found was not wearing a life jacket.
Search and rescue officials said three items in particular — the suitcase and parts identified as an aspirator assembly and a reservoir slide craft — helped them determine that the debris came from Flight 8501.
The Indonesian authorities said the pieces of wreckage were found about 60 miles southeast of the last known position of the plane — the opposite direction from the plane’s path, a fact that was not explained.
Search teams also spotted what they said might be a larger submerged piece of the fuselage of the Airbus A320-200, operated by the Indonesian affiliate of AirAsia.
“My heart is filled with sadness for all the families involved in QZ 8501,” Tony Fernandes, the head of AirAsia, wrote in a Twitter message soon after the debris was discovered. “On behalf of AirAsia my condolences to all. Words cannot express how sorry I am.”
Fernandes later said he did not want to speculate about the cause of the disaster until the plane’s flight data recorders were recovered and analysed, though he noted that “bad weather is the short-term conclusion — weather in southeast Asia is bad now.”
As news spread of the grim discoveries in the sea, some relatives of passengers stood despondently outside the airport in Surabaya.
“I’m still hoping my brother is safe,” said Ifan Joko, standing outside the terminal where relatives and friends had gathered since Sunday. His brother, Charly Gunawan, travelling to Singapore, was among the 162 onboard. “If the passengers are dead, I want the bodies brought back to Surabaya,” Ifan said. “I will pay the bill myself if I have to.”
The crash was a particular loss to Surabaya’s ethnic Chinese community. Flights from Surabaya to Singapore serve as shuttles for residents here who do business in Singapore or have family members there. The air disaster seems to have also disproportionately affected Surabaya’s Christian community.
If passengers from both the AirAsia plane and the Malaysia Airlines flight that disappeared in March are included in the calculations, 1,320 people died in air accidents in 2014, the deadliest year since 2005, according to the Bureau of Aircraft Incidents Archives.
– Thomas Fuller