AirAsia flight QZ8501: Objects on seabed believed to be wreckage of crashed plane

The aircraft did not have authority to fly the route from Indonesia to Singapore, and its licence could be suspended
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The Independent Online

Four "large objects" that are believed to be part of the wreckage of AirAsia flight QZ8501 have been detected on the ocean floor, officials said yesterday. It has also emerged that the plane did not have authority to fly the route from Indonesia to Singapore that it was travelling when it crashed last weekend.

AirAsia was warned that its licence to fly in Indonesia could be suspended because of the incident, with officials saying they will look into all of the company's flight schedules.

There were 162 people on board the plane – including 155 Indonesians and one Briton – when it crashed on a flight from Surabaya, Indonesia's second largest city, to Singapore. The extensive search operation launched after the disaster appeared to be closing in on the remains of the main fuselage and the all-important flight data and cockpit recorders yesterday, after the discovery of what looked to be debris from the plane on the sea bed.

 

Fransiskus Bambang Soelistyo, chief of the search and rescue agency, said his operation had found four "large objects" at a depth of about 30 metres, using sonar.

"I can assure you these are the parts of the AirAsia plane we have been looking for," he said about the objects, which were discovered on Friday and yesterday.

The largest object was 18 metres long and appeared to be part of the jet's body, he said. An emergency exit door and slide and a backpack with a camera and children's food have also been found.

Another official had said earlier that poor visibility had hampered efforts to capture images of the objects with underwater remote operating vehicles.

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After nearly a week of searching for the victims, rescue teams have so far recovered 30 bodies (Getty)

"The visibility is only two metres," he said. "It's cloudy, making it difficult for the cameras to detect [aircraft parts]."

Concerning the issue of the permit for the route, officials were hoping to begin investigations tomorrow.

"We are going to investigate all AirAsia flight schedules. Hopefully, we can start on Monday. We won't focus on licences, just schedules. It is possible AirAsia's licence in Indonesia might be revoked," Djoko Murdjatmodjo, Indonesia's acting director general of air transportation, told Reuters.

He told Agence France Press that Flight QZ8501 had "violated the route permit given, the schedule given – that's the problem.

"AirAsia's permit for the route has been frozen because it violated the route permit given".

The route could only be used on certain days of the week, which did not include last Sunday – which, in Indonesia's time zone, is when the plane crashed. However, Singapore's Civil Aviation Authority said yesterday that from its end, the airline had been approved to fly the route daily. Sunu Widyatmoko, Indonesia AirAsia chief, told reporters the airline would co-operate with the inquiry.

"The government has suspended our flights from Surabaya to Singapore and back," he said. "They are doing the evaluation process. AirAsia will co-operate fully with the evaluation."

The Airbus A320-200 was flying at 32,000 feet, and the pilot had asked to climb to 38,000 feet to avoid threatening clouds just before contact was lost. Permission to climb higher was initially denied because of heavy air traffic. When air traffic controllers granted permission to fly at 34,000 feet a few minutes later, there was no response.

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A source close to the investigation told Reuters that the radar data appeared to show the aircraft made an "unbelievably" steep climb before it crashed, which could have pushed the plane into a fatal stall.

It remains to be seen if the weather played a role in the crash, although a report by Indonesia's Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) said the plane "appears to have been trapped in bad weather that would have been difficult to avoid".

BMKG found that conditions at the time of the plane's disappearance suggested it had probably flown into a storm and encountered extremely icy conditions.

"From our data it looks like the last location of the plane had very bad weather and it was the biggest factor behind the crash," said Edvin Aldrian, head of research at BMKG. "These icy conditions can stall the engines of the plane and freeze and damage the plane's machinery," he added. He noted, however, that it was an initial finding and not the official conclusion.

After nearly a week of searching for the victims, rescue teams battling monsoon rains have so far recovered 30 bodies; a number of victims have been identified and some bodies have been returned to family members for burial. No survivors have been found.

"Many passengers are believed to be still trapped inside the plane's fuselage and could be discovered soon," said Suryadi Supriyadi, director of operations at the search and rescue agency, adding that he hoped to complete the recovery in the coming days.

AirAsia's founder, Tony Fernandes, who is also chairman of the Premier League football team Queens Park Rangers, has been providing updates and expressing his sorrow about the crash on Twitter.

The airline previously had a good safety record with no fatal accidents since it began in 2002. "I cannot describe how I feel. There are no words," Mr Fernandes tweeted.

He added that messages of support for his staff from across Asia had made him "sure we will come back stronger", but added that the "first and only priority is families" of the deceased.

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