AirAsia flight QZ8501: Search crews find tail of plane in Java Sea

The discovery has raised hopes of finding the aircraft's black boxes

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The Independent Online

Eleven days after AirAsia flight QZ8501 crashed, a massive air and sea operation has still failed to find the plane’s “black boxes”. But the search appears to be closing in on the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder – which may reveal what caused the tragedy in which 162 lives were lost.

Indonesia’s search and rescue agency, Basarnas, released underwater photographs that appear to show the tail of the aircraft, where the recorders are located. The pictures were taken by divers and an unmanned underwater vehicle. The wreckage appears to be upside-down and buried in mud, at a depth of about 100ft.

The head of the agency, Henry Bambang Soelistyo, said: “We have a picture of the part and we can confirm that it’s the tail.” It was found in the “additional focus search area” in the Java Sea, about 20 miles from the main search area south-west of Borneo.

An image believed to be of wreckage of ill-fated AirAsia flight QZ8501 photographed by divers working in the Java Sea

The Airbus A320 disappeared on 28 December, on a scheduled flight from Surabaya to Singapore. It is the first crash in the history of AirAsia, which was acquired by the Malaysian entrepreneur Tony Fernandes in 2001.

Mr Fernandes said on Twitter: “We need to find all parts soon so we can find all our guests to ease the pain of our families.”

Forty bodies have been recovered, of which 24 have been identified. It is believed that most or all of the other victims are likely to be in the aircraft’s fuselage.

In a statement, AirAsia said: “Visual confirmation was made following underwater documentation of the aircraft’s tail and small wreckage, which showed the plane’s registration number (PK-AXC).”

The airline added: “The weather is reported to be clear with good underwater visibility for the divers to continue observation.”


The debris recovered so far is being transferred to Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee. The authorities have also indicated that the flight recorders will be downloaded and evaluated in Indonesia. There had been speculation that the recorders would be taken elsewhere because of international concerns about standards of safety regulation in Indonesia.

The US Federal Aviation Administration assesses the country as failing to provide “safety oversight of its air carrier operators in accordance with the minimum safety oversight standards established by the International Civil Aviation Organization”.

In 2007, EU regulators banned all Indonesian airlines from European skies, but AirAsia – and some other carriers – were later exempted from the ban.

Radar coverage of the final minutes of the flight was leaked shortly after the crash, and today a leaked recording of conversations between air-traffic controllers and the pilots emerged online.

The recording does not indicate anything untoward, though it triggered discussion in a pilots’ forum about whether Captain Irianto, or the first officer, Remi Emmanuel Plesel, was actually flying the jet.

Mr Fernandes has been increasingly strident in his responses to media speculation about the cause of the loss. “Many sensational headlines on AirAsia,” he tweeted. ”One by one facts will come out and clear us.”

“We are calm, will take the hits now as our focus is families. But time will show what AirAsia is all about.”


The airline’s handling of the tragedy has been praised by David Wilson, group managing director at PR agency Bell Pottinger. Writing in PR Week, he said of Mr Fernandes: “His recognition for the bereaved reminded us that whilst most questions were still unanswered, the pressing responsibility for the company in the immediate aftermath of any accident had to be with those personally affected.”