Indonesia pledges AirAsia probe as plane parts found
The country's transport ministry said the ill-fated aircraft had been flying on an unauthorised schedule when it crashed, and the airline has now been suspended from flying the route from the city of Surabaya to Singapore.
"It violated the route permit given, the schedule given, that's the problem," director general of air transport, Djoko Murjatmodjo, told Agence France-Presse.
He said AirAsia's permit for the route would be suspended until investigations were completed, while other airlines in the country would also be examined.
"We will carry out an audit or an evaluation on all airlines in Indonesia over whether there are any violations related to route, time and schedule," he said.
Major parts of the Airbus A320-200 were found in the Java Sea off the island of Borneo late Friday and Saturday, raising hopes that the remaining bodies and the black box recorders, crucial to determining the cause of the crash, would soon be located.
But no bodies have been found since Friday, when the total recovered stood at 30, because rough seas have prevented diving operations, officials said.
"The height of waves hampered the search effort at sea. They are four to five metres (13 to 16 feet) high," search and rescue agency chief Bambang Soelistyo told reporters late Saturday.
"Up to now, with our geo-survey ship which has capacity to detect objects underwater, we have found four larger parts of the plane that we are looking for," he said.
Toos Sanitioso, an investigator from Indonesia's KNKT (National Transportation Safety Committee), said he was hopeful they would find the all-important black boxes within a few days.
"It seems that they have found the major (plane) parts," he told reporters in Surabaya.
A presentation shown to reporters described one of the debris pieces as the "suspected tail" of the plane, but strong currents were making it difficult to operate a remotely-operated underwater vehicle to get a picture of the objects that are 30 metres underwater.
The huge relief operation has been assisted by several countries, including the United States and Russia, but rough weather throughout the week has hampered the recovery of Flight 8501, which went down early Sunday during a storm.
A statement from the Indonesian transport ministry spokesman J.A. Barata said AirAsia Indonesia had not been permitted to fly the Surabaya-Singapore route on Sundays and had not asked to change its schedule.
But the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore said it had granted permission for the airline's Sunday flight.
It was unclear how the airline, a unit of Malaysia-based AirAsia, had been able to fly without the necessary authorisation from its starting point.
AirAsia Indonesia chief Sunu Widyatmoko told reporters that the company would not comment until the results of the investigation were known, adding that the airline would "fully cooperate with the government in that evaluation process".
The families of victims have been preparing funerals as the bodies recovered are identified in Surabaya, Indonesia's second biggest city, where a crisis centre has been set up at a police hospital with facilities to store 150 bodies.
About 100 grieving Catholic relatives and well-wishers crowded into a small church in the police headquarters for a memorial mass Saturday afternoon, singing hymns and praying for the victims to be found quickly. Some broke down in tears.
"Everyone felt a mixture of sadness, confusion and uncertainty. What we do is just keep them company," said Surabaya's Bishop Vincentius Sutikno Wisaksono.
"I hope all this will be over soon, that the bodies will be found soon, as it will bring a lot of relief."
Of the 162 passengers and crew on board, 155 were Indonesian, with three South Koreans, one Singaporean, one Malaysian, one Briton and a Frenchman -- co-pilot Remi Plesel.
Ongko Gunawan, who lost his sister and brother-in-law and their child, expressed impatience as he waited for news.
"We are exhausted and sick of it. Hopefully we can find the bodies quickly, now that there's also help from the foreign countries," he said.
Before take-off, the pilot of Flight 8501 had asked for permission to fly at a higher altitude to avoid a storm, but the request was not approved due to other planes above him on the popular route, according to AirNav, Indonesia's air traffic control.
In his last communication, Captain Iriyanto, an experienced former air force pilot, said he wanted to change course to avoid the menacing storm system. Then all contact was lost, about 40 minutes after the plane had taken off. – Rappler.com