Recovery operations for Indonesia AirAsia flight QZ8501 are continuing Wednesday morning in the Java Sea, some ten kilometres from the aircraft’s last reported position at 3°22’14.9″S 109°41’28.0”E and 160km southwest of the town of Pangkalan Bun in Central Kalimantan province on the island of Borneo.
The flight, which departed Surabaya for Singapore at 0527 local time on Sunday, was lost from radar and ADS-B contact at 0724 Singapore time, with the first confirmed signs of the aircraft – including luggage and objects that appeared to be an oxygen tank and an aircraft evacuation slide – not sighted until late Tuesday.
Bodies and débris have been recovered by the multinational effort to retrieve the Airbus A320 and its passengers. Indonesian navy sources previously quoted 40 bodies, while search-and-rescue agency BASARNAS confirmed six and then three.
Overnight, the tactical operations base for the air search shifted from Pangkal Pinang on Bangka Island off Sumatra to Pangkalan Bun. A single 1,650m runway at Iskandar Airport is likely to be a primary logistics centre for the operation.
Ascertaining the scale of the débris field will be high on the agenda, with Malaysia Chief of Navy Admiral Abdul Aziz Jaafar confirming that the search is focussing on four adjacent primary ocean sectors totalling just over 21,512 kilometres – an area approximately a third the size of Tasmania.
Crucially, the shallow depth of the Java Sea (between 25-32m) that is currently the focus of recovery efforts will enable the use of divers as part of the retrieval effort, which is likely to increase the amount and quality of evidence that can be gleaned from the débris.
Data from the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder will also be high on the agenda. It is uncertain at this stage whether the data will be analysed by the Indonesian National Transportation Safety Committee or overseas agencies with, France’s BEA and the United States’ NTSB already offering assistance and Australia’s ATSB also a prime regional candidate for participation.
Three-metre high waves late yesterday were hampering the recovery, which Indonesian officials stated was now expected to move to a 24 hour operation.
Two RAAF AP-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft launched from Darwin to participate in the search yesterday, the Department of Defence confirmed in a statement. There has been no update as yet today concerning ongoing RAAF and ADF involvement with the recovery.
Aviation in Indonesia is already seeing a government response to the crash, with authorities ordering a full and immediate review of all aviation procedures in the country. Indonesia AirAsia is one of just four Indonesian carriers permitted to fly to Europe, with all other airlines in the country considered to fail to meet aviation regulatory oversight standards of the EU.
Elsewhere, in an incredibly unfortunately timed incident, Filipino AirAsia affiliate airline AirAsia Zest flight Z2272 overshot the runway at Kalibo in central Philippines.
Questions are mounting about both the flight and the investigation so far
A number of principal questions remain and have arisen about QZ8501 and the search.
First, given the proximity of the current débris field to the last reported location of flight QZ8501, why did it take three days to locate it?
Second, would additional onboard tracking systems have enabled authorities to locate the aircraft faster?
Third, would additional post-impact locator systems have sped up the search too?
And last, of course, what caused a seemingly normal flight through seasonal weather to crash?