Rough seas and winds approaching gale force continued to slow recovery operations for Indonesia AirAsia flight 8501 on Friday and into Saturday, though further bodies have been retrieved and débris resembling the aircraft’s tailplane reportedly has been detected by sonar.
Officials have been consistent in statements that 30 bodies have now been retrieved from the recovery area, with funerals for victims continuing to take place. In a Twitter exchange with Australian Aviation, Malaysian Navy chief Abdul Aziz Jaafar described the prospects for diving on the seabed wreckage located so far as “very challenging,” noting that any diving operation “has to be done with extreme caution” in the conditions.
Admiral Abdul Aziz – one of the very few officials making public statements in English – reported visibility of 8 nautical miles (15km) and waves of approximately 4m, corresponding to rough seas on the Douglas sea scale. Winds were reportedly between 20 and 30 knots (37-56 km/h), corresponding to 5-7 on the Beaufort wind force scale.
Conflicting statements and corrections continue to make precision in reporting complex: Colonel Yayan Sofiyan, commander of the corvette KRI Bung Tomo, was confident that his vessel had located the tail when speaking with local media, yet Air Marshal Bambang Soelistyo, chief of the SAR agency BASARNAS, later emphasised that the object’s makeup had yet to be confirmed.
The maritime search areas have again moved and been re-numbered, extending on Saturday towards the east.
An underwater search area has also been identified identified, stretching 57nm by 10nm (106km by 19 km) to the west-northwest of the centre of the Most Probable Area, in which the significant wreckage previously identified is located.
Notably, some of the bodies discovered Friday were strapped into their seats. If replicated significantly throughout the sections of aircraft fuselage that have yet to be retrieved, it may well lend credence to the theory that the aircraft – or large sections of it – struck the water relatively intact.
While débris is already being analysed by investigators, the crucial cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder have not been recovered.
Indonesian government suspends route authority after technical violation
It has also emerged that Indonesia AirAsia did not have the specific route authority to operate between Surabaya and Singapore on Sundays, the day on which QZ8501 disappeared. The airline did have authority for flights on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, via an authorisation granted in October 2014, according to a statement by the Indonesian Ministry of Transportation (in Bahasa Indonesia and translated by the Singapore Straits Times).
Online schedules suggest that the airline had been running daily flights on the route, and had planned to continue doing so except for a five-weekly service between February 2 and 24.
Approval to revise the schedule had not been sought, said the statement issued by spokesperson J A Barata. Indonesia AirAsia’s authority to fly the Surabaya-Singapore route has accordingly been suspended by the Ministry of Transportation as of 2 January.
Unconfirmed leaked radar information raises more questions than it answers
Respected local journalist Gerry Soejatman has been the focus of leaks, including what appears to be a mobile phone picture of radar data, airspeed and ascent/descent information. The information – which has yet to be confirmed – is baffling the industry, with climb and sink rates well outside the envelope.
Australian Aviation will continue to monitor this information and attempt to have it independently confirmed.