TANJUNG PANDAN,Dec 29 – A local newspaper “Pos Belitung” screams a headline which suggests that the missing Indonesia AirAsia jet had met an explosive end. It quotes a fisherman off the coast of the eastern end of the island, who claimed that he had heard a loud explosion between 7am and 8am (local time); same timing when plane went off radar at 7.18am yesterday.
While most of the islanders here in the small town of Tanjung Pandan, seemed to be rather unperturbed by the event which is being reported extensively worldwide, murmurs of shock pried their lips upon reading today’s newspaper. But most would not comment further on the tragedy, in respect with the passengers’ next-of-kin.
“I do not know what to make of the incident. The newspaper said a fisherman had heard an explosion while at sea. “But if there is an explosion, surely the authorities would have detected it. I say it is best that we do not draw into conclusions.” “It is hard enough to see the (passengers’) family members crying,” said a taxi driver who goes by the name Iwan, 32.
Another local, trader Hasan Bullah said they too, grieved for the tragedy and prayed for the safety of the victims. Located northeast of Jakarta, Belitung Island, with more than 1.3 million population, may not be as popular as Bali among mainstream tourists.
But since yesterday, most of the hotels were fully booked by journalists, other than the annual revellers of New Year celebrations. Newsmen from all over the world have now headed towards Manggar, a beach seaside situated close to where QZ8501 was last detected – within a 500km-odd radius between Pontianak, West Kalimantan and Tanjung Pandan.
Manggar, some 90km from Tanjung Pandan, has been described by locals as the “southernmost end” of Belitung Island, although it is named Belitung Timur (east). It is learnt that the Search and Rescue Operations centre is currently based in Pangkal Pinang, Bangka Island. Three Royal Malaysia Navy vessels, KD Lekir, KD Lekiu and KD Pahang are expected to arrive at Tanjung Pandan shipping port tomorrow.