CHINA, Dec 30 – China yesterday sent a warship to help in the search for the missing AirAsia plane, which a top official warned was probably at the bottom of the sea. International crews scouring Indonesian waters for missing Flight QZ8501 had focused on a possible patch of oil for clues. However, the supposed oil slicks were actually a chain of coral reefs, said Henry Bambang Soelistyo, the National Search and Rescue Agency chief.
Australia, Singapore and Malaysia joined the Indonesia-led search as relatives waited for news of their loved ones more than a day after the Airbus A320 disappeared over the Java Sea with 162 people on board. Beijing is sending a frigate and is preparing to deploy a military jet “after consultations with the Indonesian government” to join the search effort, the defence ministry said last night. The Hong Kong Immigration Department confirmed to the South China Morning Post yesterday that one of the passengers is a Hong Kong resident who holds a British passport. It is understood the man is Choi Chi-man, 48, who was travelling with his two-year-old daughter Zoe.
The Airbus lost contact en route from Surabaya in Indonesia’s East Java to Singapore on Sunday after the crew requested a change of flight plan due to bad weather. It is the third crisis for a Malaysian carrier this year. Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla said: “It is not an easy operation in the sea, especially in bad weather like this.” Fifteen ships and 30 aircraft were searching the area, Indonesian Air Force spokesman Hadi Tjahjanto said. “The government will not give up and is not giving a time limit for the search. What is important is to find the victims and the plane.” Soelistyo earlier dampened any hopes of survivors.
He said: “Based on the coordinates that we know, the evaluation would be that any estimated crash position is in the sea, and that the hypothesis is the plane is at the bottom of the sea.” Ships and aircraft were searching an area where the sea is 40 to 50 metres deep, he said, adding that Indonesia was coordinating with other countries to borrow any equipment needed to scour the seabed. Distraught relatives spent the night in Surabaya hoping for news of loved ones as the international search effort expanded.
Intan, whose brother and his family and friends were on board, said Indonesia needed overseas help to find the plane. “My hope is Indonesia seeks as much help as possible from other countries. Don’t claim, ‘We have sophisticated technology’, just ask other countries because they are better equipped,” she said. “My prayer is I really, really hope that there will be news about the people on board. Whatever it is, what is important is we know where they are now,” she said.
AirAsia said 155 of those on board were Indonesian, with three South Koreans and one person each from Singapore, Malaysia, Britain – thought to be Hong Kong resident Choi – and France. The Frenchman was the co-pilot. Air traffic controllers lost contact with the aircraft about an hour after it left Surabaya’s Juanda international airport at about 5.35am local time on Sunday. The twin-engine plane did not send a distress signal.