The search for missing AirAsia Flight 8501 may have received a boost Monday after an Indonesian official said that Australian planes had spotted objects in the Java Sea search area.
Jakarta’s Air Force base commander Rear Marshal Dwi Putranto told the Associated Press that he was informed Monday that an Orion aircraft had detected “suspicious” objects near Nangka island, about 100 miles southwest of Pangkalan Bun, near central Kalimantan, or 700 miles from the location where the plane lost contact with air traffic controllers early Sunday.
“However, we cannot be sure whether it is part of the missing AirAsia plane,” Putranto cautioned, “We are now moving in that direction, which is in cloudy conditions.”
Air Force spokesman Rear Marshal Hadi Tjahnanto told Indonesia’s MetroTV that an Indonesian helicopter in the eastern part of Belitung island spotted two oily spots on the sea about 105 nautical miles east of Tanjung Pandan — much closer to the point of last contact. He said samples of the oil would be collected and analyzed to see if they are connected to the missing plane.
False sightings of objects and oil slicks that initially appear to be from a missing plane were among the issues that plagued the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 earlier this year. The fate of that plane, which vanished March 8 with 239 people on board, remains unknown.
Indonesia’s search and rescue chief said it was likely that AirAsia Flight 8501 had crashed with 162 people on board.
“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,” Henry Bambang Soelistyo told reporters as the search for the Airbus A320 resumed Monday morning local time (Sunday evening Eastern Time).
The search was suspended again at nightfall. It will resume Tuesday morning local time.
Flight 8501 vanished Sunday morning in airspace thick with storm clouds on its way from Surabaya, Indonesia, to Singapore. The last communication from the cockpit to air traffic control was a request by one of the pilots to increase altitude from 32,000 feet to 38,000 feet because of the rough weather. Air traffic control was not able to immediately grant the request because another plane was in airspace at 34,000 feet, said Bambang Tjahjono, director of the state-owned company in charge of air-traffic control.