Missing AirAsia flight QZ8501 is likely to be “at the bottom of the sea” according to an Indonesian search and rescue chief, as signs of possible wreckage are spotted for the first time.
An Indonesian helicopter saw two oily spots in the search area for the missing AirAsia plane today, and an Australian search plane additionally spotted objects hundreds of miles away from where the plane went missing.
The Airbus A320-200 vanished Sunday morning in airspace thick with storm clouds, over the Java Sea. British man Chi-Man Choi is one of those on board.
It is too soon to confirm whether the objects and oil are connected to the aircraft and its 162 passengers and crew, who disappeared from radar contact on Sunday on its way from Indonesia to Singapore.
There is "insufficient evidence" that objects spotted in the sea are from the missing plane, Indonesia's vice-president has said.
But the plane’s fate is presumed to be grim. "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," Indonesia search and rescue chief Henry Bambang Soelistyo said.
Search and rescue crews looking for passengers on board suspended air operations on Sunday due to poor weather.
After the search expanded on Monday, an Australian aircraft had detected "suspicious" objects near Nangka island, around 700 miles from the location where the plane lost contact.
"However, we cannot be sure whether it is part of the missing AirAsia plane," said Jakarta Air Force base commander Rear Marshal Dwi Putranto. "We are now moving in that direction, which is in cloudy conditions."
An Indonesian helicopter has also spotted two oily spots in the Java Sea east of Belitung island, Air Force spokesman Rear Marshal Hadi Tjahnanto told Indonesian station MetroTV.
Unlike the Australian discovery, the oily spots were within the search area, 37 miles around the point where air-traffic controllers lost contact with the plane.
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 that request because another plane was in airspace at 34,000 feet, according to officials.
By the time clearance could be given, Flight 8501 had disappeared. It never sent a distress signal.
"Until today, we have never lost a life," AirAsia group CEO Tony Fernandes, who founded the low-cost carrier in 2001, told reporters in Jakarta airport. "But I think that any airline CEO who says he can guarantee that his airline is 100 percent safe, is not accurate."
The plane's disappearance conclude a tragic year for air travel in Southeast Asia. Malaysia-based AirAsia's loss follows the still-unexplained disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in March with 239 people aboard, and the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in July over Ukraine, which killed all 298 passengers and crew.
Nearly all the passengers and crew are Indonesians, many believed to be visiting Singapore, on holiday.