Pilot may have made emergency landing
AS SEARCH teams battle bad weather in the hunt for AirAsia Flight QZ8501, analysts said that the pilot may have managed to make an emergency water landing, only for the plane to be overcome by high seas.
The Singapore-bound Airbus A320-200 left the Indonesian city of Surabaya early on Sunday and disappeared from radar over the Java Sea during a storm, but it failed to send the transmissions normally emitted when a plane crashes or is submerged.
Experts said this suggests that the experienced pilot, Captain Iriyanto, conducted an emergency water landing which did not have a destructive impact.
"The emergency locator transmitter would work on impact, be that (against) land, sea or the sides of a mountain, and my analysis is it didn't work because there was no major impact during landing," said Dudi Sudibyo, a senior editor of aviation magazine Angkasa. "The pilot managed to land it on the sea's surface."
The plane, carrying 162 people, was cruising at a height of 32,000 feet when the pilot requested a change of course to avoid storms.
Although permission was granted to turn left, the pilot was not immediately allowed to ascend owing to heavy air traffic, and the plane disappeared from radar soon afterwards.
Some analysts have suggested that the plane stalled because it was travelling too slowly or climbing too steeply. It is unclear why there was no distress signal from the cockpit.
So far, the search team has found at least nine bodies which appear to be intact, as well as debris such as a suitcase, an emergency slide and a life jacket.
"The conclusions I have come to so far are that the plane did not blow up in mid-air, and it did not suffer an impact when it hit a surface, because if it did so, then the bodies would not be intact," Chappy Hakim, a former air force commander, told AFP.
The fuselage is also thought to be largely intact after aerial searchers saw a large "shadow" on the seabed, where search-and-recover operations are being focused.
An emergency-exit door and an inflatable slide were among the first items recovered by the search team, suggesting that the first passengers may have started the evacuation process once the plane landed on water.
Former transport minister Jusman Syafii Djamal was convinced that the discovery of the floating exit door meant "someone had opened it".
Passengers may have been waiting for a flight attendant to inflate a life raft when a high wave hit the nose and sank the plane, Mr Djamal added.
The cause and more details of the crash will remain unclear until investigators find the all-important black box, which will answer questions such as why the underwater locator beacon did not work.
However, Toos Sanitiyoso, an air-safety investigator with the National Committee for Transportation Safety, said it could take a week to find the black box.
Yesterday, the body of one of the victims, identified as an Indonesian woman named Hayati Lutfiah Hamid from East Java province, was handed over to her relatives, reported Xinhua.
Four other bodies in numbered white coffins arrived at Surabaya airport.
Investigators are working on a theory that the plane stalled as it climbed steeply to avoid a storm about 40 minutes into the flight.
A source close to the probe into what happened said radar data appeared to show that the aircraft made an "unbelievably" steep climb before it crashed, possibly pushing it beyond the A320's limits.
"It appears to be beyond the performance envelope of the aircraft," he said.
But Peter Marosszeky, a senior aviation research fellow at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, said it was too early to conclude that the AirAsia crash was the result of a mistake by either the Indonesian authorities or the Indonesian pilot.
The aircraft went down in a powerful storm, and many factors could have been involved, he cautioned.
AFP, REUTERS, NYT