AirAsia flight QZ8501: ‘Unique weather’ may have caused plane crash, says CEO

Bodies pulled from AirAsia wreckageThe passengers of AirAsia Flight QZ8501

The AirAsia chief executive whose plane crashed on Sunday killing 155 passengers and seven crew has told Indonesian President Joko Widodo he believes the blame can be put squarely on bad weather.

CEO Tony Fernandes said his company would pay an immediate advance of money to families bereaved by the tragedy, and that AirAsia would not run away from its future obligations to them.

Mr Joko said his priority was to get the bodies and wreckage of flight QZ8501 off the bottom of the Karimata Strait as quickly as possible so victims can be identified and returned to their families. He has instructed search and rescue agencies to deploy all available ships and aircraft to speed the task.

Speaking of the families of the passengers and crew, he said: “We also feel the loss from this tragedy”.

Six bodies were recovered before night fell on Tuesday, and the grim task will recommence at first light on Wednesday.

Mr Fernandes said the “black box” flight cockpit recorder, which should provide crucial clues as to the cause of the tragedy, had not yet been located. He was confident that it would be.

While saying it would be “improper” to speculate on a cause, Mr Fernandes said he had spoken with the Indonesian President “about some of the information that we [AirAsia] have about what could have gone wrong”.

He then added that there were “some very unique weather conditions” in the area at the time.

“We cannot make any assumptions about what went wrong. All I can say is that the weather in south-east Asia is bad at the moment,” he said.

Referring to floods in Malaysia and Thailand, he suggested that climate change may have played a part in more dangerous conditions for air travel: “There’s a lot of rain, so that is something we need to look at carefully because the weather is changing. The weather is changing”.

Standing outside the Surabaya airport facility set up to cater for about 200 grieving families, Mr Fernandes said AirAsia would advance money “straight away” to the victims’ families, and “will not run away from any of our obligations or hide  behind any conventions”. The grief stricken families, who had only hours earlier learned about the certain deaths of their loved ones, were “an amazing group”.

“Many of them say they will continue to fly on AirAsia,” he said.

The airline’s bookings were still strong and he would “continue our business as normal”. There had been no suggestion from Mr Joko about ramifications against the company in Indonesia, and it was too early to talk about operational changes as a result of the company’s first crash in 13 years of flying.

“I have full confidence in my fleet and crew … in our operation in Indonesia and elsewhere,” Mr Fernandes said.

Mr Joko said “ships and helicopters, from the sea and air, will conduct a massive search” of the area.

The President thanked the search and rescue crews and also other countries that had provided assistance, including Australia.