A photo taken from an Indonesian search and rescue aircraft over the Java Sea shows floating debris possibly related to missing AirAsia flight QZ8501. Photo: Bay Ismoyo/AFP Another photo of debris spotted in the same area as other items being investigated by Indonesian authorities as possible objects from missing AirAsia flight QZ8501. Photo: Bay Ismoyo/AFP
Another photo of debris spotted in the same area as other items being investigated by Indonesian authorities as possible objects from missing AirAsia flight QZ8501. Photo: Bay Ismoyo/AFP
Family members of passengers onboard the missing AirAsia flight QZ8501 inside the crisis centre set up at Juanda International Airport in Surabaya. Photo: Manan Vatsyayana/AFP
Family members of passengers onboard AirAsia flight QZ8501 inside the crisis centre set up at Juanda International Airport in Surabaya. Photo: Manan Vatsyayana/AFP
Search and rescue workers prepare to load body bags onto a flight to Kalimantan after the wreckage of AirAsia flight Q8501 was found. Photo: Darren Whiteside/Reuters
The people on board the missing planeMissed by minutes: One family’s lucky escape
The mystery of AirAsia flight QZ8501 has been solved with the news from Indonesian authorities that the wreckage of the plane has been found in shallow water, and all 162 passengers are presumed dead.
Hysterical scenes from bereaved families greeted the announcement that the plane, its body still visible in the ocean water off the coast of Borneo, had crashed and broken up for reasons still unknown.
For more than an hour before the announcement, the families, gathered in a white-walled room at Surabaya’s Juanda airport, had been listening to increasingly credible reports that debris had been found in the search zone.
Pictures had been flashed across the TV screens inside the room showing what looked like a life jacket, a rescue raft, an emergency exit door.
But the announcement at 2.45pm local time (6.45pm AEDT) still came as a shock.
“We are now officially announcing that on the third day of the search, we found the debris,” said Sulistyo, the head of the Indonesian search and rescue agency Basarnas.
The wreck of the Airbus 320 was found in just 25 to 30 metres of water, and only 10 kilometres from the site of the last radio or radar contact with the jet.
The recovery mission will begin immediately, with agencies vowing to concentrate on finding bodies and the black box flight recorder, which should enable them to solve the mystery of the fate of the aircraft.
The shallow position of the plane will allow recovery authorities to use divers rather than any more sophisticated equipment, Mr Sulistyo said, so news of the cause of the crash should come relatively swiftly.
The official confirmation of the discovery was beamed live via TV from search and rescue headquarters in Jakarta and into the room at Surabaya airport where family members have waited anxiously for almost three days for news of their loved ones.
Some greeted the news with shock, some consoled one another. Others had tears streaming down their faces or sat with their heads bowed. A number of women fainted from the shock confirmation that their loved ones were dead.
But when local news channel TVOne broadcast an image into that room of a dead, mostly naked body floating face up in the water, a woman began screaming hysterically in grief and was rushed, still screaming, from the scene.
The station later apologised on air.
Haidar Fauzi, the father of missing flight attendant Khairunisa Haidar Fauzi, said he had seen the report and was “well prepared” for his daughter to be found dead.
“Now, even if there is hope [for others], she’s a stewardess, she’s cabin crew. She would have rescued a passenger before saving herself,” he said.
Soelistyowati, an aunt of two young women on board who had been heading to Singapore for a shopping trip, said: “We are in shock.
“We were faced with the possibility of a tragedy [before the confirmation]. But, even now we’ve had news of the wreckage being found, the girls’ big sister and we also still hope that she somehow managed to survive.”
Late in the afternoon, word filtered through that Indonesian President Joko Widodo would come to the Surabaya airport to console the bereaved and address the media.
The chief executive of AirAsia, Tony Fernandes, who had earlier spent some time with the families in Surabaya, was also heading to where his customers’ families were still positioned.
Earlier in the day, AirAsia had agreed to fly some families over the scene of the search in the hope that their prayers at the scene would speed the process of finding out what had happened.
Also earlier, rescue authorities had widened the scope of the search to 156,000 square kilometres, but the plane was found in sector seven, one of the original areas for scrutiny.
An aircraft from Basarnas spotted the debris after 4pm AEDT near Pangkalanbun off the island of Borneo, Basarnas spokesman Andriandi said. The area is quite close to where the plane lost contact with air traffic control in Jakarta.
The proximity suggests the Airbus suffered some catastrophic failure – stalling, exploding or breaking up mid-air – before it dropped almost vertically 32,000 or more feet to the shallow expanse of ocean below.
The pilot, Iriyanto, had requested to turn left, and then to climb to avoid a massive storm cell and cumulonimbus clouds in the minutes before air traffic control lost contact with the cockpit. It now appears his last words were that request to escape the storm.
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