After a three-day multinational air and sea search, Channel NewsAsia reported a spokesperson for the Indonesian Navy as saying that the operation is now one of body recovery, rather than rescue.
“Based on the navy radio, it has been reported that the warship Bung Tomo has retrieved 40 bodies and the number is growing. They are very busy now,” navy spokesperson Manahan Simorangkir was quoted telling AFP.
Earlier today, images had been released by the Indonesian Air Force showing debris that appeared to be related to the missing Airbus A320, including what Indonesia’s National Search & Rescue Agency (Basarnas) said looked like “the emergency exit door of the aircraft”.
It appears now that, as many had feared, flight QZ8501 crashed into the sea, east of the Bangkla Betilung Islands and southwest of Borneo, on Sunday morning.
AirAsia has now confirmed the news, saying that “the debris found earlier today is indeed from QZ8501”.
“We are sorry to be here today under these tragic circumstances. We would like to extend our sincere sympathies to the family and friends of those on board QZ8501. Our sympathies also go out to the families of our dear colleagues,” said Sunu Widyatmoko, CEO of AirAsia Indonesia.
The low-cost carrier’s group CEO, Tony Fernandes, said he was “absolutely devastated”.
“This is a very difficult moment for all of us at AirAsia as we await further developments of the search and rescue operations but our first priority now is the well-being of the family members of those onboard QZ8501,” he said.
The flight was carrying 155 passengers and seven crew members from Surabaya to Singapore. According to the airline’s data, the vast majority of the passengers were Indonesian nationals (142), while the aircraft was also carrying three South Koreans, one Singaporean, one Malaysian and one UK citizen. The crew was comprised of six Indonesians and one French national – the co-pilot.
The Indonesian pilot had requested to change course due to bad weather conditions shortly before contact with the aircraft was lost.
Up until today’s incident, AirAsia had a very good safety record, without a single recorded aircraft loss or passenger fatality in its history. It operates a modern fleet of almost 170 A320 aircraft, approximately 30 of which are based in Indonesia.
An emergency call centre has been established and available for families seeking information. The telephone numbers are as follows:
Malaysia: +60 3 21795959
Indonesia: +62 2129270811
Singapore: +65 63077688
Korea: 007 98142069940