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Indonesia Checking Reports of Debris in Search Area for Airliner

Republic of Singapore Air Force personnel (RSAF) servicemen on board a C-130 aircraft participating in the search and locate (SAL) operation for missing AirAsia flight QZ8501 at sea, Dec. 29, 2014.

Indonesian authorities confirm that an Australian search plane has sighted debris in the water off Borneo, some 1,100 kilometers from the last known position of Air Asia flight 8501. But there is no confirmation the material is related to the missing airliner, which was carrying 162 people.

Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla said 30 ships and 15 aircraft - both planes and helicopters - are involved in the search for the missing Airbus A320. But he is trying to dampen expectations that the missing jetliner, which the head of the country’s search agency says is likely “at the bottom of the sea,” will be quickly discovered.

Family members of passengers onboard missing AirAsia flight QZ8501 cry at a waiting area in Juanda International Airport, Surabaya, December 29, 2014.
Family members of passengers onboard missing AirAsia flight QZ8501 cry at a waiting area in Juanda International Airport, Surabaya, December 29, 2014.

“Of course, we hope as fast as possible. We have no … target, but as fast as possible,” Kalla said.

The vice president noted that Malaysia Flight 370, which vanished in March in deep waters off the coast of Australia, has still not been located, and other jetliners that went missing in recent years took months or longer to find.

Aiding in search

The United States, China and India are among the countries offering their resources for the operation in what is one of the world's busiest shipping routes.

Aircraft from Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore are already involved in the search over what is relatively shallow water - an average depth of 46 meters (150 feet).

In Jakarta, the Transport Ministry said the government will review the operations of AirAsia's Indonesia subsidiary.

The parent group’s Chief Executive Officer Tony Fernandes explained to reporters that until Flight 8501 on Sunday, AirAsia had “never lost a life.”

“We have carried 220 million people up to this point. Of course, there’s going to be some reaction. But we are confident in our ability to fly people. And we’ll continue to be strong,” Fernandes said.

Indonesia AirAsia 8501 with 162 people - mostly Indonesians - on board, departed Surabaya for Singapore's Changi airport Sunday on what should have been a two-hour flight. But it disappeared about halfway to its destination.

Last transmission

A pilot had asked air traffic controllers to allow the plane to ascend about 1,800 meters to nearly 11,600 meters to avoid stormy weather. But permission was apparently denied because another plane was flying in the area.

Ground controllers did not receive any distress call from the crew and radar contact was lost about six minutes after the last radio transmission from the Airbus.

The captain in command was quite experienced, with more than 20,000 flying hours - roughly 6,000 of those hours with Indonesia AirAsia in the cockpit of the Airbus A320.