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AirAsia Flight QZ8501: Indonesian Officials Suspended, Search Continues for Black Boxes

( [email protected] ) Jan 06, 2015 06:52 PM EST

AirAsia Search
Bags containing dead bodies of the passengers of AirAsia Flight 8501 are lifted to Indonesian navy vessel KRI Banda Aceh at sea off the coast of Pangkalan Bun, Indonesia, Saturday, Jan. 3, 2015. (AP)

The search for wreckage from AirAsia Flight QZ8501 continued Tuesday in the Java Sea. Meanwhile, Indonesian authorities have suspended officials involved in approving the doomed plane's flight path.

According to Shashank Bengali and Ahmad Pathoni of the Los Angeles Times, flight 8501 was not authorized to fly on Sundays, as it did back on Dec. 28 between from Surabaya, Indonesia and Singapore. The acting director-general for air transport, Djoko Murjatmodjo, said on Monday that all Surabaya airport officials involved in the unauthorized flight, along with any people in the transport ministry, would be suspended.

"AirAsia was clearly in the wrong because their flight schedules did not conform to the agreement," Djoko said. "We have suspended the route and will try to find out where the problem lies."

Djoko indicated that other airlines that flew without the proper agreements or permits would also be subject to punishments. His comments, according to the Los Angeles Times, laid bare longstanding concerns about the viability of Indonesia's aviation sector.

"Now we suspect that other airlines are making the same mistakes," Djoko said. "If an investigation reveals violations, we will suspend their routes too."

Djoko added that Indonesian authorities would conduct an audit of flight schedules. However, the Los Angeles Times contended that no indications were present connecting the alleged schedule violation to the crash.

The Malaysia-based budget carrier behind the doomed plane, AirAsia, had a good safety record and never previously experienced a fatality until the Dec. 28 crash, according to the Los Angeles Times. Its rapid growth was a symbol of the booming airline sector across Southeast Asia.

"The airline has said it would cooperate with the investigation but has not commented further on the allegation," Bengali and Pathoni wrote. "Indonesian officials say AirAsia was authorized to serve the Surabaya-to-Singapore route four days a week but not on Sundays."

Indonesia's aviation sector underwent deregulation in the 1990s. However, the Los Angeles Times reported that the European Union imposed a temporary ban on Indonesian airlines entering its airspace due to accidents and safety concerns.

In AirAsia's defense, Indonesian aviation consultant Gerry Soejatman told the Los Angeles Times that the airliner cannot be solely blamed because it flew the same route for two months before the crash.

"This lapse puts more questions on our aviation sector than the crash itself," Soejatman said. "The government should have known about it. Had this accident not happened, the likelihood is the lapse might have continued."

As for recovery efforts, experts have been baffled by the failure of sophisticated tracking equipment to pick up the plane's emergency beacons, despite the fact that the crash site was in relatively shallow waters from 30 meters to 40 meters deep. According to Gaurav Raghuvanshi and Richard C. Paddock of the Wall Street Journal, the 10-day search has yielded more than three dozen bodies and some aircraft debris, but no black boxes or sections of the plane's fuselage yet.  

"Some experts say they believe the plane's black boxes may be buried under silt, which could be blocking the signals from the emergency locator transmitters," Raghuvanshi and Paddock wrote.

Suyadi Bambang Supriyadi, director of operations at Indonesia's Search and Rescue Agency, thought that the black boxes and fuselage were still together and moved by strong currents.

"The black boxes could still be inside the [fuselage] of the plane," Supriyadi said Tuesday. "They could be surrounded by aluminum metal, and with the aircraft possibly covered with silt, the signal may not be strong."

Although many investigators and air-safety experts thought it was too early to determine a reason for the crash, Indonesia's weather agency blamed icing as one of the possible weather-related factors. According to the Wall Street Journal, the plane dropped off radar screens without a mayday call as it flew near intense, high-altitude thunderstorms over the Java Sea.

Flight QZ8501 carried 162 passengers and crew when it disappeared from radar Dec. 28. According to the Wall Street Journal, 39 bodies have been recovered so far.

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