AirAsia Flight QZ8501: Icing likely culprit in plane crash, says Jakarta

An Indonesian helicopter in search operations earlier this week for AirAsia flight QZ8501 that crashed in the Java Sea. Extreme bad weather could have triggered the crash, officials say. --PHOTO: AFP
An Indonesian helicopter in search operations earlier this week for AirAsia flight QZ8501 that crashed in the Java Sea. Extreme bad weather could have triggered the crash, officials say. --PHOTO: AFP

Extreme bad weather triggered last Sunday's crash of AirAsia Flight QZ8501, Indonesia's weather officials said yesterday, as Russia became the latest nation to get involved in the search effort for the doomed jetliner.

The 14-page "meteorological analysis" is the first official word from Jakarta on the reasons for the crash and comes close to confirming widespread speculation on the reasons for the disaster.

"The most probable weather phenomenon is that icing caused the plane engines to be damaged," the report by Indonesia's Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) said.

"This is however just one analysis of what likely happened based on available meteorological data, and is not the final determination on the cause of the incident."

BMKG's report, authored by Professor Edvin Aldrian, head of its research and development unit, came as high waves impeded divers from entering the sea.

As of last night, 30 bodies had been recovered, National Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas) chief Bambang Soelistyo told a media conference. Two bodies were found strapped to seats.

BMKG said its preliminary analysis of weather data suggested the AirAsia Airbus A320-200 had flown into storm clouds. It also noted that weather charts issued before the flight showed the plane's scheduled route at cruising level would come across "worrying" conditions, with warnings of a gale. Satellite images also suggested peak temperatures of -80 to -85 deg C, which meant there were grains of ice in the dense clouds, the report added.

Meanwhile, a fifth Singaporean vessel arrived in the crash area while Russia said it would send two amphibious aircraft to aid the recovery effort, which now involves more than 90 vessels and planes.

Mr Soelistyo said there was no confirmation that sonar had detected the plane's tail. However, an oil slick had been detected in the priority search area. "We are still working hard to battle the weather and the waves," he said last night.

zakirh@sph.com.sg