AirAsia flight QZ8501: Search agency chief says he's 95% sure debris is from plane

Family members of passengers on the missing plane react to news that floating debris was spotted on Dec 30, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Family members of passengers on the missing plane react to news that floating debris was spotted on Dec 30, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Family members of passengers on the missing plane react to news that floating debris was spotted on Dec 30, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Family members of passengers on the missing plane react to news that floating debris was spotted on Dec 30, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Family members of passengers on the missing plane react to news that floating debris was spotted on Dec 30, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Family members of passengers on the missing plane react to news that floating debris was spotted on Dec 30, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Family members of passengers on the missing plane react to news that floating debris was spotted on Dec 30, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Family members of passengers on the missing plane react to news that floating debris was spotted on Dec 30, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP
Debris spotted on Tuesday during an aerial search for AirAsia flight QZ8501 is from the missing plane, according to Indonesia’s director general of civil aviation. -- PHOTO: AFP
Debris spotted on Tuesday during an aerial search for AirAsia flight QZ8501 is from the missing plane, according to Indonesia’s director general of civil aviation. -- PHOTO: AFP
Debris spotted on Tuesday during an aerial search for AirAsia flight QZ8501 is from the missing plane, Indonesia’s director general of civil aviation told AFP. -- PHOTO: AFP
Debris spotted on Tuesday during an aerial search for AirAsia flight QZ8501 is from the missing plane, Indonesia’s director general of civil aviation told AFP. -- PHOTO: AFP
Debris spotted on Tuesday during an aerial search for AirAsia flight QZ8501 is from the missing plane, Indonesia’s director general of civil aviation told AFP. -- PHOTO: AFP
Debris spotted on Tuesday during an aerial search for AirAsia flight QZ8501 is from the missing plane, Indonesia’s director general of civil aviation told AFP. -- PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA (AFP/REUTERS) - Debris spotted on Tuesday during an aerial search for AirAsia flight QZ8501 is temporarily confirmed to be from the missing plane, Indonesia’s director-general of civil aviation told AFP.  

“For the time being it can be confirmed that it’s the AirAsia plane and the transport minister will depart soon to Pangkalan Bun,” Mr Djoko Murjatmodjo said.  

“Based on the observation by search and rescue personnel, significant things have been found such as a passenger door and cargo door. It’s in the sea, 100 miles (160km) south-west of Pangkalan Bun,” he said, referring to the town in Central Kalimantan, on the island of Borneo.

The chief of the search agency Basarnas said he was 95 per cent sure that the debris was from the wreckage of QZ8501. He said several commanders in the search operation are confident among the debris was an emergency exit door.

“I am 95 per cent sure that the location pictured is debris suspected to be from the aircraft,” Indonesia Search and Rescue Agency chief Soelistyo told reporters.

AirAsia QZ8501 search areas

He instructed for all debris to be evacuated and sent to the closest post in the town of Pangkalan Bun.

He said survey vessels are on the way, and divers have been readied - 11 navy divers and 10 Basarnas divers.

The Basarnas chief also asked the trasnport safety committee to start investigations.

The sea depth in the debris area is between 25m and 30m, so divers can work. They will use submersible vehicles if needed, to go deeper.

The timeline of the discovery, according to Mr Soelistyo:

1.25pm Jakarta time - An object that could be a body of a victim and debris were found. 1.50pm - A Indonesian air force Bung Tomo vessel found an item floating on surface that they think is a plane's emergency exit door. 2pm - A Basarnas helicopter flew there to make sure it is a plane's exit door and the chopper helped Bung Tomo vessel evacuate the item.  

"With all these findings, I am - as a search and rescue coordinator - 95 per cent convinced the location is the debris that came from the plane."

The reason he could not say 100 per cent is because he said he has not seen all these items with his own eyes. 

"All elements in the search operations I will ask now to move to this location. Our next task is to search and evacuate all items and possible bodies of passengers to the Pangkalanbun post." 

"What convinced me the most is the finding of an emergency exit door. I told my field commanders, please look very carefully and make sure if it is really an exit door."

Objects resembling a body, luggage, a life vest and debris suspected to be part of the jet were also spotted by a pilot involved in the search operation, domestic media reported on Tuesday.

“The body seemed bloated,” said First-Lieutenant Tri Wibowo who was on board a Hercules aircraft during the search operation, reported the Kompas.com website.The sightings were made at around 11am Indonesia time, Lt Wibowo said, after searching for around five hours. The suspected remains and debris were seen in the Karimata Strait, west of the Indonesian part of Borneo.

A navy chief spokesman also told TVOne: "Crew had visual of people at sea surface, not far from debris."

"We are checking whether they are people still alive or bodies."

Lieutenant-Colonel Jhonson Simatupang, commander of the Pangkalanbun (or Pangkalan Bun) air force airport in Central Kalimantan province, earlier told TVOne that choppers deployed to the debris area were tasked to look closer at debris and pick up some of them.

Items resemble a door and pipes. They are orange, red and brown in colour.

Their location is about 10km from where the plane was last detected.

Less than one hour before, a Transportation Ministry official said on Tuesday that red and white debris sighted off Indonesia's Kalimantan coast was likely to be part the AirAsia jet presumed to have crashed in shallow waters off the Indonesian coast.

"The debris is red and white," Djoko Murjatmodjo, acting director-general of air transportation at the Transportation Ministry, told reporters. "We are checking if it's debris from the aircraft. It's probably from the body of the aircraft."

Based on the size and colouring of the debris, it was likely to be part of the missing jet, Mr Murjatmodjo added.

Minutes earlier, the Indonesian authorities said items resembling an emergency slide and plane door were seen in the search for AirAsia flight QZ8501.

"We spotted about 10 big objects and many more small white-coloured objects which we could not photograph," an Indonesian air force official, Air Vice-Marshall Agus Dwi Putranto, told a press conference.

"The position is 10km from the location the plane was last captured by radar," he said.

He displayed 10 photos of objects resembling a plane door, emergency slide and a square box-like object. Indonesian TV also showed a live stream of the floating debris.

"It is not really clear... it could be the wall of the plane or the door of the plane," he said.

"Let's pray that those objects are what we are really trying to find," he said in Pangkalan Bun in Central Kalimantan on the island of Borneo.

An AFP photographer on the same flight that spotted the debris said he had seen objects in the sea resembling a life raft, life jackets and long orange tubes.

Indonesia's Kompass TV showed pictures of what looked like large, angular objects floating in the sea. One appeared to be orange and another grey or brown. The largest appeared to be several metres long.

"Hopefully we will find something definite because I haven't received anything else," an Air Force official told MetroTV, referring to the reported debris. "Other aircraft are still carrying out searches."

A search aircraft has spotted debris 105 miles (169km) off Pangkalanbun, and they now sending a chopper for a clearer look, according to reports.

"These look like items that are not usually seen on sea surface," MetroTV cited Mr Dwi Putranto as saying.

The aircraft was flying 500 feet (152.4m) above sea level. A chopper would allow the team to get a better look.

The debris is in a sea area of 10 sq km to 20 sq km, east of where the plane was last detected on Sunday, MetroTV cited Mr Dwi Putranto.

Sea current direction trend in the area has been easterly, MetroTV reported.

AirAsia flight QZ8501 disappeared on Sunday morning over the Java Sea with 162 people on board.

The search is focused on waters around the islands of Bangka and Belitung in the Java Sea, across from Kalimantan.

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