AirAsia flight QZ8501: Total search area divided into 7 sectors

Basarnas (Indonesia's national search and rescue agency) chief F.H. Bambang Soelistyo points to the approximate location where the ill-fated AirAsia plane was last detected by radar on Sunday. -- ST PHOTO: WAHYUDI SOERIAATMADJA 
Basarnas (Indonesia's national search and rescue agency) chief F.H. Bambang Soelistyo points to the approximate location where the ill-fated AirAsia plane was last detected by radar on Sunday. -- ST PHOTO: WAHYUDI SOERIAATMADJA 

The multi-nation search on Monday for AirAsia Indonesia flight QZ8501 focused on two sea areas between Tanjung Pandan on Belitung island and Kalimantan, with the weather agency forecasting clearer sky.

Mr F. H. Bambang Soelistyo, head of Indonesia’s search and rescue agency Basarnas, told The Straits Times in the central operation room in Jakarta that the first search area lies towards a sea area between Belitung island and south-western part of Kalimantan, and  measures 120 nautical miles by 240 nautical miles.

The second search area  is nearer to a sea area between western part of Kalimantan and Bangka island and is about 180 nautical miles by 150 nautical miles. Bangka island is north-west of Belitung island.

The total search area has been divided into seven sectors -with Indonesian Armed Forces planes focusing their efforts in three areas, and aircraft from Malaysia and Singapore in another two areas each, according to a chart from Basarnas.

Mr Bambang, a 3-star air force officer, said Pangkal Pinang on Bangka island will be the tactical operational base for all search efforts. Pangkal Pinang has better access to supplies of fuel and other logistics needs compared to Tanjung Pandan, he said.

He added that the "second day's operations will be from 6 am until dawn".

Weather conditions on Monday and the next few days are expected to be better than that on Sunday, when the plane with 162 people on board lost contact with Indonesian air traffic control while flying from Surabaya to Singapore.

"Weather is relatively better today than yesterday judging from clouds above the search location, although sea waves are still high and could cause challenge in the search operations," Mr Heru Djatmiko of Indonesia's meteorology, geophysics, climatology agency, told reporters on Monday morning.

"Light to mild rains are expected in the area today," he added.

The search team started scouring the first area on Sunday afternoon and returned to base before night due to low visibility. The search teams will scour the first area again on Monday as well as the second area, he told The Straits Times.

The search on Sunday involved 12 big vessels and several aircraft, including a hercules and a Boeing 737 surveillance plane. Monday’s efforts will involve significant reinforcement from Singapore and Malaysia, according to Mr Bambang. 

Indonesian air force has deployed two hercules, two choppers and one Boeing 737 surveillance plane. Indonesian navy has despatched two aircraft, three mother ships, while Basarnas is deploying at least six main vessels, four choppers and tens of small boats.

Singapore will deploy another C-130 at noon on Monday to help with the search and locate mission. One aircraft took off from Paya Lebar Airbase at 6.30am on Monday together with about 12 volunteer spotters from the RSAF.

It is understood the aircraft is searching a square area of 40 nautical miles by 40 nautical miles.

 wahyudis@sph.com.sg