As the search for AirAsia Flight 8501 expanded on Monday, Indonesian officials said there’s little hope of finding any survivors. The jet, which was carrying 155 passengers and seven crew members, disappeared on Sunday while heading to Singapore from Surabaya, Indonesia. The pilot’s final request was to climb to 38,000 feet to avoid rough weather. Indonesian search and rescue chief Bambang Soelistyo said that based on the plane’s last-known coordinates and estimated crash position, “the hypothesis is the plane is at the bottom of the sea.”
Thirty ships and 15 aircraft from several nations are searching for the plane, and so far they’ve found two leads. An Indonesian helicopter crew found oily patches in the Java Sea east of Belitung island, and samples are being tested to determine if they’re related to the missing plane. An Australian Orion aircraft also spotted “suspicious” objects near Nangka island, which is about 700 miles from where the plane lost contact. “However, we cannot be sure whether it is part of the missing AirAsia plane,” said Rear Marshal Dwi Putranto, Jakarta’s air force base commander. “We are now moving in that direction, which is in cloudy conditions.”
The signal from the plane’s emergency locator transmitter has not been detected, which supports the theory that it’s at the bottom of the ocean. Soelistyo said Indonesia has reached out to several countries, including the U.S., Britain, and France, to obtain the equipment it would need to retrieve a plane from that depth.
John Cox, a former accident investigator, told the Washington Post that the jet’s speed will probably be a key point in the investigation. The radar suggests it was flying at a low speed, which can make a plane stall at high altitude. When an Air France flight stalled in 2009 after its airspeed measurements failed, it took two years to recover the black-box recorders. Indonesian authorities have a much smaller and shallower area to search, and Cox said, “I don’t think it will take nearly as long in this case.”