Missing flight QZ8501: Hope ...from the high seas

Missing flight QZ8501: Hope ...from the high seas
Personnel aboard RSS Persistence rolling up a gantry net as the vessel sets out on its 30-hour journey to the search area in the Java Sea. The ship is one of three Singapore has sent to aid the search and locate operation for Flight QZ8501.

As the minutes tick away painfully for relatives and friends of passengers on missing AirAsia flight QZ8501, industry experts are cautiously confident that the airplane will soon be found.

To them, hope has not drifted away in the Java Sea, where QZ8501 ceased to be a blip on the radar. 

Unlike the Indian Ocean, where Malaysia Airlines MH370 had disappeared in March, the Java Sea is seen as more conducive for search and locate operations.

The area of the Java Sea, where QZ8501 is believed to have disappeared, has an average depth of around 40 to 50m. The Indian Ocean can go as deep as 6,000m.

The relatively shallower waters would make it easier for sonar devices to function more effectively.

Mr Steven Wallace, a former director of the Federal Aviation Administration's Office of Accident Investigations, told CNN yesterday that "it will not surprise me if this airplane is found in the next 12 hours of daylight, because they know to a fairly high degree of certainty where it was..."

It is one of the quicker routes for vessels sailing to Western Australia via the Sunda Strait. 

Smaller fishing boats ply closer to coastal waters and land features are within sight of passing vessels, said Master Mariner Muhammad, who works for a Singapore-based European shipping company.

"There is a chance that somebody could have heard or seen something," said Mr Muhammad, who has 18 years' of sailing experience.

"The Indian Ocean, on the other hand, is a vast area with uncharted sections. Sometimes there are communication blind spots."

With commercial ships plying the Java Sea, their echo-sounding equipment could stumble or detect unusual "shapes" in the shallow waters, added Mr Muhammad.

Search efforts are focused and targeted on a smaller area compared to the search for MH370. The Indonesian authorities said the search area for QZ8501 is broken into two parts.

One is the sea between Belitung Island and the south-western part of Kalimantan, covering an area of 120 nautical miles by 240 nautical miles.

And the second section is west of Kalimantan and Bangka Island, which covers an area of 180 nautical miles by 150 nautical miles. Countries like Malaysia, Australia and Singapore have committed resources to locate the missing airplane.

Yesterday, the Indonesian authorities accepted Singapore's offer of two teams of specialists and two sets of underwater locator beacon detectors from the Singapore Ministry of Transport's Air Accident Investigation Bureau to locate the flight data recorders of QZ8501. In addition, Singapore also offered additional equipment and personnel, including a side scan sonar system and a robotic remotely-operated vehicle.

The Republic of Singapore Air Force deployed two C-130 aircraft to continue the search and locate operations yesterday. Two sorties are planned for today.

Meanwhile, a landing ship tank, the RSS Persistence, set sail yesterday evening to join two more Republic of Singapore Navy vessels which have begun search and locate efforts in the Java Sea.

zaihan@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Dec 30, 2014.
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