Indonesian military chief blasted for role in AirAsia jet search effort

Above: Chief Gen. Moeldoko

JAKARTA - Indonesian Military chief Gen. Moeldoko has been subject to criticism for his role in commanding a search and rescue (SAR) operation following the discovery of the tail section of the AirAsia flight QZ8501 jet on Wednesday.

House of Representatives deputy speaker Fadli Zon of the Gerindra Party said that Moeldoko could have monitored the SAR operation from his office.

"He could just supervise the operation. He has other things to do," Fadli told reporters on Friday.

Fadli said that Moeldoko's presence could have caused confusion among personnel in the SAR effort as to who was in charge of the operation.

"He may have meant well. But this could cause coordination problems. I believe on technical issues, he should have deferred to [National Search and Rescue Agency] Basarnas," he said.

Media reports said Moeldoko's presence and his role in coordinating the search operation that led to the discovery of the Airbus A320-200's tail section had compromised the line of command in the search area, which should have been commanded by Basarnas chief Air Marshal FH Bambang Soelistyo.

Moeldoko has defended his role in the operation, saying that he had decided to lead the efforts to retrieve the plane's tail since Thursday, given what he described as a critical situation.

"I decided to go directly to the field because the situation has reached critical level," he said on board the KRI Banda Aceh warship. "That's why I came here, to check the preparation of my team. I don't want them to make mistakes that could jeopardize our mission."

Moeldoko first led the operation from the warship on Thursday evening, which was not successful, with the Navy's team of divers failing to recover the plane's black boxes by bringing the tail section to the surface using flotation devices.

The team of divers only managed to attach one floating bag to the tail section. By the time a second team dove to attach another floating bag, ocean currents had strengthened.

Moeldoko then decided to sleep on board the ship and continue leading the operation on Friday.

He believed that his presence in the search area in the Karimata Strait, which separates Bangka-Belitung Islands from Kalimantan, would boost the morale of his personnel.

"I am sure our team of divers is skilled and persistent," said Moeldoko.

Basarnas, meanwhile, insisted that the agency was the only organisation authorised to lead the operation and that Moeldoko had not taken over the agency's authority.

"The leadership [of the operation] remains with Basarnas," Bambang said on Friday in one of his regular press briefings.

Bambang said that Moeldoko's presence in the operation was only in his capacity as military commander.

Bambang also said that so far he had maintained good communications with Moeldoko during the operation.

"The point is that he is supporting [his crew] in the field," he said.

While the exact location of the black boxes had not yet been determined, one ship involved in the operation detected on Friday morning signals believed to be from the black boxes.

"It had been determined that the black boxes have sent 'pings' as their signals," Moeldoko said.

The ship detected the signals one kilometer southwest of the location of the plane's tail, fueling speculation that the black boxes had been thrown from the plane during the crash.

As the black boxes had likely been dislodged from their original position inside the aircraft's tail section, Moeldoko said that they could have been destroyed.

Bambang shrugged off Moeldoko's concerns, saying that black boxes could withstand powerful impact.

"The black boxes are made of metal that has been manufactured to be able to withstand impact and temperature," he said.