As more than 30 bodies from AirAsia Flight QZ8501 were recovered from the Karimata Strait this weekend, leaked official documents have given rise to allegations that AirAsia Indonesia violated procedures that lead to the disaster.
Reuters/Darren Whiteside Somber procession: Caskets containing the remains of passengers from Air Asia QZ8501 are carried into an Indonesian Military (TNI) cargo plane for transport to Surabaya, East Java, from Pangkalan Bun, Central Kalimantan, on Saturday.
The first allegation came to light in a leaked document that was originally sent by the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) to Transportation Minister Ignatius Jonan on Wednesday, revealing that the pilots of the flight had not received a required weather report from the agency.
“AirAsia took the [BMKG] weather report at 7 a.m.,” on Dec. 28, the day of the crash, BMKG head Andi E. Sakya said. The time was after the plane’s departure from Surabaya’s Juanda International Airport at 5:35 a.m.
An AirAsia flight operations officer (FOO) received the report only after the plane lost contact with Jakarta air traffic control at 6:17 a.m.
Former National Transportation Safety Committee (KNKT) investigator Ruth Hanna Simatupang said that pilots were required to obtain weather reports from the BMKG at least 10 minutes before takeoff.
“According to standard procedures, every time pilots chart flight plans, they must consider [BMKG] weather reports,” she said. “So how could the plane fly without a weather report from the agency?”
Hanna said one factor might be the early-morning departure.
“The flight departed really early in the morning and the crew had to get ready at least 2.5 hours before that because it was an international flight. Did Juanda airport prepare the crew at 4 a.m.? That may be why the FOO didn’t take the weather report from the BMKG. Or it could be the BMKG did not have its officials [ready],” said Hanna.
Sunu Widyatmoko, the president director of AirAsia Indonesia, an associate carrier of Malaysian budget airline AirAsia, denied the allegation.
“AirAsia Indonesia really considers and is very careful in evaluating weather reports from the BMKG before every flight,” he said.
Sunu said the BMKG’s station at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport sent reports via e-mail four times a day to the AirAsia Indonesia operations center.
“These reports are accepted by the operations control center at all AirAsia Indonesia hubs, which are Jakarta, Medan, Surabaya, Bandung and Denpasar, where they are printed out and kept by pilots,” he said.
The agency’s weather map shows that the Surabaya-Singapore route taken by the flight on that day was very cloudy, lending support to the theory that thick cumulonimbus clouds contributed to the crash.
The Transportation Ministry also grounded AirAsia flights from Surabaya to Singapore because the airline allegedly did not have permission to fly on Sundays.
The suspension, effective from Jan. 2, will be in place until the KNKT completes its investigation.
AirAsia Indonesia safety and security director Achmad Sadikin denied the flight had been illegal.
Hanna said that AirAsia Indonesia might have obtained a license to fly outside its regular schedule, considering the high demand for yearend travel.
“There must have been a new license proposed by AirAsia to the ministry. We must check how it could obtain such a permit and what did it take to get it?” Hanna said.
Transportation Ministry acting director general for air transportation Djoko Murjatmodjo said on Saturday the ministry would investigate any irregularities.
“We know [someone] must have given the permit. We’re looking into the who and why,” he said, adding that those responsible for possible violations might be suspended.
Responding to the allegations, Transportation Minister Ignasius made an unannounced visit to the AirAsia Indonesia office in Cengkareng, Tangerang, on Friday.
Jonan reportedly expressed anger after learning some AirAsia Indonesia pilots had not been directly briefed by the FOO on weather conditions.
The minister was said to have been disappointed with a statement from AirAsia officials that said pilots could download information from the BMKG’s website.
“You should abide by the regulation. Don’t even try to break the rules. I can revoke your license,” Jonan said.
Meanwhile in Surabaya, some family members of passengers on the AirAsia flight said they had not considered filing a lawsuit following the allegations.
“We’re focusing now on finding information about Adrian,” said Ronny Tanubun, a relative of 13-year-old Andrian Fernando, one of the passengers on the plane. Following requests from the families of those on ill-fated AirAsia flight QZ8501, police will not allow media to cover the transfer of bodies identified by its Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) team.
East Java Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Awi Setiyono announced on Saturday that the press would no longer be permitted to cover such transfers, as happened with the first four bodies.
“We plead with our journalist friends: There’s no need for the transfer to be covered. The families have objected. This is a private matter, let’s respect this,” Awi told reporters on Saturday.
The spokesman said the objections were mainly aimed at live television coverage.
On Saturday in Surabaya, the bodies of two more victims — The Meiji Thejakusuma, a 44-year-old woman from Kupang Indah, and Hendra Gunawan Syawal, a 23-year-old man from Bubutan — were returned to families without a ceremony.
“In both cases, we have a match between ante mortem and post mortem data,” Awi said.
Six bodies have been returned to families as of Saturday, seven days after contact with the plane, which was en route from Surabaya to Singapore, was lost.
Separately, 12 more bodies arrived at Bhayangkara Hospital for identification on Saturday, flown in from Pangkalan Bun, Central Kalimantan, where bodies and debris found at the crash site in the Karimata Strait have been taken.
A total of 30 bodies have been flown to the hospital, including the six returned to families. Awi said two more bodies would soon be returned to families, with two others at the final stage of identification. The rest were still undergoing identification.
Awi said the police were collecting DNA data from victims’ families.
East Java forensic team member Sr. Comr. Hery Wijayatmoko said the team was relying on DNA data. “After being in the water for [seven days, it’s difficult to obtain fingerprints],” Hery said.
He said that the bodies were first labeled and separated based on gender and nationality.
The latter stages involved examining the bodies for post mortem data, including dental documentation, property found on the bodies, as well as fingerprints and DNA data.
“It’s not easy, but we have many experts on the team to help speed up the process,” he said.
A number of forensic experts have joined the team, including those from Brawijaya University in Malang, East Java; Gajah Mada Univeristy in Yogyakarta and the University of Indonesia (UI) in Jakarta.
UI forensic expert Budi Sampurna said that police would autopsy the bodies of the pilot, co-pilot and some of the passengers for their investigation.
“Not all the passengers’ bodies will be subject to autopsy. We’re taking only a sample, because not all the families approve [of this method],” Budi said.
Earlier on Friday, hundreds of family members of pilot Iriyanto gathered at his parents’ home in Sleman, Yogyakarta, to pray.
“The family prays that God will give Iriyanto help and goodness,” said Iriyanto’s cousin Daru Lalito Wistoro.