A massive search operation to locate AirAsia flight QZ8501 and its 162 passengers and crew has been the focus of national and international media coverage since the Airbus 320 was first believed to have crashed in the Karimata Strait on Dec. 28.
The Indonesian Military (TNI), National Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas), the National Police and other institutions have worked hand in hand to find the victims and aircraft despite the poor weather. No fewer than 17 planes and 29 ships, including from the US and Singapore, have joined forces in the search operation.
It could be seen as a sacrifice on the part of the scores of people involved in the operation. While most Indonesians celebrated the turning of the year with friends and family, those on the search braved high waves and strong winds to achieve their mission.
On the third day of the search, efforts bore fruit as the first three bodies and several parts of the aircraft were found. One by one more victims of the plane crash were discovered. Some of the bodies have been identified and buried, the relatives of others are still waiting to have their loved one’s fates confirmed one way or the other.
Locating the jet, victims and the black box is an extremely difficult job given the unfriendly weather, which the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) has forecast will persist in the coming days.
The next uphill challenge will be identification of the remaining victims once their remains have been recovered after several days in the sea. As of Friday, four victims had been identified.
Reports of what might have caused AirAsia’s first major accident have circulated. BMKG chief Andi E. Sakya said Thursday that the AirAsia aircraft took off last Sunday without a weather report issued by the agency, which was in violation of standard operational procedures.
Earlier reports said that the Soekarno-Hatta International Airport air traffic control lost contact with the AirAsia jet as it was responding to the captain’s request to take the plane to a higher altitude to avoid cumulonimbus clouds. The pilot had asked for permission to take the plane to 38,000 feet but was told to go only to 34,000 feet due to busy air traffic.
It is too early, however, to conclude the cause of the accident until the black box is discovered and analyzed. But as in the aftermath of previous plane crashes, the government has pledged to review national aviation safety following the AirAsia accident.
Transportation Minister Ignasius Jonan said that a review and improvements would be needed to prevent more accidents. He said the government would strive to increase the level of the country’s aviation safety from the current second category to first category in accordance with the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requirements. The FAA downgraded Indonesia’s aviation safety level to second category seven years ago due to the industry’s poor safety record.
Jonan threatened to revoke operational licenses of aviation companies that failed to comply with safety regulations.
Safety has become a cause for concern since low-cost carriers opened business here in the 2000s. Some have stopped operation due to tight competition, not because of safety regulation violations.
With the number of passengers constantly growing (20 percent in 2012-2013 alone) in the Asia Pacific, safety will be the chief challenge for airline companies.
The year 2014 closed in a festive mood despite the mourning and prayers held for those on board flight QZ8501.
At the final trading of the year on Tuesday, the Jakarta Composite Index (JCI) rose by nearly 1 percent to 5,226.95, or a 22.209 percent increase from the level recorded at the end of 2013. Vice President Jusuf Kalla said the encouraging performance of the Indonesian stock market was supported by the people’s confidence that the new government would see a stronger economy.
The government has set economic growth at 5.8 percent in 2015, although the World Bank cut its projection for Indonesia’s economic growth to 5.2 percent from 5.6 percent due to the weak outlook for fixed investment and trade as well as a slowing pace of loan expansion.
Amid the optimistic outlook, the government slashed on Wednesday subsidized fuel prices less than two months after it increased them, citing the falling crude oil price in international market as the reason.
The government, however, also announced a fixed fuel subsidy for gasoline and kerosene, which Finance Minister Bambang Brodjonegoro said would save at least Rp 200 trillion of the fuel subsidy budget. The new fuel policy took effect on New Year’s Day.
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo did not stop springing his year-end surprises. He installed on Wednesday retired Army general Luhut Panjaitan as the head of the presidential working unit, a strategic post in the current administration that people are referring to as presidential chief of staff. Luhut played a key role in Jokowi’s successful bid for the presidency.
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