AirAsia Flight QZ8501: Weather report wasn't picked up in person

Story highlights

  • Two officials at Surabaya's airport reassigned, pending investigation
  • Records show there were fresh batteries in at least one locator beacon
  • AirAsia's crew got the weather report electronically, not in person

Surabaya, Indonesia (CNN)AirAsia officials didn't pick up weather reports ahead of Flight QZ8501's crash in person -- something that doesn't mean the airline violated any policies but could mean it missed an opportunity for meteorologists to detail potentially dangerous conditions face-to-face, Indonesia's official weather service told CNN.

Yunus Subagyo Swarinoto, deputy director for meteorology at the weather agency BMKG, said, "Based on our records, there was no AirAsia flight operation officer that directly collected the flight document."
    This practice appears to be common for AirAsia, according to BMKG Station Chief Blucher Doloksaribu. CNN did not see AirAsia listed in entries for a logbook running from December 31 to January 6, for instance.
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    The airline doesn't dispute this, explaining it gets and distributes the same information not in person but by email. The documents are printed and brought onto the flight for pilots to see, AirAsia's Indonesia President Director Sunu Widyatmoko told CNN.
    One advantage of picking up such documents personally -- which in Surabaya, where Flight QZ8501 took off from December 28, would be done at the Airport Authority building -- is that it gives cockpit crew or airline operations staff a chance to review it with the meteorologist on duty, ask questions and get additional information, said BMKG forecaster Apritarum Fadianika.
    But AirAsia argues that the official copy actually isn't as easy to read as the electronic version, which has the same information and comes in color.
    "Our dispatch mirror the dispatch practices of numerous airlines globally," AirAsia said in a statement.
    There's been no apparent change in how the airline gets copies of weather information since QZ8501 went down in the Java Sea. But there's now a change in how its staff process it: Whereas pilots briefed themselves before the crash, there's now a face-to-face briefing involving pilots and flights operations officers before each flight, AirAsia spokeswoman Audrey Petriny said.
    AirAsia officially identified victims

    • Hayati Lutfiah Hamid

    • Grayson Herbert Linaksita

    • Kevin Alexander Soetjipto

    • The Meiji Thejakusuma

    • Hendra Gunawan Syawal

    • Khairunisa Haidar Fauzi

    • Jie Stevie Gunawan

    • Juanita Limantara

    • Wismoyo Ari Prambudi

    • Tony Linaksita

    • Shiane Josal

    • Lim Yan Koen

    • Yongki Jou

    • Indra Yulianto

    • Hindarto Halim

    • Jou Brian Youvito

    Suspension of flight route
    AirAsia's handling of weather information is being investigated by Indonesia's transportation ministry, a top Indonesian aviation official told CNN on Monday.
    It's not the only thing. The airline's practices have already come under scrutiny, including the fact AirAsia's Indonesian affiliate didn't have a license to fly the Surabaya-to-Singapore route on the day that the plane disappeared, according to authorities.
    The airline was approved to fly the route four days a week but that did not include Sunday, Indonesia's Ministry of Transport said as it announced a full investigation and suspended AirAsia Indonesia flights between the two cities.
    AirAsia Indonesia has said it will cooperate fully with the investigation and would not be releasing any statement until the results were known, local media reported.
    But aviation authorities in Singapore said there was no issue on their end. The Singapore Civil Aviation Authority said it had given AirAsia permission to fly the Surabaya-to-Singapore route daily through March 28.
    It added that AirAsia was operating the flight four days a week, including Sundays, but that "airlines may adjust their flight frequencies in the course of a season in response to market demand or operational requirements."
    Officials reassigned
    Two officials in the Surabaya airport's operations department have been reassigned, said the president director of the state-owned company that manages 13 airports in central and eastern Indonesia.
    Tommy Soetomo said a department head and a section head were transferred Monday at the order of the Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of State Owned Operations, pending an investigation.
    Visibility an issue for searchers
    Meanwhile, the search continues for wreckage and bodies from the Singapore-bound flight, which went down with 162 people board after its crew lost contact with air traffic controllers. The cause of the disaster is still under investigation.
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    Big waves and visibility have been problems for searchers, according to officials. So far, 39 bodies have been found, and 16 of those have been identified publicly. Three others have been identified, but officials still needed to inform their families.
    The aerial search began again Wednesday morning just after dawn.
    The Indonesian Navy has sent special equipment to try to tackle the muddy conditions, Indonesian military chief Gen. Moeldoko said Monday. U.S. Navy divers assisting in the search have already been using side-scan sonar gear, which is designed to map the sea floor and capture accurate images for analysis.
    When they find submerged wreckage, divers could also face challenges like "jagged edges, torn fuselage, things hanging all over the place," said Geno Gargiulo, an experienced commercial diver in the United States.
    "It's going to be dark inside -- a lot of things for a diver to get snagged on, for its umbilical to get caught up on, to get disoriented," said Gargiulo, who says he's helped in the aftermath of recent catastrophes, including the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
    Highlighting the complexity of the challenge, Moeldoko said Monday that one large piece of wreckage initially believed to be part of the aircraft turned out to actually be from a ship.
    Objects obscured by waves
    The ships and aircraft looking for remains from Flight QZ8501 have so far detected several large pieces of wreckage believed to be from the commercial jet, according to Indonesian officials.
    But they still haven't located the main body of the plane and the all-important flight recorders.
    A locator beacon in at least one of the plane's so-called black boxes was manufactured by Dukane Seacom, the same company that built the beacons on the still-missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
    But the search for the AirAsia flight is markedly different than the hunt for the missing Malaysian airliner, since wreckage has already been found. Records show there are fresh batteries in at least one of the AirAsia plane's beacons, which are designed to send out pinging sounds for 30 days after a crash to help searchers find the black boxes, Dukane Seacom President Anish Patel said.
    Some of the bodies found over the weekend were still wearing seat-belts, search officials said.
    The bad weather conditions brought about by Indonesia's monsoon -- including strong winds, thick clouds, heavy rain and big waves -- have hindered the teams' efforts during nine days of searching.
    "As soon as you see something in the distance, it disappears behind a wave -- and then it's very difficult to try and spot it again," said CNN's Paula Hancocks, who spent 15 hours out on a search vessel Sunday.