AirAsia, in a statement released Tuesday evening, confirmed that the debris found by the Indonesian National Search and Rescue Agency was from Flight QZ8501, which went missing on Sunday while flying from Surabaya in Indonesia to Singapore’s Changi International Airport. The debris of the Airbus A320-200, which crashed in the Java Sea with 162 people on board, was located about 110 miles southwest of the town of Pangkalan Bun, about halfway between Surabaya and Singapore.
“I am absolutely devastated. This is a very difficult moment for all of us at AirAsia as we await further developments of the search and rescue operations but our first priority now is the wellbeing of the family members of those onboard QZ8501,” Tony Fernandes, CEO of AirAsia, said in the statement.
The disappearance of Flight 8501 early on Sunday had triggered a multinational search operation in the Java Sea with over 30 ships and 21 aircraft from Indonesia, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea providing assistance. On Tuesday, just over two days after the plane went missing, debris and bodies were spotted in the shallow waters of the Java Sea. Search and rescue operations in the region are still underway.
Soon after the plane went missing, many had speculated on the role bad weather could have played in the aircraft’s disappearance. Many former pilots had said that the presence of dense cumulonimbus clouds could have led to the build-up of ice on the plane’s wings, leading to its eventual crash. However, they said, based on the available meteorological data, bad weather and atmospheric instability alone could not have caused the crash.
The disappearance of the plane had also triggered comparisons with Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which is yet to be found since it went missing in March. However, as aviation experts pointed out, the search for the AirAsia plane was made much easier by the fact that it went down in relatively shallow waters in a heavily used shipping channel.
Following the incident on Sunday, many had also expressed concerns over air safety standards put in place by low-cost Asian airlines. The Asia-Pacific region, which reportedly accounts for 31 percent of global air passenger traffic, has, in recent years, become the largest air travel market. However, pilot training programs and wages have failed to keep up, leading to a dearth of well-trained crew. On Monday, the Indonesian government reportedly announced a review of AirAsia’s Indonesian operations to ensure “safety improvements.”
With over 40 bodies recovered so far, the crash marks the first fatal accident in the 18-year history of the Malaysian low-cost airline. The company, which, just months after the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, had claimed in its in-flight magazine that their planes would “never get lost,” now faces an uphill road to recovery, following the crash of Flight 8501.
During a press conference in Surabaya, where relatives of the plane's passengers are gathered, Indonesian President Joko Widodo reportedly offered prayers and condolences to the families of the victims.