Indonesia expands search for missing plane

Indonesia beefed up its search for a missing passenger plane on Sunday, despatching more spotter aircraft to try to locate the jet nearly a week after its mysterious disappearance.

Three relatives of missing passengers, who were allowed to overfly part of the search area on board an air force Boeing reconnaissance plane, admitted it put the scale of the task into perspective.

“Looking at the thick clouds, from the conditions above, the chances of finding them appear much smaller,” said Fanny Duran, who is still waiting for news of three family members on board the Adam Air plane.

The search-and-rescue plane she was travelling in flew over Toraja and Luwu in South Sulawesi, and Poso lake in Central Sulawesi.

The Adam Air plane with 102 passengers and crew vanished off radar screens on January 1 halfway through a flight from Surabaya, on Java Island, to Manado on the north-east tip of Sulawesi Island.

Ships, planes and about 2 700 police, air force, army and search-and-rescue personnel are now searching for the missing aircraft as frantic relatives wait for news of their loved ones.

The massive air, sea and land sweep has been badly hampered by bad weather and difficult terrain, and uncertainty over exactly where and when the Boeing went down.

“It is primarily a question of bad visibility. With the low hanging clouds and bad weather, it is difficult to get a clear view of the ground,” said W Suparman, who heads the search-and-rescue office in Makassar, South Sulawesi.

Two helicopters were due on Sunday to reinforce the air search effort and more aircrafts were to join, said Indonesian Air Force Major Endik.

“We have just received report that two helicopters will arrive here to join the search efforts,” Endik said from the search-and-rescue command centre at Hasanuddin airport in Makassar, South Sulawesi.

He could not provide more details on the helicopters but said a letter had been sent to the state oil company Pertamina asking for four aircraft to help the search effort.

Endik said four airplanes had taken off from Hasanuddin airport and another from Palu, the capital of Central Sulawesi province, earlier on Sunday to comb the Makassar Strait and a jungle-covered region that straddles the provinces of West, South and Sentral Sulawesi.

A six-man team of United States aviation experts arrived on Saturday in Makassar to help investigate the disappearance, but Setyo Raharjo, head of the National Committee for Transport Safety (KNK), said they were only there to help the coordination and not take an active part in the search.

“Of course, they can also assist search efforts if they are asked to, but so far they came only to assist the KNK in investigating the possible causes of the accident,” Raharjo told AFP.

Three US citizens were on board the missing airplane.

Indonesian Vice-President Yusuf Kalla told search-and-rescue officers in Makassar to continue the search whatever the cost.

“Do not think about the cost of the search, the government will be responsible for this,” Kalla was quoted as saying by the Kompas daily.

Air and marine accidents are common in Indonesia, a vast archipelago nation stretching over 5 000km. Search-and-rescue efforts usually last a week but can be extended if there is hope of finding survivors.—AFP

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