Ships converge on possible Indonesian plane-crash site

Indonesian and United States ships sailed on Tuesday to where investigators believe metal objects detected on the sea bed could be the wreckage of a missing passenger plane.

The large objects were detected by sonar in an area of ocean off Indonesia where search-and-rescue teams have been hunting for traces of an Adam Air jet carrying 102 passengers and crew.

It vanished off radar screens on New Year’s Day, halfway through a flight from the central island of Java to Sulawesi Island in the north-east.

The objects were detected by an Indonesian ship in deep waters off western Sulawesi, part of a massive search area covering tens of thousands of square kilometres.

However, more sophisticated equipment from a US Navy vessel is required to determine whether the debris is indeed from the Boeing 737-400.

“We are now concentrating on following up the findings off the coast of Tanjung Rangas” in Sulawesi’s Mamuju district, said Eastern Fleet spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Toni Syaiful.

“Our efforts are now focused on trying to identify the findings, whether it is the airplane that we are looking for,” he told Agence France-Presse (AFP).

He said the KRI Leuser ocean survey ship—one of four Indonesian vessels heading toward the area—could detect objects about 2 000m deep and was usually used to map the sea floor.

One Indonesian ship is already at the scene, but Syaiful said that efforts to identify the objects would be bolstered by the arrival later on Tuesday of the US Navy oceanographic survey ship USNS Mary Sears.

Syaiful said an Indonesian navy ship with sonar had located a metal object at a depth of 1 050m about 3km off the coast of Mamuju in West Sulawesi.

The commander of the naval base in Makassar, the capital of South Sulawesi, Gatot Sudiyanto, earlier told AFP that three metal objects had been spotted at depths of between 500m and 1 800m.

Syaiful said the location concurred with reports from two local fishermen, who claimed to have sighted a low-flying airplane while they were at sea.

“The two also reported to have heard a loud bang shortly after they lost sight of the aircraft,” he said.

The air search, meanwhile, continued to comb a wide swathe of land and sea straddling the central part of Sulawesi, an officer on duty at the search and rescue coordination centre in Makassar said.

“I cannot yet give you the details, but yes, air searches are continuing today [Tuesday],” said Lieutenant Ali.

Bad weather and the rugged terrain of the mountainous, forest-clad island have hampered the search for the missing airliner, which was also marred by a communications mix-up that severely embarrassed the government.

Relatives of the passengers and crew were left distraught and angry after reports by officials last Tuesday that wreckage and some survivors had been found on a remote mountain in West Sulawesi province turned out to be false.

The huge air, land and sea search has involved ships, planes, helicopters and thousands of police, military and search-and-rescue personnel since the plane disappeared from radar.

Air and marine accidents are common in Indonesia, a vast archipelago nation stretching over 5 000km, which relies on air and sea transport.—AFP

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