Monday, January 08, 2007

What happened to Adam Air flight 574?

Adam Air logoWhat an aviation story to begin the new year. On New Year's Day, an aircraft belonging to Indonesian carrier Adam Air disappeared on a domestic flight between Surabaya, on the island of Java, and Manado on Sulawesi island. The plane, a Boeing 737-400, had 102 souls aboard -- 96 passengers and 6 crew.

Not long after the plane went missing, there were reports that the wreckage had been spotted, and that there might be some survivors. One of those reports was an Associated Press story, appearing on the CNN website and elsewhere, that said:
Rescuers found the smoldering wreckage Tuesday of an Indonesian jetliner that went missing during a storm. Officials said 90 people were killed but 12 survived in the country's second disaster in days.


The Boeing 737 operated by local carrier Adam Air crashed in a mountainous region of Sulawesi island in the northeast of the sprawling archipelagic nation, said local police Chief Col. Genot Hariyanto.

"The plane is destroyed and many bodies are around there," he said.

Adam Air spokesman Hartonom, who goes by just one name, said 90 people were killed and that there were 12 survivors.

Officials said rescuers were trying to evacuate survivors, but there was no immediate word on their conditions.
News about an aircraft accident is always sad, but hearing that there are some survivors does make the bad news a little easier to take.

But the next day the story about finding the wreckage and some survivors turned out to be false -- direct quotes and all! An article in the International Herald Tribune reported the following:
Officials said they had been misled by incorrect reports from villagers and local officials in the remote area where the wreckage was alleged to have been found. They plan to resume looking for the aircraft on Wednesday.

"We apologize for the news that we released earlier," said an Air Force official, Eddy Suyanto, the Associated Press reported. "It was not true."
I beg your pardon??

Meanwhile, the NTSB issued a press release announcing that they were sending a team to Indonesia to assist with the investigation, and the names of the crew who were aboard the missing plane were posted on Indonesian blogger Ikatan Remaja PLN's Site.

CNN did a story about the renewed search for wreckage or any other sign of the aircraft.
Three teams of searchers -- 750-800 people in all -- began fanning out Wednesday in Sulawesi in central Indonesia, journalist John Aglionby told CNN.

Meanwhile, three navy ships and five air force craft were deployed soon after sunrise over a large section of south and western Sulawesi and nearby waters, Bambang Karnoyudho, the head of the National Search and Rescue Agency, told the Associated Press.

The effort to locate locate the wreckage of the missing passenger jet intensified after reports from aviation and transport officials came out that the crash site -- and survivors -- had been found.

"The search and rescue team is still looking for the location," Transport Minister Hatta Radjasa told El-Shinta radio, according to The Associated Press. He blamed villagers for spreading rumors that the wreckage had been located. "It has not yet been found."
By then, according to Reuters, the relatives of the missing passengers and crew were in an uproar -- rightly so -- and officials of the airline and the Indonesian government began pointing fingers at one another. About the only facts that could be independently verified were that there was bad weather along the route of Flight 574 that day, and that it disappeared about an hour before it was due to land in Manado.

So, did it crash into the sea? Would wreckage be found in a jungle, or on a mountainside? The Indonesian Air Force and Navy searched a wide area over Sulawesi's western coast and the Java Sea, according to an Associated Press article published on January 3 on Airport Business.

On January 4, Reuters reported that aircraft from Singapore were now assisting with the search. (We also learned that day that three of the passengers aboard the missing plane were Americans, a fact confirmed to reporters by the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta.)

Early on, Indonesian officials had said that the pilots of Flight 574 had sent at least one distress signal before the plane disappeared, but on January 5, an Associated Press article reported:
An Indonesian jetliner that vanished with 102 people aboard did not issue distress signals or report any mechanical problems, a top aviation official said Thursday, contradicting earlier reports.
"Contradicting earlier reports"...? Where have we heard that before?
Iksan Tatang, the director general of air transportation, said the missing plane reported high winds before losing contact with the ground on Monday midway through its flight from Indonesia's main island of Java to Manado on Sulawesi Island.

"The plane did not report any complaints about the navigation, the condition of the plane or other technical problems," he said, adding that two signals from its emergency beacon - which is activated on impact - were picked up by a plane in the vicinity and a satellite.

That appeared to contradict earlier reports from officials that the pilot sent out two distress signals before the plane went down.
On January 5, there was still no sign of the missing plane, but that day stories in the news media revealed that the aircraft had changed course a couple of times before disappearing. An Associated Press article appearing in the Boston Globe and elsewhere said:
The plane left Indonesia's main island of Java for Manado on Sulawesi but altered course and turned westward halfway into the two-hour trip after being warned of rough weather near the city of Makassar, said Eddy Suyanto, head of the search and rescue mission.

But when it ran into winds of more than 80 mph over the Makassar Strait, it changed course again, bringing the plane eastward toward land, then disappeared from the radar, he said.

It is not clear why there have been no transmissions from the plane's emergency locator.
By yesterday, more helicopters and a U.S.Navy ship had joined in the search. Fox News also reported that the NTSB team had arrived in Indonesia from the U.S., as well as representatives from Boeing, the Federal Aviation Administration and General Electric.

This morning, January 8, a Reuters story said that an Indonesian navy ship had detected a large object under the sea off the west coast of Sulawesi. Whether the 'object' will turn out to be a Boeing 737 is anyone's guess. Reuters also said that a U.S. ship with sonar capability and the ability to detect underwater metal, the USNS Mary Sears, is due to arrive tomorrow to join the search.

We can only hope that -- for the sake of the families of the crew and passengers, at least -- the plane, or some concrete sign of it, will be found. For now, after all of the conflicting reports and contradictions, all we can say with certainty is that Adam Air flight 574 vanished on New Year's Day.

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