AirAsia flight QZ8501 climbed at a breakneck speed of 8,000 feet per minute and stalled before crashing into the Java Sea, Transportation Minister Ignasius Jonan said on Tuesday.
“Minutes before [the aircraft disappeared from radar] it suddenly climbed at an extreme rate and then it stalled,” Jonan announced after attending a hearing with House of Representatives Commission V overseeing transportation and public works.
It was the first statement from a high government official on what may have caused the passenger jet to crash en route to Singapore from Surabaya, East Java, on Dec. 28.
“As to why the aircraft stalled, we should wait for results of the investigation from the National Transportation Safety Committee (KNKT),” he said.
Citing data from the plane’s automatic dependent surveillance broadcast, or ADS-B, Jonan said that at 6:17 a.m. the A320 jet began ascending at over 8,000 feet per minute — faster than a fighter jet climbs.
“Even a fighter jet would not be likely to climb at 6,000 feet per minute,” the minister said. “For a commercial aircraft, the average rate is probably between 1,000 to 2,000 feet [per minute], as the aircraft is not designed to climb so fast,” he added.
After reaching an altitude of 37,600 feet, Jonan said, the plane slowed its ascent to 1,500 feet per minute.
At 24,000 feet, the plane disappeared from radar.
As reported, flight QZ8501 had previously requested permission from Soekarno-Hatta International Airport’s air traffic control (ATC) to turn left at 6:12 a.m. to avoid a storm.
The request was immediately granted. The plane turned 7 nautical miles to its left before the pilot,
Iriyanto, a former Air Force pilot who used to fly fighter jets, requested to ascend to 38,000 feet from its position at 32,000 feet, for unknown reasons.
Jakarta ATC approved the request at 6:14 a.m., but received no reply from the pilot.
During the hearing, National Search and Rescue Team (Basarnas) chief Air Marshall FH Bambang Soelistyo said that the team had prepared several options regarding the ongoing joint search and rescue efforts for the passenger jet.
He said that by Jan. 27, the operation would have been running for exactly one month and that the team would try as hard as it could to speed up the process of recovering the plane’s fuselage before that date.
“We have met with the passengers’ families and told them the reality that we are facing,” Bambang said. “Nonetheless, it is up to the President to decide when to end the search and rescue mission,” he said.
According to Bambang, as of Jan. 16 last week, expenses for the mission had reached just Rp 570 million (US$ 45,352), thanks to assistance from regional administrations and also the public.
He said that Basarnas was unable to disclose the total cost of the search and rescue mission until the operation concluded.
To date, Basarnas has recovered the bodies of 53 victims, of which 46 have been identified by the National Police’s Disaster Victim Identification (DVI) team.
AirAsia flight QZ8501 crashed on Sunday, Dec. 28, killing 162 passengers and crew.
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