AirAsia group chief executive Tony Fernandes pledged full confidence in his crew and fleet and urged against speculating on what brought flight QZ8501 crashing into the sea, as search and rescue teams continue to recover debris and bodies.
Speaking to reporters in Surabaya, Fernandes says he has met with Indonesian president Joko Widodo and "talked about some of the information we had on what could have gone wrong.”
He declined to disclose more, and says the focus is on recovery efforts and bringing these to a conclusion as soon as possible.
“What we are beginning to see is that there was some very unique weather conditions. Let’s wait for investigations to be concluded,” says Fernandes.
He adds that the 53-year-old captain in command, Iriyanto, was “extremely experienced”, having accumulated over 20,000 flight hours. He was also a former fighter pilot with the Indonesian Air Force, and originated from Surabaya, so he knew the area “very well”.
“I have full confidence in my fleet and crew,” he says. “All our aircraft are the same type, the A320, which is a very well-known aircraft. So we continue to have full faith in our operations in Indonesia and elsewhere.”
Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee (NTSC) will lead investigations into the crash of the 2008-built A320, supported by relevant safety agencies including French safety investigation authority BEA.
Weather conditions and what the crew did moments before the crash on the morning of 28 December will no doubt be the focus of the investigation.
The flight data and cockpit voice recorders from the crashed aircraft have yet to be retrieved.
BEA, citing preliminary data from Indonesian counterparts, disclosed that the crew of flight QZ8501 had informed Jakarta controllers that the aircraft was passing waypoint TAVIP at 32,000ft about 6min before it disappeared.
TAVIP is some 110nm south-west of Pangkalan Bun, and is close to the location where Indonesian search personnel found debris confirmed as having come from the aircraft.
Four minutes after the TAVIP crossing, the crew reported a deviation to the left due to weather and requested too climb to 38,000ft, says BEA. It adds that the flight was “approved” to 34,000ft. The aircraft’s radar trace was lost two minutes later.
QZ8501 was operating the Surabaya-Singapore route, carrying 155 passengers and seven crew members when it crashed. Indonesia’s National Search and Rescue Agency (Barsanas) is now focused on recovering bodies and debris in four sectors in the waters down south of Kalimantan.
"This is an experience I've never dreamed of and probably an airline's CEO worst nightmare. After 13 years of flying millions of people, this is the worst feeling one could have," says Fernandes.