Men stand near a
condolence wreath at an Adam air counter in Jakarta airport, January 3,
Makassar - Indonesian rescuers launched new sea, land and air searches on
Wednesday for a plane with 102 people aboard as anger grew over inaccurate
official statements that its wreckage had been found.
Senior government officials apologised late on Tuesday for erroneously saying
the 17-year-old Boeing 737-400, operated by budget carrier Adam Air, had been
spotted in the mountains of Sulawesi island after disappearing in heavy rain on
Early reports that 12
people had survived were also officially denied, and the general air of
confusion prompted reactions of shock, dismay and even scorn from families of
the missing passengers and crew.
"I feel fooled. This is what I call playing games with the feelings of the
victims' relatives," said Peter Tolitton, whose brother was aboard the ill-fated
"If up to the ministerial level the information is inaccurate, we doubt the
credibility of the officials," Tolitton, a Jakarta resident who was flown by
Adam Air to Makassar, told Reuters.
The missing plane was carrying 96 passengers and six crew. A copy of its
manifest showed three passengers as non-Indonesians. The US embassy in Jakarta
said they were Americans.
The renewed search effort, in the face of heavy rain and strong winds, was
being coordinated from Makassar, Sulawesi's largest city, 1,400 km (875 miles)
east of Jakarta.
Transport Minister Hatta Radjasa said military planes had been deployed since
daybreak and naval ships sent to the Makassar Strait between Sulawesi and Borneo
in case the doomed plane had fallen into the sea.
But as darkness set in across the search area late on Wednesday, there was no
news of any sign of the plane or of a crash site.
Help From Singapore, US
Indonesian military officials said the air force had deployed a helicopter
and surveillance plane, the navy four aircraft, and the army nearly 300
personnel for the search and rescue effort, and that Singapore would provide a
surveillance aircraft and unspecified help would come from the United States.
An Indonesian air force official said aircraft were searching mountainous
areas between the Sulawesi coastal town of Majene and Toraja. Much of it is
covered with jungle and forest, and transportation and communication facilities
can be poor.
South Sulawesi governor Amin Syam said that, besides continuing bad weather,
many rescuers were worn out after the efforts made on Tuesday based on the wrong
Officials said the mistaken information about the location of wreckage and
survivors had come from accounts from a local village that police then relayed
to government agencies.
The confusion over the missing plane highlighted the logistical difficulties
of dealing with disasters, from quakes and volcanoes to floods and forest fires,
in an archipelago of 17,000 islands stretched across an area about as wide as
the United States.
The plane lost contact with the ground on Monday about an hour before it was
due to land in Manado in North Sulawesi.
Transport officials have insisted the plane, which had clocked up 45,371
flying hours, was airworthy.
The transport ministry said it had last evaluated the plane in December 2005,
when it passed all service checks. The aircraft was due to be checked again in
Joseph Umar Hadi, an opposition member of the Indonesian parliament's
transport commission, said annual checks on planes operated by budget carriers
were "very insufficient".
"Crude competition among operators has created risks unknown by the public,
whether it relates to maintenance or management that encourages thrift," he
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has ordered a full investigation into the
condition of all commercial planes in Indonesia and what went wrong in the Adam
Air case, as well as an evaluation of the nation's transportation system.
For that purpose Yudhoyono would form a national team that would look at sea
and air transport in particular, with an eye to safety issues, transportation
minister Radjasa told reporters late on Wednesday after a meeting with the
Adam Air's plane disappeared less than three days after a ferry capsized and
sank off Indonesia's main island of Java. Hundreds who were aboard the ferry are
Ferries are ubiquitous in Indonesia as an inexpensive way to travel among its
many islands, while air travel has mushroomed since the industry was liberalised
in the late 1990s, enabling privately owned budget airlines to operate.