POLEWALI, West Sulawesi ~ American and Singapore air force planes joined Indonesian search and rescue teams on Thursday in a massive air, land and sea search for a missing Adam Air plane with 102 people on board.
The Boeing 737-400, with 96 passengers and six crew, vanished from radar screens on Monday halfway through a flight from Surabaya in East Java to Manado on the northeast tip of Sulawesi island.
Reports by officials on Tuesday that the wreckage and some survivors had been found on a remote jungle-covered mountain near Polewali in the west turned out to be false after rescue teams combed the area.
The search was now concentrating on the sea off Majene, 40 kilometres west of Polewali, as well as areas inland, based on coordinates from distress signals from the plane and its last known position.
Bad weather and the rugged landscape of the mountainous island were hampering the search, officials said.
An Indonesian Air Force plane taking part in the search was forced by bad weather conditions to make an emergency landing on Wednesday, the state-run Antara news agency said.
Four navy warships carrying divers were using sonar to try to detect any plane wreckage under water, Lieutenant Colonel Toni Syaiful, Eastern Fleet Command spokesman, said.
“The four ships will search the waters the Adam Air plane was supposed to have crossed in its journey,” he told Antara.
One of the ships was diverted from the search for survivors of a ferry accident. The boat sank off Java last week.
A Singapore Air Force plane with 27 personnel landed on Wednesday evening.
US Air Force aircraft were expected on Thursday, armed forces commander Djoko Suyanto said.
On the ground, rescue teams have been scouring the forests and hills of West Sulawesi up to the Tana Toraja regency, about 75 kilometers northeast of Polewali.
“For today (Thursday) our search will concentrate on the Tana Toraja area,” said lawmaker Abdul Hadi Jamal, one of the leaders of the parliamentary transport and communications commission who was at Polewali to take part in search.
“One of the last (distress) signals detected was from the Rantepao area in Tana Toraja regency. We will scour the area by air as by land it is much more difficult,” he told ElShinta radio.
“We will fly there using a helicopter so we can go really low to look for a crash site.”
Rescue teams were facing problems in the search of the rugged area.
“It is mainly two problems. One is the geophysical challenges of the landscape in these areas and another problem is the weak satellite system with proper GPS (global positioning system) here,” Jamal said.
“A functional satellite navigation system is really needed in these conditions. Itâ€™s a challenge to receive radio signals in this region,” he said. [P2: Anguish, Anger] (BT/agencies/reports)