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Missing jet likely at 'bottom of the sea'


Air crews searching for the AirAsia jet that vanished with 162 people aboard spotted oily spots and "suspicious" objects in the sea Monday, but it was too early to know whether either was connected to the missing aircraft.

The fate of Flight 8501 remained a mystery on the second day of the search.

At news conference Monday, Indonesian National Search and Rescue chief Henry Bambang Soelistyo said, "Based on the coordinates that we know, the evaluation would be that any estimated crash position is in the sea, and that the hypothesis is the plane is at the bottom of the sea."

The Airbus A320 was bound for Singapore from Surabaya, Indonesia, when it lost contact with air-traffic control Sunday at about 7:24a.m. Singapore time (6:24p.m. ET on Saturday), the airline said.

"We have no idea at the moment what went wrong," said Tony Fernandes, CEO of the regional, low-cost carrier. "Let's not speculate at the moment."

The search resumed after dawn Monday — early Sunday evening ET.

First Admiral Sigit Setiayana, the Naval Aviation Center commander at the Surabaya air force base, said that 12 navy ships, five planes, three helicopters and a number of warships were talking part in the search, along with ships and planes from Singapore and Malaysia. The Australian Air Force also sent a search plane.

Jakarta's Air Force base commander Rear Marshal Dwi Putranto said he was informed Monday that the Australian Orion plane had spotted "suspicious" objects in the sea near Nangka island, 700 miles from where the plane lost contact.

"However, we cannot be sure whether it is part of the missing AirAsia plane," Putranto said, "We are now moving in that direction, which is in cloudy conditions."

Air Force spokesman Rear Marshal Hadi Tjahnanto told MetroTV that an Indonesian helicopter in the eastern part of Belitung island spotted two oily spots on the sea about 105 nautical miles east of Tanjung Pandan — much closer to the point of last contact. He said samples of the oil would be collected and analyzed to see if they are connected to the missing plane.

The tragedy marks the third commercial air disaster involving airlines in the region this year. Mystery still shrouds Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared March 8 without a trace en route to Beijing with 239 people aboard. On July 17, another Malaysia Airlines flight was shot down over rebel-controlled eastern Ukraine while on a flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, killing all 298 people on board.

Miami aviation lawyer Steve Marks said it's "inexcusable" that airlines, after the Flight 370 horror, don't use satellites to track every aircraft throughout every flight.

"The technology exists and has existed for years and for whatever reason, it has not been implemented," Marks said.

Djoko Murjatmodjo, Indonesia's acting director general of transportation, said that minutes before the AirAsia flight disappeared from radar, the pilot asked air traffic control for permission to avoid a cloud bank by turning left and going higher, to 34,000 feet. Flight 8501 gave no distress signal, he said.

AccuWeather meteorologist Tyler Roys told USA TODAY the area along the flight path was blasted by a string of severe thunderstorms when the jet disappeared.

"It's hard to say if 34,000 feet would have been enough," Roys said. "We know the thunderstorms were very tall, very high up. They could have encountered severe turbulence, strong wind shear, lightning and even icing at that altitude."

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