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Rescue Official Believes AirAsia Flight Is On Ocean's Floor


Let's talk through what is known about the AirAsia flight that fell off radar screens over the weekend. One-hundred-sixty-two passengers and crew boarded for a flight from Indonesia to Singapore. NPR's Anthony Kuhn is following the story of what happened next. Anthony, what are Indonesian authorities saying?

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: The head of Indonesian search and rescue today said that based on their data, they believe that the plane crashed in the Sea of Java, and the plane itself may now be on the ocean floor. Right now, Indonesian, Malaysian and Singaporean planes and an Australian plane are - have been in a second day of search operations. They haven't found anything. There were reports of sightings of oil slicks and some unknown debris in the ocean, but none of this has been positively linked to the missing plane.

INSKEEP: OK, so we have an indication here. This is not a mystery of what happened to the plane as there was with that Malaysian airlines plane some months ago - or Malaysian airplane some months ago, but is there any positive indication of what did go wrong?

KUHN: You know, Steve, there's so many things that point to the fact that this should've been a safe flight. There were no distress signals from the cockpit. This was a fairly young jet, a 6-year-old Airbus. It had reached its cruising altitude, which is usually the safer part of the flight. It was flown by an experienced crew and pilot.

Now, there was rough weather in the area between Singapore and Indonesia, and the pilot had requested to alter his flight path to go above it. And now they're looking in a fairly small area for the plane, so it's unusual. And there's been no clear explanation of just what happened.

INSKEEP: OK, some indication that it was a crash. No indication of why. What does this mean for the airline, AirAsia?

KUHN: AirAsia is a budget carrier that's based in Malaysia, and it's had a clean safety record since it was established in 1981. It's run by a flamboyant entrepreneur named Tony Fernandes, someone who's often compared to Richard Branson of the Virgin Group in the U.K. because of his flair and his entrepreneurial skills. And this airline has come to dominate the low end of the market because it's catered to Southeast Asia's growing middle classes and also because of Southeast Asia's island geography, which really makes flying the best way to get around. But because of this incident, AirAsia lost about 8 percent on Malaysia's stock markets, and it may lose more bookings in the future because of this incident.

INSKEEP: OK, thanks very much. That's NPR's Anthony Kuhn reporting today from Beijing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea, reporting on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Before moving to Seoul in 2018, he traveled to the region to cover major stories including the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster.
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