KARIMATA STRAITS, Indonesia: An Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) is now en route to join the search for the wreckage of AirAsia flight QZ8501 off the southern coast of Kalimantan, media on board the RSS Persistence were told on Thursday morning (Jan 1).
A C-130 aircraft carrying the AUV and six trained personnel left Singapore at 8.30am for Pangkalan Bun – the coastal town serving as the holding area for any bodies recovered during the search. It is expected to reach the Kalimantan town in a few hours. The AUV and crew will then be carried by Super Puma helicopter to the RSS Persistence and deployed to the search waters, the Republic of Singapore Navy said.
The Indonesian search authorities announced on Wednesday that the mission was now focused on the retrieval of the plane's black box – a data recorder which could shed light on the events which led to the flight's downing on Dec 28 – as well as the recovery of bodies and wreckage.
The AUV, also known as the REMUS, is a remotely-controlled vehicle about 3m to 5m long, and is equipped for underwater searches of this nature.
Three Republic of Singapore Navy vessels – the Persistence, Valour and Supreme – are already in the search zone, while the MV Swift Rescue is expected to reach on Thursday. The Indonesian authorities have also accepted Singapore's offer of a Mine Counter Measure Vehicle joining in the search.
For Thursday, at least one Super Puma search sortie has been planned from the RSS Persistence, although any operations conducted are dependent on the weather, media on board the vessel were told.
The current Sea State 3 status indicates waves of 0.5m to 1.25m. Surface visibility at 9.55am local time (10.55am Singapore time) is about 10 miles, while an isolated thunderstorm is expected later in the day. Weather has played a major factor in search and recovery efforts, with sea swells beyond 2m, heavy rain and thunderstorms forcing halts to the operations in the two days since wreckage was first sighted in the area.
In a meeting with the media on Wednesday night, RSS Persistence Commanding Officer LTC Ang Jeng Kai stressed that the focus of the mission was to help Indonesia in its time of need. "We stress that this is an effort to help our neighbours, with whom we have strong bilateral ties," he said.