MAKASSAR, Indonesia, (Reuters) – Indonesia’s president wants full resources devoted to the hunt for a missing plane carrying 102 people, without the search being limited by a timeline, the country’s transport minister said on Friday.
The plane, a 17-year-old Boeing 737-400, operated by Indonesian budget carrier Adam Air, disappeared on Monday in bad weather. “So far there are still no signs of Adam Air in Sulawesi,” First Air Marshal Eddy Suyanto told reporters at the airbase in Makassar, Sulawesi’s largest city.
n what officials said was his last conversation with air traffic control in Makassar, the pilot said the flight had encountered crosswinds and needed safe coordinates. Radar continued to track the flight for some time after that. “The president has given a directive that the search should use all the capabilities that we have without being limited by a timeline,” Transport Minister Hatta Radjasa told reporters after a meeting with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
The search had been concentrated in areas of western Sulawesi from where emergency signals were received on Monday, when the plane went missing with no mayday call from the pilot, but was expanded to the north and east on Friday.
The North Sulawesi provincial capital, Manado, was the destination of the Adam Air flight, which originated in Jakarta and stopped in Surabaya in East Java, where most Manado-bound passengers boarded.
Rain, winds and clouds have compounded the difficulty of searching in rugged and forested mountainous terrain.
Officials said at least four Indonesian fixed-wing military planes, a Singapore air force Fokker-50 and a helicopter were looking for the missing airliner along with army and police ground teams and civilian and navy ships.
Suyanto told Reuters earlier on Friday that more foreign help might be sought because efforts so far had yielded no results.
Government officials had to apologise after erroneously saying on Tuesday that wreckage of the plane, carrying 96 passengers — including three Americans — and six crew, had been found and that 12 people had survived.
A Singapore satellite picked up distress signals from the plane on Monday and relayed them to Jakarta because the world’s fourth-most-populous country lacked the equipment, said Ikhsan Tatang, a senior official at Indonesia’s transport ministry.
The plane disappeared less than three days after a ferry capsized and sank off Indonesia’s main island of Java.
Officials said on Friday at least 239 of those on the ferry had since been rescued, but nearly 400 were unaccounted for.
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.
Indonesia has seen an airline boom to serve its 17,000 islands and 220 million people since the industry was deregulated, but critics say safety lacks priority.
Government and industry officials, however, say safety is a major concern for budget carriers and checks are regular.