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Indonesia plane search narrows after debris found

January 12, 2007

Indonesia plane search narrows after debris found

By Achmad Sukarsono

MAKASSAR, Indonesia (Reuters) - Police and the military have narrowed their search to focus on a beach area and surrounding waters where plane wreckage from a missing Indonesian airliner has been found, the head of the search said on Friday. 

Pieces of the Adam Air Boeing 737-400 that vanished from radar screens on Jan. 1 with 102 people aboard were found in the past few days at roughly the same location, floating in the sea or washed up on beaches. 

Indonesian search and rescue officials examine pieces of an Indonesian plane found in the sea near the town of Pare-Pare in South Sulawesi province on January 11, 2007. (REUTERS/Crack Palinggi)
The biggest part found so far appeared to be the stabiliser, found snarled in a fisherman's net off Lojie Beach on the west coast of Sulawesi island on Tuesday, but not immediately reported to authorities and only announced on Thursday. 

The fisherman who made the discovery had initially taken the piece home and kept it under his bed, the Jakarta Post reported. 

A life vest, food trays and interior material have also been recovered by residents, military and police in the sea and on the shore around the seaside town of Pare Pare, 8 km north of Lojie Beach. 

"Search teams in the mountains have been pulled back and we have built new posts in Pare Pare. Marines are helping police and army scour beaches there," said First Air Marshal Eddy Suyanto, who is coordinating the search. 

"Aerial resources are focused on areas of Pare Pare and Majene to find anything floating," Suyanto told reporters. He commands the air base in Makassar, Sulawesi's largest city, from where the search is being directed. 

Makassar is about 1,400 km northeast of Jakarta. Pare Pare is a two-hour drive north from Makassar while Majene is further northwest. All are on Sulawesi's west coast. 

AGONY FOR RELATIVES 

Suyanto suggested the plane had crashed into the sea off Majene, adding he believed it had disintegrated into small pieces. He declined to say whether this could have happened before or after it hit the water. 

Despite the possibility that the Boeing had broken up, Indonesian navy vessels assisted by a U.S. oceanographic ship were still trying to locate its fuselage, which could still house the black box that could provide clues to explain the disaster. 

So far no bodies confirmed as the missing passengers have been found. Suyanto said that, considering that the biggest part of the plane found so far was just 3 feet long, a body was unlikely to have survived the disaster in one piece. 

Faced with the agony of waiting for news on his missing daughter, Barry Tontey rented a boat to join the search. 

"We faced high waves there and our boat was so small. It tipped over once and we reached the beach all wet," said the trader from Surabaya whose daughter spent the Christmas holiday with her family before flying to Manado where she was studying. 

"I wanted to do something but I could not find anything there," said the 50-year-old, now back at his Makassar hotel. 

The 17-year-old plane was heading from Surabaya in East Java to Manado in northern Sulawesi when it vanished in bad weather on New Year's Day. The plane made no distress call, although the pilot had reported concerns over crosswinds. 

A search is also continuing for a ferry that capsized with more than 600 aboard and sank off Java three days before the plane vanished. Tony Syaiful, spokesman for the Eastern Fleet, said that divers were being sent to look at an area off Lasem. 

Presidential Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had issued a decree to set up a task force to examine the transport system given his view the system is in a shoddy state, spokesman Andi Mallarangeng was quoted by Antara news agency as saying. 

(Additional reporting by Mita Valina Liem and Ahmad Pathoni in Jakarta) 

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