MAKASSAR (Reuters) - Efforts to locate an Indonesian airliner missing for more than a week with 102 people on board are now focused on a large metal object detected deep on the sea bed, the man leading the search said on Tuesday.
The object was discovered on Monday by Indonesian ships with sonar technology about 1,000 metres under the ocean north of Mamuju in West Sulawesi province.
There was no immediate confirmation that it was the Adam Air Boeing 737-400 that vanished in bad weather on Jan. 1.
"It is not yet confirmed. Today there will be an American ship that we will send to the spot to find out more on it," First Air Marshal Eddy Suyanto, the Makassar air base commander heading the search, told Reuters.
The USNS Mary Sears, a U.S. ship with sonar capability and the ability to detect metal under water, arrives on Tuesday. The Indonesian navy is sending at least four vessels to the scene, including one with a mini-submarine for undersea observation.
The search, which has involved naval ships, military planes and thousands of troops and police on the ground, is being coordinated from Makassar, Sulawesi island's biggest city 1,400 km east of Jakarta.
Indonesian officials will be cautious in announcing any discovery after erroneously saying the plane had been spotted in the mountains of Sulawesi on Jan. 2 when accounts from local villagers were relayed unchecked to the highest authorities.
Besides Sulawesi's western coast, the search covers the Toraja highlands in the centre of the island and an area south of the North Sulawesi provincial capital of Manado, where the plane was headed when it disappeared from radar screens.
The plane vanished less than three days after a ferry with more than 600 aboard capsized and sank off Java.
Fourteen people were rescued on Sunday after drifting hundreds of miles on a life raft for nine days, bringing the total number of survivors to at least 248.
Many more were still unaccounted for and the Senopati Nusantara ferry had yet to be found.
A spokesman for the navy's Eastern fleet said most survivors were passengers who had stayed on deck, not inside cabins.
"They could run and swim faster than the first class passengers. The incident was around midnight when most passengers were asleep, thus they may be trapped at the bottom of the sea," Lieutenant Colonel Tony Syaiful said.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has called for an investigation into what went wrong in both cases as well as a general probe into the state of Indonesia's transport system.
The network serves 220 million people in an archipelago of 17,000 islands.
The country is also prone to natural disasters, sitting astride the Pacific "Ring of Fire where strong volcanic and seismic activity is common, and in a climate where the monsoon season often brings flooding and landslides.
A landslide in West Sumatra late on Monday left at least 13 people buried under mud, a health ministry crisis official said. Rescuers were still trying to find them on Tuesday.
(With additional reporting by Mita Valina Liem and Muara Makarim in Jakarta)