Why the AirAsia Wreckage Still Eludes Us
Blame currents, which have led to expanded search area
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 6, 2015 7:13 AM CST
Updated Jan 6, 2015 7:52 AM CST
A Malaysian navy rubber boat is seen from an Indonesian Air Force NAS 332 Super Puma helicopter during a search operation for the victims of AirAsia Flight 8501.   (AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim, Pool)

(Newser) – The hunt for the wreckage of AirAsia flight QZ8501 is now a broader one, reports the BBC, with the head of Indonesia's search-and-rescue agency today announcing that due to strong currents, teams are "adding to and expanding the priority search area." There are dozens of ships and aircraft pitching in (including, as of today, a US navy vessel) and searching a part of the Java Sea that's flat-bottomed and just 130 feet deep. So why has the plane proved so elusive? Blame Mother Nature and the season, mostly:

  • Had the crash occurred in summer, the wreckage could have potentially been visible with the naked eye. But the Asian winter monsoon "turns the Java Sea into a tempestuous, murky soup," reports Time.

  • Part of why it's so murky is due to the fact that, many millennia ago, the Java Sea was a forested area. It's now more a "part of the continental landmass" than an ocean, geologically speaking, per Time, and the organic layer that blankets its bottom is easily churned up. Sonar has identified four large objects that are believed to be pieces of the fuselage on the ocean floor, but the BBC reports that divers have struggled with "zero visibility." The weather was better this morning, though, allowing divers to head deeper, but that was expected to be short-lived.
  • Remotely operated cameras haven't had much more luck, the AP reports: Though teams have attempted to use them to photograph the objects, waves measuring as high as 16 feet have made the cameras tricky to effectively deploy.
  • No pings have been detected from the all-important cockpit voice and flight data recorders, again because high waves have prevented the deployment of ships that drag ping locators. The batteries in the black boxes are likely to go dead in about 20 more days. Officials remain optimistic that they'll get to them in time.
  • One more problem: trash. The Java Sea is heavily trafficked by ships, many of which toss their debris overboard; waste also streams in from the nearby islands of Java, Borneo, and Sumatra. And, as an oceanographer explains, "there's not really a current flushing things out."