Bodies, debris from missing AirAsia plane pulled from sea off Indonesia


Indonesian rescuers searching for an AirAsia plane carrying 162 people pulled bodies and wreckage from the sea off the coast of Borneo on Tuesday, prompting relatives of those on board watching TV footage to break down in tears.

Indonesia AirAsia's Flight QZ8501, an Airbus A320-200, lost contact with air traffic control early on Sunday during bad weather on a flight from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore.

The navy said 40 bodies had been recovered. The plane has yet to be found.

“My heart is filled with sadness for all the families involved in QZ8501,” airline boss Tony Fernandes tweeted. “On behalf of AirAsia, my condolences to all. Words cannot express how sorry I am.”

The airline said in a statement that it was inviting family members to Surabaya, “where a dedicated team of care providers will be assigned to each family to ensure that all of their needs are met”.

Pictures of floating bodies were broadcast on television and relatives of the missing already gathered at a crisis centre in Surabaya wept with heads in their hands. Several people collapsed in grief and were helped away.

Yohannes and his wife were at the center awaiting news of her brother, Herumanto Tanus, and two of his children who were on board the doomed flight.

The Tanus family had been on their way to visit Herumanto's son, who studies in Singapore and who traveled to Surabaya on Monday after the plane went missing.

“He cries every time he watches the news,” Yohannes said.

The mayor of Surabaya, Tri Rismaharini, comforted relatives and urged them to be strong.

“They are not ours, they belong to God,” she said.

SEARCHING THROUGH THE NIGHT

A navy spokesman said a plane door, oxygen tanks and one body had been recovered and taken away by helicopter for tests.

“The challenge is waves up to three meters high,” Fransiskus Bambang Soelistyo, head of the Search and Rescue Agency, told reporters, adding that the search operation would go on all night. He declined to answer questions on whether any survivors had been found.

About 30 ships and 21 aircraft from Indonesia, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and the United States have been involved in the search.

The plane, which did not issue a distress signal, disappeared after its pilot failed to get permission to fly higher to avoid bad weather because of heavy air traffic, officials said.

It was traveling at 32,000 feet (9,753 meters) and had asked to fly at 38,000 feet, officials said earlier.

Pilots and aviation experts said thunderstorms, and requests to gain altitude to avoid them, were not unusual in that area.

The Indonesian pilot was experienced and the plane last underwent maintenance in mid-November, the airline said.

Online discussion among pilots has centered on unconfirmed secondary radar data from Malaysia that suggested the aircraft was climbing at a speed of 353 knots, about 100 knots too slow, and that it might have stalled.

Investigators are focusing initially on whether the crew took too long to request permission to climb, or could have ascended on their own initiative earlier, said a source close to the probe, adding that poor weather could have played a part as well.

He cautioned that the investigation was at an early stage and the black box flight recorders had yet to be recovered.

CLUES WHEN THINGS GO WRONG

The plane, whose engines were made by CFM International, co-owned by General Electric and Safran of France, lacked real-time engine diagnostics or monitoring, a GE spokesman said.

Such systems are mainly used on long-haul flights and can provide clues to airlines and investigators when things go wrong.

Three airline disasters involving Malaysian-affiliated carriers in less than a year have dented confidence in the country's aviation industry and spooked travelers across the region.

Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 went missing on March 8 on a trip from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 passengers and crew on board and has not been found. On July 17, the same airline's Flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board.

Bizarrely, an AirAsia plane from Manila skidded off and overshot the runway on landing at Kalibo in the central Philippines on Tuesday. No one was hurt.

On board Flight QZ8501 were 155 Indonesians, three South Koreans, and one person each from Singapore, Malaysia and Britain. The co-pilot was French.

U.S. law enforcement and security officials said passenger and crew lists were being examined but nothing significant had turned up and the incident was regarded as an unexplained accident.

Indonesia AirAsia is 49 percent owned by Malaysia-based budget carrier AirAsia.

The AirAsia group, including affiliates in Thailand, the Philippines and India, had not suffered a crash since its Malaysian budget operations began in 2002.

Indonesia says missing AirAsia plane could be at ‘bottom of sea’


A missing AirAsia jet carrying 162 people could be at the bottom of the sea after it was presumed to have crashed off the Indonesian coast, an official said on Monday, as countries around Asia sent ships and planes to help in the search.

The Indonesia AirAsia plane, an Airbus A320-200, disappeared after its pilot failed to get permission to fly higher to avoid bad weather during a flight from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore on Sunday.

Flight QZ8501 did not issue a distress signal and disappeared over the Java Sea five minutes after requesting the change of course, which was refused because of heavy air traffic, officials said.

“Based on our coordinates, we expect it is in the sea, so for now (we think) it is on the sea floor,” Soelistyo, head of Indonesia's search and rescue agency, told reporters when asked about the missing plane's likely location.

A senior Indonesian civil aviation source told Reuters that authorities had the flight's radar data and were waiting for search and rescue teams to find debris before they started their investigation into the cause.

Transport Minister Ignasius Jonan said the search was focused on an area of 70 square nautical miles between the island of Belitung, off Sumatra, and Borneo island.

He said the sea there was only 50 to 100 meters deep, which would be a help in finding the plane. Ships could hunt around the clock, but aircraft were expected to suspend operations at dusk.

Air force spokesman Hadi Tjahjanto said searchers were checking a report of an oil slick off Belitung. They had picked up an emergency locator signal off the south of Borneo but no subsequent signal was found, he said.

On board Flight QZ8501 were 155 Indonesians, three South Koreans, and one person each from Singapore, Malaysia and Britain. The co-pilot was French.

The disappearance caps a disastrous year for Malaysia-affiliated airlines. IndonesiaAirAsia is 49 percent owned by Malaysia-based budget carrier AirAsia.

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 went missing on March 8 on a trip from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 passengers and crew and has not been found. On July 17, the same airline's Flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board.

The AirAsia group, including affiliates in Thailand, the Philippines and India, had not suffered a crash since its Malaysian budget operations began in 2002. The group's shares in Kuala Lumpur closed 8.5 percent lower.

ANGER GROWING

Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla, visiting relatives of people on the flight in Surabaya, told reporters the search by 30 ships and 15 aircraft, about halfway between Surabaya and Singapore, was being hampered by bad weather.

Anger grew among about 100 relatives at a crisis center at the airport in Indonesia's second-largest city.

“We only need clear information every hour on where they are going,” said Franky Chandra, who has a sibling and three friends on the flight, referring to the search teams.

“We've been here for two days but the information is unclear. That's all we need.”

Australia, Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea have sent ships and aircraft to join the search.

In a statement on its website, China's Defence Ministry said it had sent a warship to the South China Sea and planes “have begun preparatory work” for search operations.

Soelistyo said Indonesia might not have the best technology to search underwater and had accepted offers of help from the United States, Britain and France.

Flight QZ8501 was traveling at 32,000 feet (9,753 meters) and had asked to fly at 38,000 feet to avoid clouds.

Permission was not given at the time due to traffic in the area. Five minutes later, at 6.17 a.m. on Sunday (6.17 p.m ET on Saturday), the plane lost contact with air traffic control, transport officials said.

Data from Flightradar24.com, which tracks airline flights in real time, showed several nearby aircraft were at altitudes ranging from 34,000 to 36,000 feet at the time, levels not unusual for cruising aircraft.

Pilots and aviation experts said thunderstorms, and requests to gain altitude to avoid them, were not unusual in that area.

“The airplane's performance is directly related to the temperature outside and increasing altitude can lead to freezing of the static radar, giving pilots an erroneous radar reading,” said a Qantas Airways pilot with 25 years' experience flying in the region.

The resulting danger is that pilots take incorrect action to control the aircraft, said the pilot, who requested anonymity.

PLANE CLIMBING TOO SLOWLY?

Online discussions among pilots centered on unconfirmed secondary radar data from Malaysia that suggested the missing plane was climbing at a speed of 353 knots, about 100 knots too slow in such weather conditions.

“At that altitude, that speed is exceedingly dangerous,” Sydney-based aviation expert Geoff Thomas told Reuters.

“At that altitude, the thin air, the wings won't support the aircraft at that speed and you get an aerodynamic stall.”

Safety authorities say accidents involving a loss of control, such as might occur in bad weather, are rare but almost always catastrophic.

The Indonesian pilot was experienced and the plane last underwent maintenance in mid-November, the airline said. The aircraft had accumulated about 23,000 flight hours in some 13,600 flights, according to Airbus.

Malaysia AirAsia chief Tony Fernandes flew to Surabaya and, along with Indonesian officials, updated relatives.

“My heart bleeds for all the relatives of my crew and our passengers. Nothing is more important to us,” he said on Twitter.

Report: Indonesia’s last synagogue destroyed


Indonesia’s last synagogue has been destroyed, a Dutch news site reported last week.

Unidentified persons demolished the Beith Shalom synagogue in Surabaya on the island of Java to its foundations sometime earlier this year, according to a report on Indoweb.nl.

The synagogue has seen a number of anti-Israel protests staged in front of it and was sealed by Islamic hardliners sealed in 2009, according to the Jakarta Globe.

Reports of the synagogue’s destruction have appeared in the Indonesian media since May and were confirmed last week by Indoweb.nl, which quoted the director of the Surabaya Heritage Society as saying that he intended to protest the demolition in talks with government officials.

“It is not clear by whom and when exactly the building was demolished,” Freddy Instanto told Indoweb.nl.

The City Council of Surabaya was in the process of registering the building as a heritage site. Istanto said that for that reason, the building “should have been protected.”

The Dutch news site also quoted Sachiroel Alim, the head of the Surabaya regional legislative council, as saying that it was unknown whether Muslim extremists had anything to do with the demolition.

Situated in in eastern Java, the small synagogue was built in the 19th century by Dutch Jews when Indonesia was still a Dutch colony. It had white-painted bricks and a Star of David painted on the front door.

The first Jews arrived in Indonesia in the 17th century with the Dutch East India Company. During the 1930s and 1940s, the community grew due to new arrivals fleeing persecution in Europe.

Currently, about 20 Jews are estimated to be living in Indonesia, a predominantly Muslim nation, according to Beit Hatfutsot, the Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv.

Schwarz to lead interfaith tour of Indonesia, Israel, Jordan


A group of U.S. Jewish, Christian and Muslim faith leaders will take a six-city tour of Indonesia, Jordan and Israel to discuss the role of religion in advancing peace.

The trip announced Thursday, which will include 12 religious leaders from the United States and 12 religious leaders from Indonesia, will be led by Rabbi Sid Schwarz and was being organized by the Interfaith Mission for Peace and Understanding. Participants will leave this weekend.

The idea for the trip arose from conversations between Indonesian diplomats and Schwarz, a senior fellow at Clal: National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership and a founder of the Panim Institute for Jewish Leadership and Values.

Jewish participants include Rabbi Steve Gutow,the president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the public policy umbrella; Rabbi Peter S. Knobel, the Rabbi Emeritus at Beth Emet Free Synagogue in Evanston, Ill.; Rabbi Asher Lopatin of Anshe Sholom B’Nai Israel Congregation in Chicago; and Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, who directs the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly.

Following their global tour, the group will return to Washington, DC to meet with members of Congress in order to urge them to support policies that will use religion to assist in diplomacy.

Multifaith clergy dialogue in the name of peace


When the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance recently assembled three of the world’s great religious leaders for a multifaith dialogue, a rabbi, a priest, an archbishop and the president of the world’s largest Muslim nation confronted the greatest current obstacle to world peace: religion.

“Today, we would have to say that the threat to world peace in many cases, tragically, emanates from those who claim that they speak in the name of God,” Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Wiesenthal Center, told a group of distinguished spiritual and political leaders who gathered at the museum on May 5 (for a roundtable discussion). Packed into a small, dark conference room on the upper level of the museum, a group of dignitaries determined to combat global intolerance and violence proved that although there are hard questions to answer, dialogue is a key component in elucidating what different faith communities have in common.

The center brought together Kyai Haji Abdurrahman Wahid, former president of Indonesia; Lord George Carey of Clifton, archbishop of Canterbury emeritus; and the Rev. Patrick Desbois of France, to bestow them each with medals of valor for their humanitarian work, presented at the center’s National Tribute Dinner on May 6, which also honored Hollywood heavyweight Amy Pascal.

“As you recognize the strength of someone else’s faith, you may recover greater confidence in your own,” said Carey, who has devoted his life to bridging the gap between Islam and the western world. At the behest of Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, he established the Alexandria Process, an initiative that coalesces Jewish, Christian and Muslim religious leaders for peacemaking efforts in the Holy Land. But in 2004, during a four-day conference in Cairo, Egypt, moments of stark divisiveness prompted some leaders to walk away from the table.

Carey once found himself at a similar crossroads when the Anglican Church, over which he presided for more than a decade, voted to divest from doing business with Israel. But instead of walking away, Carey publicly criticized the Church of England for aligning themselves with one cause over another.

“How can we promote peace if we take sides?” Carey asked.

“The real test is to have a dialogue that works from our own attachment to our own faith, but at the same time, from a very deep understanding of other faiths.”

The problem that we face, he said, is not merely that the issues are challenging, but that many influential leaders remain silent in their stead.

Although the assembly praised Carey’s message, many wondered how to engage with a leader like Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who openly denounces the Jewish state — and isn’t exactly a candidate for friendly dialogue. Avoiding the question, Carey downplayed the longevity of political leaders and suggested starting at the local level by building relationships with Iranian citizens.

Which is precisely what Wahid, who served as president of Indonesia from 1999 to 2001, has been doing within his country. Since 1984, when he became head of Nahdlatul Ulama, an umbrella organization overseeing 14,000 Muslim madrasas that serve as the center of study for Muslim theology, he began reforming the nation’s largest educational and social welfare system. He engaged in a public denunciation of Holocaust denial in the Muslim world and convened a multifaith conference where, for the first time, a Holocaust survivor delivered personal testimony that was broadcast throughout the Arab world on Al Hurra satellite TV.

While Wahid has built bridges among different faiths, the obstacle that remains is narrowing the gender divide perpetuated by Islam.

Working closely with his wife, Nuriyah Wahid, a staunch advocate for women’s rights in Indonesia, the former first couple intends to change the culture of Muslim theology, beginning with the Quran.

“To this point the Quran has been interpreted by men,” Nuriyah Wahid said through a translator at the museum’s afternoon reception. “The Quran itself does not distinguish between men and women, and men are using their interpretation to promote their own interests. This has to be straightened out.”

The importance of tolerance and openness in today’s increasingly intolerant world was the theme of the dinner the following day, where a mix of Hollywood denizens, Holocaust survivors, politicians and the center’s wealthy donors gathered for the award ceremony in the ballroom of the Regent Beverly Wilshire hotel.

At the event, $2 million was raised for the Wiesenthal Center, which recently inaugurated the museum’s newest addition, a life-size replica of Simon Wiesenthal’s office from Vienna.

After a short presentation on his support for Israel, Rabbi Hier introduced a frail and wheelchair-bound Wahid, who received a standing ovation.

“If we as a people are dedicated to openness, we have to recognize Israel — there is no other way,” said a weak-voiced Wahid, who was scheduled to attend a press conference in Israel following his visit to Los Angeles.

With a captive audience, Pascal, the Sony Pictures Entertainment co-chair, said she was “daunted” by the honorees before her. She shared her vision of Hollywood as an industry that values collective responsibility — a medium that entertains, but also tells the truth.

“Being a good Jew means supporting people and causes not when it’s in our self interest,” she said. “Survival is a privilege that entails obligation. Every day God gives us the opportunity to do the right thing and at least one day, we should take it.”

Nation World Briefs


Ground Troops in Gaza

Israel sent troops into the Gaza Strip for the first time since it withdrew from the territory. Commandos entered northern Gaza on Monday night and attacked a Palestinian squad about to launch a rocket into Israel. Four suspected terrorists were killed and another five wounded. There were no Israeli casualties. Israel had previously relied on its air force and navy for operations in Gaza, partly out of concern that a ground operation could bolster Palestinian claims that the coastal strip continues to be occupied, despite the removal of all 21 settlements and army bases there last August.

Olmert, Mubarak to Meet

Israel’s Ehud Olmert will meet Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak at a June 4 summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheik, the site of May 21 talks between Olmert’s top two deputies and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Egyptian officials said they expected the meeting to pave the way for a summit between the P.A. president and the Israeli prime minister.

Jewish Groups Gather Aid for Indonesia

Several Jewish groups set up funds to aid victims of the recent earthquake in Indonesia. The American Jewish World Service (AJWS), the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and B’nai B’rith International are accepting donations for victims of Saturday’s earthquake, which killed an estimated 5,000 people and left tens of thousands injured. The AJWS is accepting donations through its Web site; www.ajws.org. The JDC is taking credit card donations by phone, (212) 687-6200; personal checks should be made out to JDC: Indonesia Earthquake Relief and mailed to JDC: Indonesia Earthquake Relief, Box 321, 847A Second Ave., New York, N.Y., 10017; and online contributions can be made at www.jdc.org. Those wishing to contribute through B’nai B’rith may send checks to its general disaster relief fund, at B’nai B’rith International, 2020 K St. NW, Seventh Floor, Washington, D.C., 20006.

Israel Boycott Recommendation Blasted

British Jewish leaders blasted a decision by a British teachers union to recommend a boycott of Israel. Monday’s vote by the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education, which forces Israeli academics to “publicly declare their political views and subject them to the scrutiny of British academics, is especially pernicious,” the Board of Deputies of British Jews said in a statement. The boycott applies to Israeli lecturers and academic institutions that don’t publicly declare their opposition to Israel’s presence in the West Bank.

Canadian Union Backs Israel Boycott

A large public-sector union in Canada voted to back a boycott against Israel. Some 900 members of the Ontario branch of the Canadian Union of Public Employees voted unanimously at a conference last week to support the campaign until Israel “recognizes the Palestinian right to self-determination.” The president of the union, Sid Ryan, condemned Israel’s security barrier, calling it an “apartheid wall,” and urged that Israeli wines be removed from the shelves of provincial liquor stores. Steven Schulman, regional director of the Canadian Jewish Congress in Ontario, blasted the move.

Jerusalem Compensates Gays, Lesbians

The Jerusalem Municipality was ordered to pay out $70,000 to the city’s gay and lesbian center. Jerusalem District Court on Monday found in favor of a petition filed against City Hall by the Jerusalem Open House, which had been deprived of funding from the municipal cultural chest since 2003. The petitioners were also awarded $5,200 in court costs. Gay and lesbian activists have been at odds with the Jerusalem Municipality before, given Mayor Uri Lupolianski’s misgivings over the annual Gay Pride Parade in the city.

Cancer Patients Call Off Strike

A hunger strike by Israeli cancer patients was called off after the government agreed to boost state-funded treatment. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Monday ordered some $75 million added to the 2006 “health basket” of medications covered by the state. The funding meant a reprieve for Israeli colon-cancer sufferers who until now have had to pay thousands of shekels a month for some of their treatments. Several patients had set up camp outside the Knesset more than two weeks ago and went on a hunger strike in protest. But there was partisan rancor at the prospect that Olmert would provide the money by cutting the defense budget.

Defense Minister Amir Peretz, whose Labor Party is chief coalition partner in the Olmert government, voiced outrage at the decision, prompting speculation that the government could have trouble passing its budget.

Senate Delays P.A. Vote

The U.S. Senate delayed consideration of the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act. The Senate was due to have voted last Friday on the act, cutting off assistance to the Palestinian Authority, but a security scare stemming from an erroneous report of gunfire in the Rayburn Senate Office Building delayed business until after the Memorial Day holiday weekend. With 89 co-sponsors, the act is guaranteed passage. It would cut assistance to the Palestinian Authority, but differs from a version passed last week in the U.S. House of Representatives by allowing the president greater leeway in delivering emergency assistance to the Palestinians. It also narrows the bill’s scope, limiting its restrictions to governments led by the Hamas terrorist group.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.