AirAsia chief defends pilots over 'unusual actions'

KUALA LUMPUR/JAKARTA – AirAsia boss Tony Ferdandes Monday defended the pilots of the flight that crashed over the Java Sea against media claims about their actions immediately before the disaster.

Over the weekend, reports claimed Captain Iriyanto was out of his seat conducting an unorthodox procedure when his co-pilot apparently lost control of the plane.

Citing sources familiar with the crash investigation, agencies reported that Iriyanto cut the power to the flight augmentation computer, which would have removed the protection preventing a pilot from exceeding the plane’s safety limits.

“Don't ever talk about my pilots that way,” Fernandes told an Anadolu Agency correspondent in a text message response to questions. “They are dead and they can't defend themselves.

“That does not mean we can accuse as we like. The truth will come out. Wait until the black box readings are out.”

Fernandes also referred to the reports by Reuters and Bloomberg as “gutter press.”

Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Committee also denied the reports.

Mardjono Siswosuwarno, who is leading the investigation, described the turning off of the computer as “inconsequential,” according to news website detik.com.

Masruri, head of the sub-committee on air safety, said information that a pilot had disconnected the power to the computer was "unfounded."

The official, who like many Indonesians only uses one name, said: "We can't say that. It obviously was not based on the data we have."

Asked about Iriyanto leaving his seat, Masruri added: "It is not true… How can they know? There is no video, it could not be seen."

Investigators have previously said Flight QZ8501 went into a stall after climbing at a rate beyond the aircraft's safety parameters.

Meanwhile, divers from the National Search and Rescue Agency found seven bodies Monday in the Airbus A320-200 fuselage lying 100 feet (30 meters) below the surface in the Karimata Strait, off the coast of Borneo.

"We saw about seven bodies in the fuselage,” dive coordinator Rendra Hertiadhi said, the Kompas.com news website reported. “Four bodies have already been retrieved to the Pacitan warship. Three other bodies will be retrieved in the next dive."

The findings raise hopes that more remains will be found inside the fuselage.

Hertiadhi said the fuselage was badly damaged, making it difficult to retrieve bodies tangled in cables and other debris.

Of the 162 passengers and crew aboard the Dec. 28 flight from Surabaya, Indonesia, to Singapore, 84 bodies have now been recovered.

Dive teams resumed operations Sunday after a two-day break following weeks searching in rough seas. The Indonesian military, which had made up the bulk of the search members and equipment, withdrew on Tuesday last week.

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