Search resumes for Indonesian jetliner after authorities backtrack on finding wreck

Rescuers scoured the ocean for a missing jetliner Wednesday, one day after senior Indonesian officials erroneously said the Boeing 737's charred wreckage had been found in a remote mountainous area and that a dozen people survived.

Three navy ships set sail soon after sunrise in the Makkasar Strait and five Air Force planes took to the skies, searching for signs of the Adam Air plane, said Bambang Karnoyudho, the head of the National Search and Rescue Agency.

But as nightfall approached, nothing had been found, officials said, preparing to continue with a land and sea search early Thursday.

"God willing, we can find it soon," Karnoyudho told The Associated Press.

The Adam Air plane carrying 102 people was flying from Indonesia's main island of Java to North Sulawesi's provincial capital of Manado when it disappeared Monday in stormy weather after sending out distress signals one over mountainous jungles and the other along the coast.

Rescue teams spent more than 10 hours Tuesday hiking through slippery forest paths in a mountainous region of Sulawesi's western coast but found nothing, prompting authorities to expand their search on Wednesday.

Karnoyudho said based on radar and satellite readings he thought it most likely that the Adam Air plane had fallen into the sea.

Air Force Squadron Commander Lt. Col. Mudjianto, whose team followed the plane's scheduled flight path to the site where its last distress signal was picked up, said visibility was good Wednesday as his team searched a roughly 300-square-mile (yard) triangle of sea and land.

"We flew over the area four times ... but there was no sign of the plane," Mudjianto said.

Relatives of the passengers some camped out at the Adam Air counter at the Manado airport were losing patience after being misinformed one day earlier about the fate of the plane.

Top Indonesian aviation, military and police officials and the airline itself had said the plane had been found in a remote part of Sulawesi. They said that 90 people on board had perished, but that the remaining 12 may have survived.

Descriptions were vivid, with officials saying corpses and debris from the plane were scattered over a 300-meter (327-yard) area of forest and jagged cliffs _ highlighting the often unreliable and chaotic nature of disaster relief efforts in the world's largest archipelagic nation.

Aviation experts say the vast area the aircraft may have gone down in; the dense, remote island terrain; and a potentially damaged emergency locator beacon may further slow search operations.

"In an area of low population density, particularly if it is in inhospitable terrain such as jungle, or a deep ravine or covered by a canopy it could sit for a long time without being found," said Laurence Benn, head of the Center for Civil Aviation in London.

Eventually, Transport Minister Hatta Radjasa acknowledged the news that the plane had been located was based on rumors from villagers, sparking a series of reversals from other officials.

"I don't understand how the authorities could be so heartless and spread rumors without thinking of the suffering of those waiting for news of their loved ones," said Ima Kulata, who was awaiting word about her cousin and two nieces.

"It's ridiculous," she said, crying after learning there may be no survivors after all. "How come they make such fools of us?"

Three of those aboard were American citizens, the U.S. Embassy said. A U.S. National Transportation Safety Board team was to arrive Friday to offer assistance. It was unclear whether any other foreigners were on the plane.

Just over half of the Adam Air's flight path was over the Java Sea, the Maluku Sea and other smaller bodies of water.

Adam Air is one of at least a dozen budget carriers that have emerged in the country since 1999, when the industry was deregulated. The rapid expansion has led to cheap flights to scores of destinations around the nation of 17,000 islands, but has raised some safety concerns, since maintenance on the leased planes is reportedly poor.

National aviation chief Ichsan Tatang said the plane involved in Monday's disaster was 17 years old a normal age for a commercial jetliner had flown 45,371 hours and passed its last inspection on Dec. 25.

Adam Air, which began operations in 2003, was founded by Agung Laksono, the speaker of Indonesia's house of representatives.

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