Singapore schools, F1 race on edge as bad haze persists

SINGAPORE (AP) — Billowing smoke from Indonesian forest fires has worsened Singapore's air pollution, raising concern among organizers of this weekend's widely anticipated Formula One night race, as well as in schools that reopened Monday after a weeklong term break.
Large parts of neighboring Malaysia were also shrouded in the gray, acrid pall, and an Indonesian province declared an emergency that closed schools and limited working hours Monday.
The Pollutant Standards Index, Singapore's main measure of air pollution, rose to 222 in the early hours of Monday, the highest level in a year and above the official "very unhealthy" bandwidth of 200, according to the National Environment Agency.Read more on

Singapore ruling party wins elections, returns to power

SINGAPORE (AP) — Singapore's prime minister on Saturday lauded the city-state's youth vote for helping return his party to power in a massive victory for the 12th time since independence a half-century ago.
The victory of the People's Action Party was never in doubt — it has won every elections since 1965 — but the huge sweep in Friday's general elections means the struggling opposition made no headway despite highlighting problems like income disparity, restrictions on free speech, overcrowding caused by immigration, and the rising cost of living.
The PAP got 83 of the 89 seats in Parliament while the opposition Workers' Party captured six.Read more on

2 Global Alternatives to Starting Up in Silicon Valley

Although Silicon Valley remains a golden standard for startup companies, new technology hubs around the world have emerged to support further developments. With almost 140,000 new startup businesses launched every day (according to the last year’s World Startup Report), it is clear that Silicon Valley cannot be the home for them all.
Nor it should be. There are a variety of countries that offer better expansion opportunities, lower corporate tax rates, and better government incentives. The two examples that are particularly interesting are Singapore and Estonia, where a greater number of startup companies is founded with every passing year.
Singapore calling
In relation to Singapore, Catapult Ventures CEO Vinod Nair explains for ZDNet that this country is somewhat of a heaven on earth for the rising startups for various reasons. Firstly, incubators are plentiful, meaning that entrepreneurs can easily find the necessary help for their most critical processes.
Secondly, the policies regarding company establishment and getting loans from the government are simpler than in most other countries, which leaves more space for entrepreneurs to focus on mission-critical activities. There are even companies that will guide the entrepreneurs through the whole process, as is the case with Rikvin that graphically represents steps needed to set up a company in Singapore and emphasizes the most complex ones.
Estonia’s representative examples
When it comes to Europe, however, Estonia appears to be one of the most interesting areas for a startup life. This is mostly due to the fact that the country has one of the most liberal tax regimes in the world, which makes company incorporation both cheap and easy. With government’s incentives for new technology companies and over 150 of those already based in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, this truly sounds as a place to create a successful business.
After all, Skype was initially founded in Estonia, where it still employs over 400 IT specialists. Thus, as Antti Vilpponen, CEO of Arctic Startup once pointed out:
“Estonia has three things in its favor: political leadership, the success of Skype, and its culture.”
These insights definitely shed a new light on the startup development options. It’d be interesting to monitor the future growth of these regions, which is certainly going to be a turbulent one.
Image credit: HenryLeongHimWoh

Screams of despair as families learn fate of AirAsia flight 8501: Bodies found in Java Sea

Dewi Nurcahyani, The Associated Press

PANGKALAN BUN, Indonesia • Bloated bodies and debris seen floating in Indonesian waters Tuesday painfully ended the mystery of AirAsia Flight 8501, which crashed into the Java Sea with 162 people aboard and took more than two days to find, despite a massive international search.

The low-cost carrier vanished Sunday halfway through a two-hour flight between Surabaya, Indonesia and Singapore after encountering storm clouds.

On Tuesday, with crews in dozens of planes, helicopters and ships looking for the aircraft, searchers discovered what appeared to be a life jacket and an emergency exit door.

Part of the plane’s interior, including an oxygen tank, was brought to the nearest town, Pangkalan Bun, along with a bright blue plastic suitcase that appeared to be in perfect condition.

First Adm. Sigit Setiayanta, Naval Aviation Center commander at Surabaya Air Force base, told reporters six corpses were spotted off Borneo island and about 16 kilometres from the plane’s last known co-ordinates. The bodies and wreckage were found about 160 kilometres from land.

Rescue workers were shown on local TV being lowered on ropes from a hovering helicopter to retrieve bodies. Efforts were hindered by 2-metre-high waves and strong winds, National Search and Rescue Director SB Supriyadi said, adding that several bodies were later picked up by a navy ship.

Supriyadi said he saw what appeared to be more wreckage under the water, which was clear and a relatively shallow 20 to 30 metres.

Indonesian television showed a half-naked body of a man whose shirt partially covered his head. The images sent a spasm of pain through family members watching together in a waiting room at the Surabaya airport.

Many screamed and wailed uncontrollably, breaking down into tears while they squeezed each other. One middle-aged man collapsed and had to be carried out on a stretcher.

AirAsia group CEO Tony Fernandes tweeted, “My heart is filled with sadness for all the families involved in QZ 8501. On behalf of AirAsia my condolences to all. Words cannot express how sorry I am.”

By evening he had flown back to Surabaya to meet passengers’ families.

Pilots of the jet had been worried about the weather on Sunday and sought permission to climb above threatening clouds, but were denied due to heavy air traffic. Minutes later, the jet was gone from the radar without issuing a distress signal.

The suspected crash caps an astonishingly tragic year for air travel in Southeast Asia, and Malaysia in particular. Malaysia-based AirAsia’s loss comes on top of the still-unsolved disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in March with 239 people aboard, and the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in July over Ukraine, which killed all 298 passengers and crew.

Nearly all the passengers and crew are Indonesians, who are frequent visitors to Singapore, particularly on holidays.

Ifan Joko, 54, said that despite the tragic news he is still hoping for a miracle. His brother, Charlie Gunawan, along with his wife, their three children and two other family members, were travelling to Singapore on the plane to ring in the New Year.

“I know the plane has crashed, but I cannot believe my brother and his family are dead,” he said, wiping a tear. “… We still pray they are alive.”

Dewi Nurcahyani, The Associated PressCommander of 1st Indonesian Air Force Operational Command Rear Marshall Dwi Putranto, right, shows airplane parts and a suitcase found floating on the water near the site where AirAsia Flight 8501 disappeared, during a press conference at the airbase in Pangkalan Bun, Central Borneo, Indonesia.

Several countries are helping Indonesia retrieve the wreckage and the passengers.

The United States on Tuesday announced it was sending the USS Sampson destroyer, joining at least 30 ships, 15 aircraft and seven helicopters in the search for the jet, said Indonesia’s Search and Rescue Agency chief Henry Bambang Soelistyo.

A Chinese frigate was also on the way, while Singapore said it was sending two underwater beacon detectors to try to detect pings from the plane’s all-important cockpit voice and flight data recorders. Malaysia, Australia and Thailand also are involved in the search.

Associated Press writers Niniek Karmini, Ali Kotarumalos and Margie Mason in Jakarka and Eileen Ng in Surabaya, Indonesia contributed to this report.

Flight QZ8501 disappeared at cruising altitude — usually the safest part of the trip

Suhaimi Abdullah / Getty Images

SURABAYA, Indonesia — The search for a missing AirAsia jet carrying 162 people that disappeared more than 24 hours ago on a flight from Indonesia to Singapore resumed with first light Monday.

First Admiral Sigit Setiayana, the Naval Aviation Centre commander at the Surabaya air force base, said that 12 navy ships, five planes, three helicopters and a number of warships were talking part, along with ships and planes from Singapore and Malaysia.

Setiaya said visibility was good. “God willing, we can find it soon,” he told The Associated Press.

AirAsia Flight 8501 vanished in airspace thick with storm clouds on its way from Surabaya, Indonesia, to Singapore. Searchers had to fight against heavy rain on Sunday before work was suspended due to darkness.

The plane’s disappearance and suspected crash caps an astonishingly tragic year for air travel in Southeast Asia. The Malaysia-based carrier’s loss comes on top of the still-unexplained disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in March and the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in July over Ukraine.

At the Surabaya airport, passengers’ relatives pored over the plane’s manifest, crying and embracing. Nias Adityas, a housewife from Surabaya, was overcome with grief when she found the name of her husband, Nanang Priowidodo, on the list.

The 43-year-old tour agent had been taking a family of four on a trip to Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia’s Lombok island, and had been happy to get the work.

“He just told me, ‘Praise God, this new year brings a lot of good fortune,”’ Adityas recalled, holding her grandson tight while weeping uncontrollably.

Nearly all the passengers and crew are Indonesians, who are frequent visitors to Singapore, particularly on holidays.

Canada’s Foreign Affairs Department says there’s no indication there are any Canadians on board a missing flight.

But a spokesperson said Canadian officials are working to confirm that with local authorities.

The Airbus A320 took off Sunday morning from Indonesia’s second-largest city and was about halfway to Singapore when it vanished from radar. The jet had been airborne for about 42 minutes.

There was no distress signal from the twin-engine, single-aisle plane, said Djoko Murjatmodjo, Indonesia’s acting director general of transportation.

Suhaimi Abdullah / Getty ImagesA relative of a missing family member on board AirAsia flight QZ8501 speaks to the media outside the holding area at Changi Airport on Sunday in Singapore.

The last communication between the cockpit and air traffic control was at 6:13 a.m. (6:13 p.m. EST Saturday), when one of the pilots “asked to avoid clouds by turning left and going higher to 10,360 metres,” Murjatmodjo said. The jet was last seen on radar at 6:16 a.m. and was gone a minute later, he told reporters.

Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia launched a search-and-rescue operation near Belitung island in the Java Sea, the area where the airliner lost contact with the ground.

AirAsia group CEO Tony Fernandes flew to Surabaya and told a news conference that the focus for now should be on the search and the families rather than the cause of the incident.

“We have no idea at the moment what went wrong,” said Fernandes, a Malaysian businessman who founded the low-cost carrier in 2001. “Let’s not speculate at the moment.”

Malaysia-based AirAsia has a good safety record and had never lost a plane before.

“This is my worst nightmare,” Fernandes tweeted.

But Malaysia itself has already endured a catastrophic year, with 239 people still missing from Flight 370 and all 298 people aboard Flight 17 killed when it was shot down over rebel-held territory in Ukraine.

AirAsia said Flight 8501 was on its submitted flight plan but had requested a change due to weather.

Sunardi, a forecaster at Indonesia’s Meteorology and Geophysics Agency, said dense storm clouds were detected up to 13,400 metres in the area at the time.

“There could have been turbulence, lightning and vertical as well as horizontal strong winds within such clouds,” said Sunardi, who like many Indonesians uses only one name.

YON HAP /AFP/Getty Images

YON HAP /AFP/Getty ImagesChristians pray for South Korean passengers of the missing AirAsia Flight QZ8501 at a church in the southern port city of Yeosu after the church’s pastor confirmed that the missing Korean man was 37-year-old Park Sung-Bum and that he was sent to Indonesia as a Christian missionary.

Airline pilots routinely fly around thunderstorms, said John Cox, a former accident investigator. Using on-board radar, flight crews can typically see a storm forming from more than 100 miles away.

In such cases, pilots have plenty of time to find a way around the storm cluster or look for gaps to fly through, he said.

“It’s not like you have to make an instantaneous decision,” Cox said. Storms can be hundreds of miles long, but “because a jet moves at 8 miles a minute, if you to go 100 miles out of your way, it’s not a problem.”

It was unclear based on comments from authorities what air traffic controllers saw on their screens when the plane disappeared from radar, he noted.

Robertus Pudyanto / Getty Images

Robertus Pudyanto / Getty ImagesRelatives of missing Air Asia QZ8501 passengers gather during a meeting with officials at the crisis centre of Juanda International Airport on Sunday in Surabaya, Indonesia.

Authorities have not said whether they lost only the secondary radar target, which is created by the plane’s transponder, or whether the primary radar target, which is created by energy reflected from the plane’s body, was lost as well, Cox said.

The plane had an Indonesian captain and a French co-pilot, five cabin crew members and 155 passengers, including 16 children and one infant, the airline said in a statement. Among the passengers were three South Koreans, a Malaysian, a British national and his 2-year-old Singaporean daughter. The rest were Indonesians.

AirAsia said the captain more than 20,000 flying hours, of which 6,100 were with AirAisa on the Airbus 320. The first officer had 2,275 flying hours.

At Surabaya airport, dozens of relatives sat in a room waiting for news, many of them talking on mobile phones and crying.

 Oscar Siagian / Getty Images

Oscar Siagian / Getty ImagesThe AirAsia airplane park at Soekarno Hatta International Airport on Sunday in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Dimas, who goes by one name, said his wife, 30-year-old Ratri Sri Andriani, had been on the flight to lead a group of 25 Indonesian tourists on a trip to Singapore and Malaysia. He was holding out hope that the plane had made an emergency landing.

“We can just pray and hope that all those aboard are safe,” said Dimas, who was surrounded by Ratri’s parents and friends at the airport crisis centre.

The missing aircraft was delivered to AirAsia in October 2008, and the plane had accumulated about 23,000 flight hours during some 13,600 flights, Airbus said in a statement.

The aircraft had last undergone scheduled maintenance on Nov. 16, according to AirAsia.

Indonesia AirAsia #QZ8501 has gone missing. Flightradar24 picked up last signal 23:12 UTC

— Flightradar24 (@flightradar24) December 28, 2014

The airline, which has dominated cheap travel in Southeast Asia for years, flies short routes of just a few hours, connecting the region’s large cities. Recently, it has tried to expand into long-distance flying through sister airline AirAsia X.

Fernandes, who is the face of AirAsia and an active Twitter user, stirred controversy earlier this year after incorrectly tweeting that Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 had landed safely.

William Waldock, an expert on air crash search and rescue with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona, cautioned against drawing comparisons to Flight 370.

The circumstances bode well for finding Flight 8501 since the intended flight time was less than two hours, and there is a known position where the plane disappeared, he said.

The A320 family of jets, which includes the A319 and A321, has a good safety record, with just 0.14 fatal accidents per million takeoffs, according to a safety study published by Boeing in August.

Flight 8501 disappeared while at its cruising altitude, which is usually the safest part of a trip. Just 10 per cent of fatal crashes from 2004 to 2013 occurred while a plane was in that stage of flight, the safety report said.