JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) – In the third air incident connected to Malaysia this year, an AirAsia plane with 162 people on board went missing early Sunday while flying over the Java Sea after taking off from a provincial city in Indonesia for Singapore.
The two countries immediately launched a search and rescue operation for Flight QZ8501 but there was no sign of the plane more than seven hours after it lost contact with ground control.
AirAsia said in a statement that the missing Airbus A320-200 was on the submitted flight plan route. However, it had requested deviation due to weather before communication with the aircraft was lost while it was still under the control of the Indonesian Air Traffic Control.
AirAsia, which has a presence in most of Southeast Asia and recently India, has never lost a plane before and has a good safety track record.
“We don’t dare to presume what has happened except that it has lost contact.” Djoko Murjatmodjo, Indonesia’s acting director general of transportation, told reporters. He said the last communication between the pilot and air traffic control was at 6.13 a.m. Sunday when the pilot “asked to avoid clouds by turning left and going higher to 34,000 feet.”
He said there was no distress signal from the cockpit.
The contact was lost about 42 minutes after the single-aisle, twin-engine jetliner took off from Surabaya airport, Hadi Mustofa, an official of the transportation ministry told Indonesian media.
The plane had two pilots, five cabin crew and 155 passengers, including 16 children and one infant, AirAsia Indonesia said in a statement.
The AirAsia statement said there were six foreigners on board – three South Koreans and one each from Singapore, Malaysia and France. The rest were Indonesians.
It said the captain in command had a total of 6,100 flying hours, a substantial number, and the first officer a total of 2,275 flying hours.
At Surabaya airport, dozens of relatives sat in a room, many of them talking on mobile phones and crying. Some looked dazed. As word spread, more and more family members were arriving at the crisis center to await word.
Murjatmodjo, the Indonesian official, said the plane is believed to have gone missing somewhere over the Java Sea between Tanjung Pandan on Belitung island and Pontianak, on Indonesia’s part of Kalimantan island.
Air Force spokesman Hadi Tjahjanto said three aircraft, including a surveillance plane, had been dispatched to the area.
The Singapore air force and the navy also were searching with two C-130 planes.