Indonesia and Singapore have launched a search and rescue operation after an AirAsia flight carrying 162 passengers disappeared over the Java Sea early Sunday.
Indonesian officials tell Fox News that the air search has been suspended for the night and will resume Monday morning local time.
Achmad Toha told The Associated Press that the planes involved in the search returned to their base Sunday evening, but that some ships were still in the area where the plane lost contact with air traffic control. The air search was set to resume at 6 a.m. Monday.
Flight 8501 was scheduled to make a relatively short early-morning flight from Surabaya, Indonesia to Singapore but lost contact with Jakarta air traffic control at 6:24 a.m. local time (6:24 p.m. Eastern Time Saturday), approximately an hour before it was due to land.
Eleven minutes earlier, according to Djoko Murjatmodjo, Indonesia’s acting director general of transportation, the pilot had “asked to hinder cloud by turning left and go higher to 34,000 feet.” Murjatmodjo said that there was no distress signal from the plane. AirAsia Indonesia had earlier confirmed that the pilot had asked to change course due to bad weather in the area.
“We hope we can find the location of the plane as soon as possible, and we hope that God will give us guidance to find it,” Murjatmodjo told reporters. “We don’t dare to presume what has happened except that it has lost contact.”
Flight 8501 was last seen on radar at 6:16 a.m., and a minute later was no longer there, he added.
Sunardi, a weather forecaster at the Indonesia’s Meteorology and Geophysics Agency who uses only one name, told the Associated Press that dense storm clouds were detected up to 44,000 feet in the same area at the time the plane was reported to have lost contact.
“There could have been turbulence, lightning and vertical as well as horizontal strong winds within such clouds,” he said.
The single-aisle Airbus A320-200 had an Indonesian captain and a French co-pilot, five cabin crew and 155 passengers, including 16 children and one infant, AirAsia Indonesia said in a statement. Among the passengers were three South Koreans and one each from Singapore and Malaysia. The rest were Indonesians.
The airline’s statement added that the plane’s captain had a total of 6,100 flying hours, while the first officer had flown 2,275 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.
Flightradar24, a flight tracking website, said the plane was delivered in September 2008, which would make it six years old. It said the plane was flying at 32,000 feet, the regular cruising altitude for most jetliners, when the signal from the plane was lost. AirAsia said that the plane had undergone its last scheduled maintenance on Nov. 16.