AirAsia flight QZ8501: Indonesia ends search for the day for plane lost in bad weather
JAKARTA (REUTERS, AFP) - Rescuers scouring the Java Sea for a missing AirAsia Indonesia plane with 162 aboard halted their search at nightfall on Sunday and will resume on Monday, Indonesia's transport ministry said.
"We ended at 5.30 pm (6.30pm Singapore time) because it was getting dark. The weather was also not too good as it was getting really cloudy," transport ministry official Hadi Mustofa told AFP. "Tomorrow we will begin at 7 am, or even earlier than that if the weather is good," he added.
Flight QZ8501, which was travelling from Surabaya to Singapore on Sunday morning, had 155 passengers and seven crew members on board. There were 155 Indonesians, one Singaporean, one Malaysian, one French, one British and three South Koreans.
The plane left Juanda international airport in Surabaya in east Java at 5.35am (Indonesia time) and was expected to arrive in Singapore at 8.30am (Singapore time). Local officials said the plane lost contact at about 6.17am (Indonesia time). Indonesia is one hour behind Singapore.
"The aircraft was on the submitted flight plan route and was requesting deviation due to en route weather before communication with the aircraft was lost while it was still under the control of the Indonesian air traffic control," AirAsia said in a statement.
No distress signal had been sent, said Djoko Murjatmodjo, air transportation director at the Indonesian Transport Ministry.
Last position between Belitung and Kalimantan
The aircraft was between the Indonesian port of Tanjung Pandan and the town of Pontianak in West Kalimantan on Borneo island when it went missing, Murjatmodjo told a news conference. The aircraft had been flying at 32,000 feet and had asked to fly at 38,000 feet to avoid clouds, he said.
Indonesian-based aviation analyst Dudi Sudibyo said climbing to dodge large rain clouds is a standard procedure for aircraft in these conditions. "There is nothing wrong to do that. What happens after that is a question mark," he told Agence France-Presse.
Tanjung Pandan is the main town on Belitung island, roughly half-way between Surabaya and Singapore.
"The plane is in good condition but the weather is not so good," Murjatmodjo told the press conference at Jakarta's airport, addressing reports of severe storms in the area where the jet went missing.
Pilots are experienced, plane conducted 13,600 flights
The airline said the captain and first officer were both experienced. The captain in command had a total of 6,100 flying hours and the first officer a total of 2,275 flying hours, said the airline. The aircraft had undergone its last scheduled maintenance on Nov 16.
Airbus said the plane was a six-year-old A320-200 that had carried out some 13,600 flights or a total of about 23,000 flight hours.
The Airbus A320-200 is a twin-engine, single-aisle aircraft that can seat up to 180 passengers in a single-class configuration. the manufacturer said in a statement.
"In line with the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) Annex 13 international convention, Airbus will provide full assistance to the French safety investigation authority, BEA, and to the authorities in charge of the investigation,'' said Airbus.
"The thoughts of the Airbus management and staff are with all those affected by Flight QZ8501,'' it added.
Search operation underway; Singapore offers help
The Indonesian air force said two of its planes had been dispatched to scour an area of the Java Sea, south-west of Pangkalan Bun in Kalimantan province.
Singapore said it had activated its air force and navy to help. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong wrote on his Facebook page on Sunday: "Sorry to learn that an AirAsia aircraft from Surabaya to Singapore has gone missing. We don't have many details yet, but have offered our help to the Indonesian authorities. Our thoughts are with the passengers and their families."
"Called President Joko Widodo to express concern and offer help. Two RSAF C-130 search and locate aircrafts are on standby, ready to go. Our ministers are following up," he wrote.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said the government will assist AirAsia to help find the plane, The Star reported.
The aircraft was operated by AirAsia Indonesia, a unit of Malaysian-based AirAsia which dominates South-east Asia's booming low cost airline market. It is 49 per cent owned by Malaysian-based AirAsia. Neither Malaysia's AirAsia nor any of its affiliates in Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and India have had any major incidents or crashes.
Tony Fernandes, chief of Malaysia's AirAsia, said on Twitter: "Thanks for all your thoughts and prayers. We must stay strong." The Star reported that Fernandes was headed to Surabaya.
Anxious relatives wait at Surabaya, Singapore airports
Meanwhile hundreds of Indonesians descended on the Juanda airport hoping for news of the missing jet.
A 45-year-old woman told AFP that she had six family members on the plane. "They were going to Singapore for a holiday," she said. "They have always flown with AirAsia and there was no problem. I am shocked to hear the news, and I am very worried that the plane might have crashed."
Some relatives were also waiting in Singapore's Changi Airport. Airport staff and auxiliary police officers cordoned the area on the third floor of Terminal 2 from the public.
AirAsia has established an Emergency Call Centre for family or friends of those who may have been on board the flight. The number is +622 1298-50801.