US & World

AirAsia plane missing after takeoff from Indonesia

Family members of passengers of missing AirAsia flight QZ8501 gather at Juanda international airport in Surabaya, Indonesia, on Sunday, hours after the news the flight went missing. The AirAsia Airbus plane with 162 people on board went missing en route from Indonesia to Singapore.
Family members of passengers of missing AirAsia flight QZ8501 gather at Juanda international airport in Surabaya, Indonesia, on Sunday, hours after the news the flight went missing. The AirAsia Airbus plane with 162 people on board went missing en route from Indonesia to Singapore.
Juni Kriswanto/AFP/Getty Images

Update: 5:15 p.m.: Search resumes for missing AirAsia flight with 162 aboard

Ships and planes have resumed the search for AirAsia flight QZ8501, which lost contact with air traffic control on Sunday. The search efforts, which were suspended overnight, picked up again at dawn, The Associated Press reports.

The flight, traveling from Indonesia to Singapore, lost contact at 7:24 a.m. local time, AirAsia said on its Facebook page; that's about an hour before it was due to land. The airline said 155 passengers and 7 crew members were on board the Airbus A320.

Shortly before losing contact, the pilot had asked to change course due to weather conditions. There was no distress call, officials said.

At a news briefing Sunday, AirAsia group CEO Tony Fernandes emphasized that the airline does not know what happened. "Let's just wait and see. We don't want to speculate," he said.

"We are deeply shocked and saddened by this incident," AirAsia Indonesia CEO Sunu Widyatmoko said in a statement. It's the first time the low-cost regional carrier has lost a flight, NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports.

The Associated Press explains that this is the latest in a series of aircraft tragedies this year 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."

But an air crash search and rescue expert warned against comparing the disappearance of flight QZ8501 to that of flight MH370, telling AP that there is more information available about where QZ8501 was when it lost contact.

In Singapore's Changi airport, Channel News Asia reports, dozens of friends and family members of QZ8501 passengers gathered amid tight security in a holding area where media were not allowed to enter and counselors were available. Some accepted an offer to be flown to Surabaya, Indonesia, where the flight took off, and where other family members were also gathered and waiting for news.

The initial search for the plane was hampered by rain and temporarily called off when night fell; it resumed after dawn on Monday morning.

AP reports that First Admiral Sigit Setiayana, the Naval Aviation Center Commander at the Surabaya air force base, says visibility is good, and ships, planes and helicopters are all searching for signs of the plane.

"God willing, we can find it soon," Setiayana says.

9:03 a.m.: AirAsia plane missing after takeoff from Indonesia

Search operations have been suspended for the night for an AirAsia plane with 162 aboard that lost contact with air traffic control after takeoff from Indonesia on a flight to Singapore, the Singapore Civil Aviation Authority reports.

The plane, en route from Surabaya, Indonesia, lost contact about an hour before it was due to arrive in Singapore. It was scheduled to land at 8:30 a.m. Singapore time (4:30 p.m. PST Saturday), Hadi Mustofa, an official with the Indonesian air ministry, said on Indonesia's MetroTV.

The plane, flight QZ8501 from Surabaya, Indonesia, was an Airbus A320-200 with the registration number PK-AXC.

Tweet: AirAsia

Mustofa added that the plane had asked to change its flight path due to weather conditions just before losing contact with air traffic controllers, NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports.

AirAsia, a regional low-cost carrier, reports on its Facebook page, "AirAsia Indonesia regrets to confirm that flight QZ8501 from Surabaya to Singapore has lost contact with air traffic control at 07:24hrs this morning."

In a statement on the airline's website, it says QZ8501 "was on the submitted flight plan route and was requesting deviation due to enroute weather before communication with the aircraft was lost while it was still under the control of the Indonesian Air Traffic Control (ATC)." It added that the aircraft had its last scheduled maintenance on Nov. 16.

The airline has set up an emergency call center for family and friends of those who may be on board.

Among the passengers, three are South Korean, one is from Singapore, one from Malaysia and one from the United Kingdom, according to an AirAsia Facebook post. The remaining 149 are Indonesian, according to the post.

One of the crew is French; the remaining six are Indonesian.

Mustofa told the media that the plane lost contact when it was believed to be over the Java Sea between Kalimantan and Java islands. The weather in the area was cloudy, he said.

Malaysia-based AirAsia has profited from the growth of the middle class in Southeast Asia and now dominates low-cost air travel in the region, says Kuhn. It's the first time the carrier has lost a flight, he says.

AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes tweeted:

Tweet: Tony Fernandes

The U.S. State Department and the National Transportation Safety Board, or NTSB, have said they are prepared to assist Indonesian authorities if necessary.

Malaysia's national carrier, Malaysia Airlines, suffered two unrelated disasters in 2014, both involving Boeing 777s. Flight MH370 disappeared mysteriously from radar en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing in March. The hunt for the wreckage of that plane and the 239 people on board continues.

In July, Flight 17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down over rebel-held territory of eastern Ukraine with 298 aboard. "Evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile from an area controlled by Russian-backed separatists inside of Ukraine," President Obama said at the time.

AP quotes an expert on air crash search and rescue with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Ariz., who argued against connecting the AirAsia flight to MH370.

"I think we have to let this play out," said William Waldock. "Hopefully, the airplane will get found, and if that happens it will probably be in the next few hours. Until then, we have to reserve judgment."

Waldock said authorities are more likely to find QZ8501 because the intended flight time was less than two hours and they know the location in which the plane disappeared.

"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 pilot "asked to avoid clouds by turning left and going higher to 34,000 feet."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.