A multination search is under way to find an AirAsia Bhd. plane that’s been missing for more than six hours with 155 passengers and seven crew on board.
Family members of passengers on board AirAsia flight QZ 8501 look at a passenger list inside a crisis centre at Juanda Airport in Surabaya, East Java December 28, 2014 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Photo credit: Reuters
The Airbus Group NV single-aisle jet was flying to Singapore from Indonesia, and the pilot requested to fly at a higher altitude because of clouds, Indonesia Air Transport Director Djoko Murja Mojo said in Jakarta today. The journey usually takes about two hours. Indonesia is leading the search for the plane while Singapore sent assistance.
QZ8501 lost contact with airport controllers at 7:24 a.m. Indonesian time today, the Malaysia-based carrier said in a statement. The flight started in Surabaya, Indonesia, at 5:35 a.m. local time and was due to arrive in Singapore at 8.30 a.m. There’s a one hour time difference between the two countries. AirAsia said there was no information on the fate of the passengers and crew of the Airbus A320-200.
The last signal from the plane was between Pontianak and Tanjung Pandan. Indonesian authorities will focus their search around the Belitung island and expand that gradually, Transport Minister Ignasius Jonan said.
“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, the region’s biggest budget carrier, said in the statement.
The aircraft was flying at 32,000 feet before it requested to go higher, Murja Mojo said.
There were storms along AirAsia’s flight path, Accuweather.com said on its website, citing their own meteorologist Dave Samuhel. Storms are very active this time of the year, Samuhel was quoted as saying, adding that December and January are the wettest period of the year in Indonesia.
The plane had two pilots, four flight attendants and one engineer on board, Sepang, Malaysia-based AirAsia said. While the company is based in Malaysia, the airline operates with subsidiaries and affiliates in different countries. The missing plane belonged to the Indonesian operations of the budget airline.
The captain in command had a total of 6,100 flying hours and the first officer a total of 2,275, the airline said in the statement.
Family members of passengers on board AirAsia flight QZ 8501 talk on their phones while waiting for information inside a crisis centre at Juanda Airport inSurabaya, East Java December 28, 2014 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Photo credit: Reuters
Of the 155 passengers, 138 were adults, 16 children and one an infant. The plane was carrying one Singaporean, a Malaysian, a person from France, three from South Korea and 156 Indonesians, according to the AirAsia press release.
Airbus, the Toulouse, France-based planemaker, said it’s aware of the reports about Flight 8501 and the company is in contact with the airline.
The aircraft had undergone its last scheduled maintenance last month, the carrier said. AirAsia Group Chief Executive Officer Tony Fernandes said he was flying to Surabaya, Indonesia with the airline’s management.
Search-and-rescue operations are being conducted under the guidance of Indonesia’s Civil Aviation Authority, AirAsia said in the statement. “AirAsia Indonesia is cooperating fully and assisting the investigation in every possible way,” it said.
At Terminal Two of Singapore’s Changi Airport, authorities had set up a holding room for friends and relatives of passengers. A woman, who said her name is Tri, said her relatives were on board QZ8501. Officials briefed those in the holding room, she said, without elaborating.
Lai Xuan Thanh, director of the Civil Aviation Administration of Vietnam, was quoted by Vietnam News Agency as saying that his agency "stands ready to assist with searching the QZ8501 flight whenever requested".
Today’s incident comes in one of the worst years in aviation for Asia, and Malaysia in particular. The Southeast Asian nation is still reeling from the crashes of two planes operated by state-run carrier Malaysian Airline System Bhd.
Flight 370 vanished from radar screens en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur March 8 without warning, while MH17 was shot down in Ukraine in July. The two accidents killed a combined 537 people and caused ticket bookings to plunge. No debris of MH370 has been found in what has become the world’s longest search for a missing passenger jet.
AirAsia had a total of 171 A320s in operations at the end of September, according to its quarterly operating statistics statement on its website. The Indonesia unit operated 30 planes, the statement said. The airline has units across several Asian nations, including India and Thailand.
The single-aisle A320 is the most popular plane that Airbus makes in terms of sales numbers. The plane typically seats between 150 to 180 passengers, usually in six abreast configuration.
More than 3,600 A320s are in operation worldwide as of November, according to Airbus’s website.