The Indonesian authorities were searching on Sunday afternoon for an AirAsia jet with 155 passengers on board that lost contact with air traffic controllers hours earlier, the airline and government officials said.
The plane, Flight QZ8501, left the Indonesian city of Surabaya around 5:30 a.m. for the short hop to Singapore, a flight that usually takes about two hours, the airline said. Air traffic control lost contact with the Airbus A320-200 at 6:17 a.m., about 40 minutes later, Indonesian officials said.
“At this time, search-and-rescue operations are in progress, and AirAsia is cooperating fully and assisting the rescue service,” the airline said in a statement on Facebook.
Flightradar24, a website that uses a global system of beacons to monitor air traffic, said the aircraft was over the Java Sea, which separates the islands of Borneo and Java, when the aircraft’s signal was lost.
AirAsia is a regional budget carrier based in Malaysia. Two other jets belonging to a Malaysian carrier, Malaysia Airlines, were lost this year. One was shot down over eastern Ukraine in July. The other disappeared over the Indian Ocean in March and has not been found.
The aircraft that disappeared Sunday is operated by AirAsia’s Indonesian affiliate.
Shortly before losing contact with the aircraft, the cockpit informed air traffic controllers in Jakarta that it was planning to rise from 32,000 feet to 38,000 feet to avoid a cloud, Djoko Murjatmodjo, the acting director general of Air Transport at Indonesia’s Ministry of Transportation, told reporters at a news conference in Jakarta.
“At the moment, we don’t know where the exact location is, except that this morning at 0617, we lost contact,” Mr. Djoko said. The Singapore authorities said contact was lost at 6:24 a.m. Jakarta time; the discrepancy has not been explained.
Earth Networks, a company that tracks weather conditions across the globe, said it had recorded a number of lightning strikes “near the path” of Flight 8501 on Sunday morning between 6:09 and 6:20
Mr. Djoko said the authorities had not detected any emergency distress beacons that are normally triggered by an accident.
“Therefore we cannot assume anything yet,” he said.
The Malaysian founder of the airline, Tony Fernandes, said in a Twitter message on Sunday that he was traveling to Surabaya where most of of the passengers on the jet were from.
The captain of the flight was identified as Irianto, who like many Indonesians uses only one name. The first officer was identified as Remi Emmanuel Plesel, whom the Indonesian media said was a French citizen.
Indonesia dispatched marine vessels and aircraft to assist in the search, the authorities said. Singapore also activated its air force and navy to assist in the search.
AirAsia said in its statement that in addition to the 155 passengers on the plane — a figure that includes 16 children and one infant — two pilots and five cabin crew members were onboard.
The passengers and crew included 156 Indonesians, three South Koreans, one Singaporean, one Malaysian and one French citizen, AirAsia said.
Airbus said in a statement Sunday that the aircraft was delivered to the airline in 2008.
The Malaysia Airlines jets that were lost this year were both Boeing 777-200ERs.
Eric Schultz, a White House spokesman, said that President Obama, who is vacationing in Hawaii, had been briefed on the search for the plane, and that “White House officials will continue to monitor the situation.”
On Sunday, the Twitter account for Malaysia Airlines posted a message: “#staystrong @AirAsia — Our thoughts and prayers are with all family and friends of those onboard QZ8501.”
Source: New York Times