An AirAsia flight traveling from Surabaya, Indonesia, to Singapore with 162 people on board lost contact with air traffic control early Sunday morning, the airline confirmed. Indonesia quickly launched a search to locate the missing plane, but by Sunday night, most search and rescue operations were halted for the day, the plane still unaccounted for.
Flight QZ 8501 -- an Airbus 320-200 -- lost communication with Indonesia's Surabaya Juanda International Airport at 7:24 Singapore time on Sunday morning, the airline said. The plane "was requesting deviation due to enroute weather before communication with the aircraft was lost," AirAsia said in a statement.
"The weather was not good -- it was bad -- at the estimated location the plane lost contact," Indonesian Transport Ministry official Hadi Mustafa said.
Mustafa said the plane lost contact somewhere between Kalimantan on Borneo island and Belitung island, about 42 minutes after the jet took off.
AirAsia Indonesia CEO Sunu Widyatmoko said that the airline is "deeply shocked and saddened" by the disappearance.
“We are deeply shocked and saddened by this incident," he said in a Facebook post. "We are cooperating with the relevant authorities to the fullest extent to determine the cause of this incident. In the meantime, our main priority is keeping the families of our passengers and colleagues informed on the latest developments.”
The ministry's air transportation director Joko Muryo Atmodjo said no distress signal had been sent, adding, "Therefore we cannot assume anything yet." "We are coordinating with [the] rescue team and looking for its position. We believe it is somewhere between Tanjung Pandan, a town on Belitung island, and Kalimantan," Atmodjo said . The plane took off at 5:20 a.m. local time in Surabaya and was scheduled to land at 8:30 a.m. in Singapore, according to AFP.
155 passengers, two pilots and five crew members were on board the flight, AirAsia said in a statement. The passengers and crew included 155 Indonesians, three South Koreans, one Singaporean, one Malaysian, one French citizen and one British. The captain was Indonesian, the co-captain French. 16 children and one infant were among the passengers, AirAsia said.
According to The Sydney Morning Herald, one woman present at a crisis center at the Changi Airport had seven family members on the flight, including her mother and brother.Malaysia, Singapore and Australia offered to assist the search for the plane. AirAsia said it was "cooperating fully" with the efforts, and set up a call center for relatives of those aboard the plane . AirAsia has established an Emergency Call Centre that is available for family or friends of those who may have been on board the aircraft. The number is: +622129850801.
Indonesia's Transport Ministry said six ships and two helicopters were deployed to search for the missing flight. Malaysia contributed three navy ships and three aircraft to help in the search. Singapore sent a C130 aircraft, officials said. Despite the coalition of countries looking for Flight QZ 8501, Sunday night fell with the plane still missing, prompting Indonesia to call off the search for the day. By 8:30 p.m. local time, all air search efforts were halted, though several boats continued the hunt. The full search was expected to resume around 6 a.m.
The U.S. also offered support for the search. Spokespersons for the National Transportation Safety Board and the State Department said that the agencies are monitoring the situation and "ready to assist" the rescue team if needed.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore released a statement early Sunday saying "a waiting area, and all necessary facilities and support have been set up for relatives and friends of the affected passengers" at Changi Airport. By Sunday evening, dozens of those connected to the passengers had registered at the waiting area. Tony Fernandes, the CEO of AirAsia, announced he would go to Surabaya where most of the passengers were from. "This is my worst nightmare," he wrote on Twitter.
The A320 is Airbus’s best-selling jet family, with more than 6,000 planes in operation. In a statement, Airbus said that the plane that went missing came off the production line in 2008, and had conducted approximately 13,600 flights, for a total of about 23,000 flight hours. Airbus announced it would provide its full assistance to the investigation, and said the "thoughts of the Airbus management and staff are with all those affected by Flight QZ 8501."
As news of the missing flight unfolded, AirAsia changed the color of the logos on their social media channels from red to grey. AirAsia, which is headquartered in Malaysia, is one of the fastest growing low-cost carriers in Asia. It has never lost a plane before, according to the Associated Press. The disappearance of the AirAsia flight is the third air incident of 2014 that involves Malaysia, the Associated Press notes. Malaysia's national carrier, Malaysia Airlines, suffered two disasters in 2014. In March, the airline lost contact with flight MH370 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 passengers and crew aboard. It remains missing. In July, flight MH17 was downed over eastern Ukraine, killing 298 people. Following the news of Flight 8501's disappearance, Malaysia Airlines offered its support on Twitter.
According to a White House pool report, U.S. President Barack Obama was briefed on the missing flight, and "White House officials will continue to monitor the situation." Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong wrote on Twitter that he was "saddened" to hear about the missing plane. "My thoughts are with the passengers and their families," he said. Malaysia's Prime Minister Mohammad Najib Razak said his country "stands ready to help."
"Our hearts and hopes are with the passengers and families of AirAsia QZ8501," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry tweeted.