Search expands for vanished AirAsia Flight 8501 carrying 162 on board

Search expands for vanished AirAsia Flight 8501 carrying 162 on board

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Indonesian Search and Rescue Team members mark a search area on a map at Juanda Airport, in Surabaya, Indonesia.
Indonesian Search and Rescue Team members mark a search area on a map at Juanda Airport, in Surabaya, Indonesia.
Photo: EPA

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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.
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.
Photo: Reuters

The search for a missing AirAsia jet carrying 162 people that disappeared more than 24 hours ago on a flight from Indonesia to Singapore expanded Monday with planes and ships from several countries taking part.

First Admiral Sigit Setiayana, the Naval Aviation Center commander at the Surabaya air force base, said that 12 navy ships, five planes, three helicopters and a number of warships were taking part, along with ships and planes from Singapore and Malaysia. The Australian Air Force also sent a search plane.

Setiayana said visibility was good. “God willing, we can find it soon,” he told The Associated Press.

AirAsia Flight 8501 vanished Sunday in airspace thick with storm clouds on its way from Surabaya, Indonesia, to Singapore, and a rescue official said Monday that given the route of the plane he believed the most likely scenario was that it crashed.

“Based on the coordinates that we know, the evaluation would be that any estimated crash position is in the sea, and that the hypothesis is the plane is at the bottom of the sea,” National Search and Rescue chief Henry Bambang Soelistyo told a news conference.

The plane’s disappearance and suspected crash caps an astonishingly tragic year for air travel 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.

At the Surabaya airport, passengers’ relatives pored over the plane’s manifest, crying and embracing.

Nearly all the passengers and crew are Indonesians, who are frequent visitors to Singapore, particularly on holidays.

The Airbus A320 took off Sunday morning from Indonesia’s second-largest city and was about halfway to Singapore when it vanished from radar. The jet had been airborne for about 42 minutes.

 There was no distress signal from the twin-engine, single-aisle plane, said Djoko Murjatmodjo, Indonesia’s acting director general of transportation.

The last communication between the cockpit and air traffic control was at 6:13 a.m. (23:13 GMT Saturday), when one of the pilots asked to increase altitude from 32,000 feet (9,754 meters) to 38,000 feet (11,582 meters), Murjatmodjo said. The jet was last seen on radar at 6:16 a.m. and was gone a minute later, he told reporters.

Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia launched a search operation near Belitung Island in the Java Sea, the area where the airliner lost contact with the ground.

Tony Fernandes (C) speaks during the press conference.
Photo: Xinhua

AirAsia group CEO Tony Fernandes flew to Surabaya and told a news conference that the focus for now should be on the search and the families rather than the cause of the incident.

“We have no idea at the moment what went wrong,” said Fernandes, a Malaysian businessman who founded the low-cost carrier in 2001. “Let’s not speculate at the moment.”

Malaysia-based AirAsia has a good safety record and had never lost a plane.

But Malaysia itself has already endured a catastrophic year, with 239 people still missing from Flight 370 and all 298 people aboard Flight 17 killed when it was shot down over rebel-held territory in Ukraine. 

AirAsia said Flight 8501 was on its submitted flight plan but had requested a change due to weather.

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