Search and rescue operations are underway for an AirAsia plane that lost contact with air traffic control after takeoff from Indonesia on a flight to Singapore, the Singapore Civil Aviation Authority reports. As many as 162 were on board.
The plane 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 (7:30 p.m. ET Saturday), Hadi Mustofa, an official with the Indonesian air ministry, said on Indonesia’s MetroTV.
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 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.”
The plane, flight QZ8501 from Surabaya, Indonesia, was an Airbus A320-200 with the registration number PK-AXC.
The airline has set up an emergency call center for family and friends of those who may be on board.
The Associated Press says the plane has two pilots, five crew members and 155 passengers, including 16 children and one infant. Three passengers are South Koreans, one British and one Malaysian; the rest are from Indonesia.
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 Air Asia has profited from the growth of the middle class in Southeast Asia and now dominates low-cost air travel in the regional, says Kuhn. It’s the first time the carrier has lost a flight, he says.
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, Arizona, 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.”