AirAsia flight QZ8501 carrying 162 people on board lost contact with Indonesian air traffic control at 7:24 local time on its journey from Surabaya in Indonesia to Singapore.
The National Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas) Bangka Belitung says it has dispatched one vessel to search for AirAsia flight QZ8501 which was reported missing over the sea around East Belitung on Sunday.
“We received information from Basarnas in Jakarta that contact had been lost with an AirAsia flight over Bangka Belitung waters at 6:17 a.m. local time. We then dispatched a vessel with a search and rescue team of 22 members to check the information,” Febi Imam Saputra, an information official at Basarnas Bangka Belitung, said as quoted by Antara news agency in Pangkalpinang on Sunday.
Relatives and friends of passengers on board flight, many in tears, gathered at crisis centres at Juanda international airport in Indonesia and Changi airport in Singapore, desperately waiting for news about the missing plane.
The plane had an Indonesian captain and a French co-pilot, five cabin crew and 155 passengers, including 16 children and one infant, AirAsia Indonesia said in a statement. Among the passengers were three South Koreans, a Malaysian, a British national and his 2-year-old Singaporean daughter. The rest were Indonesians.
David Learmount, Flight Global’s operations and safety editor, said it was “routine” for pilots to request diversions when approaching stormy conditions, as was the case with the Airbus A320-200.
“We’re not just talking about thunder and lightning here. Storms can be very, very powerful indeed and rip a medium-sized aeroplane completely apart, that’s why a pilot will routinely ask to divert around them” he said.
“The plane could not still be airborne – it was a short-haul flight, there would be no fuel for staying in the air for quite as long as this.”
It is the third major aviation incident involving Malaysia this year. In March, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared with 239 people, and in July, a jet from the same airline was shot down over Ukraine, killing all 298 people aboard.