Singapore-Bound AirAsia Plane With 162 On Board Missing

AirAsia said Sunday that one of its planes asked air traffic controllers Sunday if it could divert from its planned flight path due to weather before disappearing over the Java Sea.

The Malaysia-based budget carrier’s statement represents the first possible clue to the fate of ¬†Flight QZ8501, which was scheduled to make a relatively short early-morning flight from Surabaya, Indonesia to Singapore.

The single-aisle Airbus A320-200 with 162 people on board lost contact with Jakarta air traffic control at 7:24 a.m. Singapore time (6:24 p.m. Eastern Time Saturday), about an hour before it was scheduled to land at Singapore. The contact was lost about 42 minutes after the single-aisle jetliner took off from Indonesia’s Surabaya airport, Hadi Mustofa, an official of the transportation ministry told Indonesia’s MetroTV.

The airline said that all but five of the people on board were Indonesian. Three of the  passengers were South Korean, a fourth was from Malaysia, and a fifth was from Singapore. There were 138 adults on board, 16 children, and one infant in addition to the two pilots and five cabin crew members.

The airline’s statement added that the plane’s captain had a total of 6,100 flying hours, while the first officer had flown 2,275 flying hours.

Flightradar24, a flight tracking website, said the plane was delivered in September 2008, which would make it six years old. It said the plane was flying at 32,000 feet, the regular cruising altitude for most jetliners, when the signal from the plane was lost. AirAsia said that the plane had undergone its last scheduled maintenance on Nov. 16.

Hadi Mustofa, an official with Indonesia’s Transport Ministry, told reporters that the plane was believed to have been over the Java Sea between Kalimantan and Java islands. He added that the weather in the area was cloudy.

The Singapore aviation authority said it was informed about the missing plane by Jakarta ground control about half an hour after the contact was lost.

“Search and rescue operations have been activated by the Indonesian authorities,” it said, adding that the Singapore air force and the navy also were activated with two C-130 planes.

White House spokesman Eric Schultz said in a statement that President Obama had briefed about the missing flight and officials would continue to monitor the situation.

According to the website, Flight QZ8501 was scheduled to depart from Juanda International Airport, near Surabaya on the Indonesian island of East Java at 5:30 a.m. local time, with arrival in Singapore scheduled for 8:20 a.m. (7:20 p.m. Eastern Time Sunday). It had last flown the route on Dec. 26.

AirAsia has never lost a plane before. Earlier this year, national airline Malaysia Airlines lost two planes. Flight MH370 vanished on March 8 with 239 passengers and crew on board. On July 17, Flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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