An AirAsia passenger plane with 162 people aboard lost contact with the air traffic control on Sunday soon after taking off from Surabaya in Indonesia ‘s East Java province.
“At the present time we unfortunately have no further information regarding the status of the passengers and crew members on board, but we will keep all parties informed as more information becomes available,” the Malaysia-based budget airline said.
There were 155 passengers and seven crew members on board the Singapore-bound Airbus A320-200 aircraft, including 16 children and an infant, the airline said in a statement.
The captain in command had a total of 6,100 flying hours and the co-pilot a total of 2,275 flying hours, according to AirAsia.
The passengers and crew members include one Singaporean, one Malaysian, one French, threeSouth Koreans and 156 Indonesians.
The Flight QZ8501 lost communication with the ground 42 minutes after taking off at 5:35 a.m. (2235 GMT Saturday) at Indonesia’s Surabaya airport. The plane is scheduled to land in Singapore at 8: 30 a.m. local time (0030 GMT), AirAsia said.
At Singapore’s Changi airport, people started to show up around noon at a specially designated waiting area for families and friends of the affected passengers in Terminal 2.
By 4:00 p.m. (0800 GMT), 10 people were seen being escorted into the waiting area, which was closed to the media.
One of them, who declined to be named, said she had four relatives onboard the flight, including a 12-year-old and a 17- year-old.
Low Swee Seh, chief of a local charity health services organization, said volunteers from his organization stood ready to offer counseling services to families of the affected passengers.
The plane had undergone its last scheduled maintenance on Nov. 16, the carrier said, adding that AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes was on his way to Surabaya.
“On my way to Surabaya where most of the passengers are from as with my Indonesian management. Providing information as we get it, “Fernandes said on Twitter.
“My only thoughts are with the passengers and my crew. We put our hope in the search and rescue operation and thank the Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysian governments,” he added.
Hundreds of Indonesians rushed to Surabaya airport, where dozens of relatives were seen sitting in a room, many of whom talking on cellphones and crying.
Indonesia has been deploying three planes and ships to search the missing plane that lost contact at 6:17 a.m. Jakarta time on Sunday (2317 GMT Saturday), an Indonesian official said.
Director General of Air Transport of Indonesian Transport Ministry Djoko Murjatmodjo told a press conference at the Jakarta airport that the plane went missing after the pilot requested to divert from its route because of cloud, and raise the height of the flight from 32,000 feet (9,700 meters) to 34,000 feet (10,303 meters).
The director said the airliner went missing in the Java Sea between Tanjung Pandan of Bangka Balitung province and Pontianak city of West Kalimantan province.
Djoko said the aircraft, which sent no distress signal, must have run out its fuel if it kept flying.
But he did not say whether the plane had crashed or had an accident. “We don’t dare to presume what has happened except that it has lost contact,” he said.
AirAsia also confirmed that the pilot of Flight QZ8501 had requested “deviation” from its flight plan because of bad weather.
“The aircraft … was requesting deviation due to en route weather,” the Malaysia-based carrier said.
“Communication with the aircraft was lost while it was still under the control of the Indonesian Air Traffic Control,” it added.
The Singapore air force and the navy were also searching with two C-130 planes. Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on his social media page that he had called Indonesian President Joko Widodo to offer help.
Meanwhile, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak offered his country’s assistance to help locate the missing AirAsia plane.
“I haven’t received much information at this time and I can only confirm that the plane is missing,” he said.
“The government will help AirAsia to find the missing plane,” Najib told reporters in Lipis, western Pahang state.
The incident came at the end of a disastrous year for the Malaysian aviation. Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, a Boeing 777, with 239 people on board, disappeared on March 8 after diverting from its Kuala Lumpur-Beijing course. No trace of the jetliner has been found despite massive search efforts.
Months later, MH17, also a Boeing 777, went down on July 17 in the war-born eastern Ukraine enroute from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, killing all 298 aboard.
AirAsia, a low-cost carrier, has dominated cheap traveling in the region for years with about 100 destinations and affiliate companies in several Asian countries.