Flight QZ8501, which had 162 people on board, lost contact at 7:24 a.m. Sunday local time near Belitung Island, Indonesia, according to a statement from AirAsia. It was scheduled to land in Singapore at 8:30 a.m. local time. Sixteen children and one infant were among the passengers. At a press conference this morning, Indonesian officials said the plane was several hours past the time when its fuel would have been exhausted.
The six-year-old aircraft was on the submitted flight plan but requested a deviation because of enroute weather before communication with the aircraft was lost. The plane was under the control of the Indonesian Air Traffic Control and had been in the air for about 42 minutes when contact was lost, AirAsia said.
The Indonesia air transportation director said the plane requested to increase altitude to 38,000 feet from 32,000 feet to “avoid clouds.” Thunderstorms were reported in the area with clouds up to 50,000 feet, Indonesian officials said.
According to flight tracking website Flightradar24, the jet was flying at the regular cruising altitude for most jetliners — 32,000 feet — when the signal was lost. No distress reports came from the plane, officials said.
“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,” AirAsia said.
The captain in command had a total of 6,100 flying hours and the first officer a total of 2,275 flying hours, according to the airline. The aircraft had undergone its last scheduled maintenance on November 16, 2014.
The flight manifest for the Airbus A320-200, with the registration number PK-AXC, released by the Indonesian authorities said there were 155 passengers on board plus seven crewmembers.
Search and rescue operations were in progress, AirAsia said.
The plane lost communication with Indonesia’s Surabaya airport when it was believed to be over the Java Sea between Kalimantan and Java islands, Hadi Mustofa, an official of the transportation ministry told Indonesia’s MetroTV.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore said it was informed about the missing plane by Jakarta ground control about half an hour after contact was lost.
The Singapore air force and the navy also were activated with two C-130 ready to assist Indonesia authorities in the search, according to the aviation authority.
“We remain ready to provide any assistance to support the search and rescue effort,” the CAAS said.
A waiting area was set up at Changi Airport in Singapore, where the plane had been scheduled to land, with facilities and support for relatives and friends of the passengers on the plane. At Surabaya airport, dozens of relatives sat in a room, many of them talking on mobile phones and crying. Some looked dazed, the Associated Press reported.
The White House said President Obama was briefed on the flight.