News ID: 58362
Published: 0708 GMT December 28, 2014

Plane missing in Malaysia's third tragedy this year

Plane missing in Malaysia's third tragedy this year

Rescuers scoured the Java Sea on Sunday for an AirAsia plane carrying 162 people which went missing in bad weather en route from Indonesia to Singapore, in the third crisis for a Malaysian carrier this year.


Indonesian military aircraft had yet to find any sign of the Airbus A320-200 as dusk set in, AFP reported.

The search halted at 5.30pm (1030 GMT) but would resume at 7am Monday, or even earlier if the weather was good, Indonesian Transport Ministry official Hadi Mustofa said.

Air traffic controllers lost contact with the twin-engine aircraft around an hour after it left Juanda international airport at Surabaya in East Java at 5:20am (2220 GMT Saturday).

Shortly before disappearing, AirAsia said the plane had asked permission from Jakarta air traffic control to deviate from its flight plan and climb above bad weather in an area noted for severe thunderstorms.

The airline, giving a revised breakdown of nationalities, said 155 of those on board Flight QZ8501 were Indonesians, with three South Koreans and one person each from Singapore, Malaysia, Britain and France.

The Frenchman was the co-pilot. Sixteen of those on board were children and one was an infant.

The aircraft was operated by AirAsia Indonesia, a unit of Malaysian-based AirAsia which dominates Southeast Asia's booming low-cost airline market.

With hard details few and far between, panicked relatives gathered at Singapore's Changi airport.

In Surabaya hundreds of Indonesians descended on the terminal, hoping for news.

Indonesia's President Joko Widodo said his nation was "praying for the safety" of those onboard. His country, a vast archipelago with poor land transport infrastructure, has seen an explosive growth in low-cost air travel over recent years. But the air industry has been blighted by poor safety standards in an area that also experiences extreme weather.

An official from Indonesia's Transport Ministry said the pilot asked to ascend by 6,000 feet to 38,000 feet to avoid heavy clouds. "The plane is in good condition but the weather is not so good," Djoko Murjatmodjo told a press conference at Jakarta's airport, addressing reports of severe storms in the area where the jet went missing.

The plane's disappearance comes at the end of a disastrous year for Malaysian aviation. Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, carrying 239 people, vanished in March after inexplicably diverting from its Kuala Lumpur-Beijing course. No trace of it has been found. Another Malaysia Airlines plane went down in July in rebellion-torn eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 aboard. It was believed to have been hit by a surface-to-air missile.


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