Rescuers scoured the sea for an AirAsia plane carrying 162 people which went missing in bad weather Sunday en route from Indonesia to Singapore, the third crisis for a Malaysian carrier this year. Air traffic controllers lost contact with the Airbus A320-200 around an hour after it left Juanda International airport at Surabaya in east Java, at 5:20 am. It was scheduled to arrive in Singapore at 8:30am (0030 GMT). Shortly before disappearing, the plane asked permission from Jakarta air traffic control to track away from its flight plan and climb above bad weather in an area noted for severe thunderstorms. The pilots requested “deviation due to enroute weather before communication with the aircraft was lost while it was still under the control of the Indonesian Air Traffic Control (ATC),” AirAsia said in a statement on its Facebook page. The airline said 156 of those on board Flight QZ8501 were Indonesians, with three South Koreans and one person each from Singapore, Malaysia and France. There were 138 adult passengers, 16 children and an infant, in addition to five cabin crew and the pilot and co-pilot, who is believed to be French. The Indonesian airforce said two of its planes had been dispatched to scour an area of the Java Sea, southwest of Pangkalan Bun in Kalimatan province- around halfway along the flights expected route. The aircraft was operated by AirAsia Indonesia, a unit of Malaysia- 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 of the missing jet. A 45 year old woman told AFP that she had six family members on the plane. “They were going to Singapore for a holiday,” she said. “They have always flown with AirAsia and there was no problem. I am shocked to hear the news, and I am very worried that the plane might have crashed.” Singapore, Malaysia and Australia quickly offered to help hunt for the plane. The White House said US President Barack Obama had been briefed on the disappearance and it was monitoring the situation.