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Search for missing AirAsia plane suspended for night

Pascal Pavani / AFP

The air search for an AirAsia plane with 162 people on board that went missing over the Java Sea in Indonesia on Sunday has been suspended for the night and will resume in the morning, authorities announced Sunday.

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An official with Indonesia's search and rescue agency, Achmad Toha, said that planes involved in the search operation returned to their base Sunday evening, but that some ships were still in the area where the plane lost contact with air traffic control. The air search was set to resume at 6am Monday.

AirAsia, a regional low-cost carrier present in several Southeast Asian countries, said in a statement that the missing plane was an Airbus A320-200 and that search and rescue operations were undertaken Sunday.

"The aircraft was on the submitted flight plan route and was requesting 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", the airline said in a statement on its Facebook page.

AirAsia, which has a presence in most of Southeast Asia and recently in India, has never lost a plane before and has a good safety track record.

"We don’t dare to presume what has happened except that it has lost contact," Djoko Murjatmodjo, Indonesia’s acting director general of transportation, told reporters. He said the last communication between the pilot and air traffic control was at 6:13 a.m. (2313 GMT Saturday) when the pilot "asked to avoid clouds by turning left and going higher to 34,000 feet (10,360 meters)."

Aviation expert: 'Unlikely aircraft will be found intact'

He said there was no distress signal from the cockpit.

The plane had an Indonesian captain and a French co-pilot, five cabin crew and 155 passengers, including 16 children and one infant, AirAsia Indonesia said in a separate statement Sunday. Among the passengers were three South Koreans and one each from Singapore, Malaysia. The rest were Indonesians.

The captain had a total of 6,100 flying hours, a substantial number, and the first officer a total of 2,275 flying hours, the statement said.

Cloudy weather over the Java Sea

The Singapore Civil Aviation Authority statement said search and rescue operations have been activated by the Indonesian authorities, and that the Singapore air force and the navy also were searching for the area with two C-130 planes.

In both Surabaya and Singapore, anxious relatives of people on the plane awaited news.

“I should have been on the flight together with my friends,” a man named Purnomo told TVOne in Surabaya.

“We, seven people, had planned to go to Singapore for vacation but this morning I had an emergency. I had my passport in hand but had to cancel the trip.”

An Indonesian woman at Singapore’s Changi Airport said her sister and other family members, including two children, were on board.

“No one has told us anything. We heard the news and came to the airport,” the woman said before entering a cordoned-off area.

This is the third major air incident for Southeast Asia this year. On March 8, Malaysia Airlines flight 370, a wide-bodied Boeing 777, went missing soon after taking off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing. It remains missing until this day with 239 people, in one of the biggest aviation mysteries in history.

Another Malaysia Airlines flight, also a Boeing 777, was shot down over rebel-controlled eastern Ukraine while en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on July 17. The 298 people on board were all killed.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and Reuters)


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