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AirAsia Flight carrying 162 people missing, search underway

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(CNN) — The search is on for an AirAsia plane carrying 162 people that lost contact with Indonesian air traffic control Sunday.

Before communication was lost, AirAsia Flight QZ 8501 asked to deviate from its planned flight route — from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore — because of weather conditions, AirAsia said in a statement.

There was conflicting information about when exactly Flight 8501 went missing. AirAsia said contact was lost at 7:24 a.m. Sunday (7:24 p.m. Saturday ET), but Indonesian aviation authorities said it happened earlier, at 6:17 a.m.

“At this time, search and rescue operations are being conducted under the guidance of the Indonesian Civil Aviation Authority,” AirAsia said.

Of the people on board the Airbus A320-200, 156 are Indonesian, three are South Korean, one is French, one is Malaysian and one is Singaporean, the airline said.

Seventeen children, including one infant, are among the passengers, the carrier said. Seven of the people on board are crew members.

“Thank you for all your thoughts and prayers. we must stay strong,” AirAsia Chief Executive Tony Fernandes said on Twitter. He later announced he was traveling to Surabaya, saying most of the passengers are from there.

As word spread of the missing plane, the airline changed the color of its logo on its social media accounts from red to gray.

‘Heavy thunderstorms’ in area

Flight 8501 “was requesting deviation due to en route weather before communication with the aircraft was lost,” the airline said.

From flight tracking websites, almost the entire flight path appears to be over the sea.

Bad weather was in evidence in the region at the time, CNN meteorologist Derek Van Dam said.

“We still had lines of very heavy thunderstorms” when the plane was flying, Van Dam said. “But keep in mind, turbulence doesn’t necessarily bring down airplanes.”

CNN aviation analyst Mary Schiavo questioned whether weather would have been a factor in what happened to the plane.

“Ordinarily, the pilots would get the updated weather from air traffic control and, of course, their onboard radar,” said Schiavo, a former inspector general for the U.S. Department of Transportation. “So whether there was (bad) weather in the area would not be a mystery.”

AirAsia is a Malaysia-based airline that is popular in the region as a budget carrier. It has about 100 destinations, with affiliate companies in several Asian countries.

The missing plane is operated by AirAsia’s Indonesian affiliate, in which the Malaysian company holds a 48.9% stake, according to its website.

‘Very good’ safety reputation

The Malaysian government said it was ready to offer assistance to Indonesian and Singaporean authorities.

“Very sad to hear that AirAsia Indonesia QZ8501 is missing,” Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said on Twitter. “My thoughts are with the families.

Singapore said it has activated its rescue and aviation agencies.

AirAsia has a “very good” reputation for safety, CNN aviation correspondent Richard Quest said.

Flight 8501’s captain has a total of 6,100 flying hours and the first officer a total of 2,275 flying hours, the airline said. The plane’s last scheduled maintenance was on November 16, it said.

The loss of contact with the AirAsia plane comes nearly 10 months after the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which dropped off radar over Southeast Asia on March 8 with 239 people on board.

The Malaysian Airlines plane, a Boeing 777-200ER, lost contact with air traffic control over the South China Sea between Malaysia and Vietnam.

Searchers have yet to find any debris from Flight 370, which officials believe crashed in the southern Indian Ocean after veering dramatically off course.

U.S. President Barack Obama has been briefed about the missing AirAsia plane, White House spokesman Eric Schultz said, adding that U.S. officials will continue to monitor the situation.

CNN’s Yousuf Basil, Steve Almasy, Holly Yan, Paula Hancocks, Joe Sutton and Larry Register contributed to this report. Journalist Chan Kok Leong also contributed to this report.

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4 comments

  • Brenda Lin (@BrendaLin11)

    The Indonesian government is probably trying to keep a lid on speculation but it’s beginning to look like sabotage, kidnapping, murder, or all three.

    Based on the history Indonesia has with Islamic extremists, I would start looking there first. It’s funny how we are worried about water boarding and other interrogation techniques. Do people not know the type of barbarian we are dealing with?

    The problem is – Obama is in over his head. When he cut and run from the Middle East, attacks like these should have been expected. Consider this another one of Obama’s mess-ups.

    Obama has allowed ISIS to grow. Allowed Taliban to regain lost ground. Allowed Putin to take over countries at will. Domestically, he has caused an immigration crisis, ruined our economy, and forced us to by health insurance we don’t need.

    I now am forced to pay $500/month for health insurance and it was only $200 before O-care! (My car insurance is only $25/month from Insurance Panda, for comparison. A private company!) Please Obama, don’t stick your hand in anything else!

    To think that some people are so worried about the terrorists rights. Sickening.

    Whatever the outcome, I do hope they find out soon for the sake of family and friends. If there is no joyful relief over the passengers and crew being found alive and well, at least their family and friends could grieve over their loss instead of worrying themselves sick with hopeful expectation over not knowing.