AirAsia's Surabaya to Singapore flight loses contact with air traffic control

A flight information signboard shows the status of AirAsia flight QZ 8501 from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore at Changi Airport in Singapore December 28, 2014. — Reuters pic
A flight information signboard shows the status of AirAsia flight QZ 8501 from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore at Changi Airport in Singapore December 28, 2014. — Reuters pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 28 — An Indonesia AirAsia flight from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore lost contact with air traffic control today, Indonesian media said, citing a Transport Ministry official.

"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.

No distress signal had been sent, said Joko Muryo Atmodjo, air transportation director at the Indonesian Transport Ministry.

A search and rescue operation had been launched, the airline and the Indonesian air force said. Singapore said it had activated its air force and navy to help.

Indonesia AirAsia is 49 per cent owned by Malaysian-based AirAsia.

The aircraft was between the Indonesian port of Tanjung Pandan and the town of Pontianak, in West Kalimantan on Borneo Island, when it went missing, Atmodjo told a news conference.

The aircraft had been flying at 32,000 feet and had asked to fly at 38,000 feet to avoid clouds, he said.

Tanjung Pandan is the main town on Belitung island, roughly half-way between Surabaya and Singapore, and Singapore's Channel News Asia television said there was bad weather over the island at the time the plane went missing.

Indonesia AirAsia said there were 155 passengers and seven crew on board. It said 157 people on the flight were Indonesian, with three from South Korea and one each from Singapore and Malaysia.

The plane had been due in Singapore at 8:30am Singapore time.

The airline said the captain and first officer were both experienced.

Neither Malaysia's AirAsia nor any of its affiliates in Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and India have had any major incidents or crashes.

Tony Fernandes, chief of Malaysia's AirAsia, said on Twitter: "Thanks for all your thoughts and prayers. We must stay strong."

The incident comes at the end of a disastrous year for the region's airlines.

Malaysia's national flag carrier, Malaysia Airlines, lost two aircraft this year.

Flight MH370 went missing on March 8 on a trip from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 passengers and crew on board and has still not been found.

On July 17, Flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board, according to Reuters.

AirAsia, meanwhile, posted this on their Facebook page: Indonesia AirAsia regrets to confirm that flight QZ8501 from Surabaya to Singapore has lost contact with air traffic control at 07:24hrs this morning.

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.

The aircraft was an Airbus A320-200 with the registration number PK-AXC.

At this time, search and rescue operations are in progress and AirAsia is cooperating fully and assisting the rescue service.

Indonesia AirAsia has established an Emergency Call Centre that is available for family or friends of those who may have been on board the aircraft. The number is: +622129850801.

Indonesia AirAsia will release further information as soon as it becomes available. Updated information will also be posted on the AirAsia website.