AirAsia jet vanishes over Indonesia, 162 missing

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Sunday, December 28, 2014

An Indonesia AirAsia jet vanished over the Kumai region today. The flight carried 162 people.

The missing aircraft, photographed in April.
Image: Oka Sudiatmika.

Among the 155 passengers and seven crew flying from Surabaya to Singapore are three Koreans, one Malaysian, and one person variously reported as a French or UK national. The rest are Indonesians. There are sixteen children and an infant. The plane was diverting around weather formations over the Java Sea when contact with air traffic control (ATC) in Jakarta was lost.

Local search and rescue have been told the flight last spoke to controllers at 6:12 local time seeking to climb from 32,000ft to 38,000ft. The flight vanished from radar at 6:17. The transponder ceased to be received a minute later. ATC issued a series of escalating alerts in response. It was due to enter Singaporean airspace at 6:52 and land by around 8:30.

The Indonesian Navy, police forces, and National Search and Rescue Agency are focusing on an area 20 nautical miles from East Belitung. The plane went missing in the vicinity of Pulau Belitung Island. A rescue boat with a crew of 22 has been dispatched, with water police providing an additional vessel. The Indonesian Civil Aviation Authority is overseeing the efforts. Searches are presently suspended until morning.

The flight path of the missing flight.
Image: Andrew Heneen/Natural Earth.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore is "ready to provide any assistance to support the search and rescue effort" according to a statement. The Singaporean military has sent two C-130 aircraft to assist. The Indian Navy has reportedly placed three ships and a Boeing P8-1 on standby to help.

Australia has also offered assistance. Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop telephoned her Indonesian equivalent, Retno Marsudi, to offer support. Bishop has also offered Australian assistance to South Korea, Singapore, and Malaysia. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott contacted Indonesian President Joko Widodo to offer sympathies and a P3 Orion plane.

Areas for families and friends have been set up at Changi Airport where the flight was headed and at Juanda International Airport where it departed. The airline said in a statement they would "keep all parties informed as more information becomes available" about "the status of the passengers and crew members on board".

"I hope I can get information soon on the whereabouts of our family members," one weeping woman at Juanda told Antara. She said she has four relatives on board and heard about the disappearance from news reports.

The area where the plane vanished around 40 minutes into its trip was experiencing thunderstorms. Some clouds were as high as 50,000ft. The aircraft, Airbus A320-200 registration PK-AXC and serial number 3648, was six years old. It was undertaking flight designation QZ8501 and last underwent maintenance in November. Management company Doric own and lease the aircraft.

Cquote1.svg I hope I can get information soon on the whereabouts of our family members Cquote2.svg

—Woman awaiting news at Juanda Airport

Pilot Iriyanto and co-pilot Remi Emmanuel Plesel have over 8,000 hours experience between them. Airbus released a statement saying the plane had accumulated 23,000 flying hours on 13,600 flights. The French-based airframer said it would assist investigators. The BEA, which investigates aviation mishaps in France, is liaising with their Indonesian counterparts at the National Transportation Safety Committee to provide assistance.

The engines were built by CFM International, a joint enterprise between US firm General Electric and French engineering company Safran. The US connection means the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) can also join the probe.The NTSB says it is ready and willing to assist if required.

Cquote1.svg Our priority is looking after all the next-of-kin for my staff and passengers Cquote2.svg

—AirAsia owner Tony Fernandes

A screenshot apparently leaked from an ATC radar screen shows the flight ascending through 36,000ft with a ground speed of 353knts. The aircraft would normally be travelling faster, with an Emirates jet also on the screen showing a ground speed of 503knts at 36,000ft.

"My only thought are with the passengers and my crew" said AirAsia boss Tony Fernandes. He said he is heading to Surabaya and thanked Malaysian, Singaporean, and Indonesian authorities for emergency efforts. Fernandes bought AirAsia for a symbolic price from the Malaysian government in 2002. By 2010 it had expanded from two aircraft to 86.

"I am touched by the massive show of support especially from my fellow airlines" said Fernandes. "This is my worst nightmare." He urged staff to "Pray hard. [...] Our priority is looking after all the next-of-kin for my staff and passengers."

Djoko Murjatmodjo, acting head of transportation in Indonesia, said "We don't dare to presume what has happened except that it has lost contact." Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he is "saddened" and his "thoughts are with the passengers and their families". Pope Francis used today's address in St. Peter's Square, the Vatican to say he was praying for the missing. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak called the news "Very sad to hear[...] My thoughts are with the families. Malaysia stands ready to help."

The British Embassy in Jakarta has acknowledged reports a UK citizen may be missing. US President Barack Obama has also been briefed. Initial reports claim AirAsia did not include British when listing the nationalities missing, but the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office say a UK victim's next of kin have been informed.

The present version of AirAsia's statement lists a UK passenger and a French crewmember. France24 identifies co-pilot Plesel as French.

AirAsia is based in Malaysia. 2014 has been a year of air disasters for the country; Malaysia Airlines flight 370 has been missing since March with 239 on board and in July Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down in Ukraine with 298 casualties. Both involved Boeing 777 aircraft.

AirAsia has a good record with no previous major crashes.

AirAsia Emergency Contact Number: +622129850801
Juanda Airport: [031] 8690945

This story has updates
See AirAsia disaster: Bodies, wreckage found, December 30, 2014

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