An AirAsia Airbus with 162 people on board disappeared amid thunderstorms while flying from Indonesia to Singapore, prompting a major search operation.
The Malaysian-owned aircraft had taken off at 5.20 a.m. (local time) from the Indonesian city Surabaya and was to land at Singapore’s Changi Airport at 8.30 a.m., media reports said.
Indonesian officials said the pilot asked for an unusual route because of thunderstorms, just before the low-cost airline lost contact with air traffic control between Kalimantan and Belitung island.
The aircraft was then flying at 32,000 feet over the Java Sea, in Indonesian territory.
“The weather was not good, it was bad at the estimated location the plane lost contact,” one official added.
The plane was carrying 162 passengers and crew on board including 138 adults, 16 children, an infant, two pilots and five cabin crew.
Most of them – 156 – were Indonesians followed by three South Koreans and a French, a Malaysian and a Singaporean.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak said the plane went off the radar 42 minutes after take off, The Star newspaper said.
“This means the possibility of something untoward happening to the aircraft,” he was quoted as saying.
AirAsia, which started operations under the present ownership in 2001, flies to 88 destinations. In India, AirAsia’s maiden flight took off June 11 from Bengaluru to Panjim.
The Indo-Malaysian joint venture of AirAsia flies to and from Bengaluru, Jaipur, Chennai, Kochi, Chandigarh, Pune and Goa, an airline spokesperson told IANS.
It also flies between Kuala Lumpur and Tiruchirapalli in Tamil Nadu and Kolkata and connects Chennai and Bangkok.
Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said his country’s air force C130s and navy ships were on standby, The Straits Times reported.
According to AirAsia, the captain of the Airbus A320-200 has 6,100 flying hours and the first officer 2,275 flying hours.
Singapore’s Changi Airport has set up a holding area to provide assistance to next-of-kin of passengers on the flight.
The incident comes at the end of a disastrous year for Malaysia’s airlines.
National flag carrier Malaysia Airlines lost two aircraft this year. Its flight MH370 went missing March 8 enroute Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 passengers and crew on board.
On July 17, Flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board.
Says the AirAsia web site: “Our commitment to low fares lies in our promise of ‘Now Everyone Can Fly’.
“Our service targets guests who can do without the frills of full-service airlines in exchange for low fares.