An AirAsia flight with 162 people onboard has gone missing in Indonesia.
In a statement, AirAsia said that pilots requested to deviate from the planned flight path due to bad weather conditions. Contact was lost shortly afterwards.
“At this time, search and rescue operations are being conducted under the guidance of the Indonesia of Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). AirAsia Indonesia is cooperating fully and assisting the investigation in every possible way,” the low-cost carrier said.
The flight, numbered QZ8501, was carrying 155 passengers and seven crew members. According to the airline’s revised passenger list, the vast majority of those onboard were Indonesian nationals (149), while the aircraft was also carrying three South Koreans, one Singaporean, one Malaysian, one French and one UK citizen. The French national was the only non-Indonesian crew member.
Indonesia’s Navy, Air Force and the National Search & Rescue Agency (Basarnas) have all dispatched vessels to search for the missing aircraft in the waters around the Bangka Belitung Islands, which lie off the east coast of South Sumatra.
The Jakarta Post reported an official with Basarnas as saying that it believes the aircraft crashed into the sea “around 80-100 nautical miles (148-185km) from Belitung”. It added that the aircraft “circled over the sea near Belitung to avoid a storm before it experienced severe turbulence and crashed into the ocean”. So far however, this report has not been verified.
In one of several tweets following the plane’s disappearance, AirAsia’s group CEO, Tony Fernandes, reached out to his staff.
“I as your group CEO will be there through these hard times. We will go through this terrible ordeal together and I will try to see as many of you,” he said. He also called the incident his “worst nightmare”.
Up until today’s incident, AirAsia had a very good safety record, without a single recorded aircraft loss or passenger fatality in its history. It operates a modern fleet of almost 170 A320 aircraft, approximately 30 of which are based in Indonesia.
Airbus has issued a statement saying that the aircraft involved was delivered to AirAsia in October 2008, direct from the European planemaker’s production line.
Meanwhile, AirAsia’s statement said that the captain in command of flight QZ8501 had a total of 6,100 flying hours, while the first officer had 2,275.
An emergency hotline has been set up for people who believe they may have family or friends onboard the aircraft. The number is: +62 212 985 0801.