JAKARTA, Dec 28 – The search is on for an AirAsia plane carrying 162 people that lost contact with air traffic control in Indonesia on Sunday. Before communication was lost, AirAsia Flight 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.
Flight 8501 went missing at 7:24 a.m. Sunday (7:24 p.m. Saturday ET) as it flew over the Java Sea. “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. It had earlier said 157 of those on the plane are Indonesian. “The aircraft was on the submitted flight plan route and was requesting deviation due to en route weather before communication with the aircraft was lost,” AirAsia said.
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.”
But 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.” From flight tracking websites, it looks as though almost the entire flight path is over the sea. AirAsia is a Malaysia-based airline that is popular in the region as a budget carrier. It has about 100 destinations, with subsidiaries in several Asian countries.
The airline has a “very good” reputation for safety, CNN aviation correspondent Richard Quest 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.
Searchers are yet to find any debris from Flight 370, which officials believe crashed in the southern Indian Ocean. 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.