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AirAsia Search for Missing Plane Called Off After Day-Long Hunt

AirAsia Search for Missing Plane Called Off After Day-Long Hunt

Rescue aircraft searching for the plane, missing for more than 12 hours, have returned to base, officials said.

Indonesian authorities looking for an AirAsia Bhd. flight with 155 passengers and seven crew on board called off the search as darkness fell over the seas after a day of scouring yielded no clues on what happened to the Airbus Group NV jet.

“It’s too dark,” J.A. Barata, a spokesman at the transportation ministry in Jakarta, said by phone. Rescue aircraft searching for the plane, missing for more than 12 hours, have returned to base, Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla said in press conference in Jakarta broadcast on Metro TV.

An international hunt began after QZ8501 lost contact with tower early in the day on a flight to Singapore from Surabaya. Singapore and Malaysia, where AirAsia is based, also joined the hunt for the missing aircraft while Australia offered help.

“This is my worst nightmare,” AirAsia Group Chief Executive Officer Tony Fernandes said in his Twitter postings today. “I as your group CEO will be there through these hard times. We will go through this terrible ordeal together.”

QZ8501 lost contact with airport controllers at 7:24 a.m. Indonesian time today, the Malaysia-based carrier said in a statement. The flight started in Surabaya, Indonesia, at 5:35 a.m. local time and was due to arrive in Singapore at 8.30 a.m. There’s a one hour time difference between the two countries. AirAsia, the region’s biggest budget airline, said there was no information on the fate of the passengers and crew of the Airbus A320-200.

The pilot of the single-aisle jet requested to fly at a higher altitude because of clouds, Indonesia’s acting Air Transport Director Djoko Murjatmodjo said in Jakarta today. The journey usually takes about two hours.

Last Signal

The last signal from the plane was between the city of Pontianak on Borneo and the town of Tanjung Pandan on Belitung island. Indonesian authorities will focus their search around Belitung and expand that gradually, Transport Minister Ignasius Jonan said earlier.

“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 while it was still under the control of the Indonesian Air Traffic Control,” AirAsia said in the statement. AirAsia had no fatal crashes in its history of more than a decade of operations, according to AviationSafetyNetwork, which tracks accident data.

Asian Aviation

Today’s incident comes in one of the worst years in aviation for Asia, and Malaysia in particular. The Southeast Asian nation is still reeling from the crashes of two planes operated by state-run carrier Malaysian Airline System Bhd.

Flight 370 vanished from radar screens en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur March 8 without warning, while MH17 was shot down in Ukraine in July. The two accidents killed a combined 537 people and caused ticket bookings to plunge. No debris of MH370 has been found in what has become the world’s longest search for a missing passenger jet.

The aircraft was flying at 32,000 feet before it requested to go higher.

There were storms along AirAsia’s flight path, Accuweather.com said on its website, citing their own meteorologist Dave Samuhel. Storms are very active this time of year, Samuhel was quoted as saying, adding that December and January are the wettest period of the year in Indonesia.

One Infant

The plane had two pilots, four flight attendants and one engineer on board, AirAsia said. While the company is based in Sepang, Malaysia, it operates with subsidiaries and affiliates in different countries. The missing plane belonged to the Indonesian operations of the budget airline.

The captain in command had a total of 20,537 flying hours, including 6,053 hours with AirAsia Indonesia, and the first officer a total of 2,247, the airline said in a statement revising a previous press release.

Of the 155 passengers, 138 were adults, 16 children and one an infant. The plane was carrying one Singaporean, a Malaysian, a person from France, one from the U.K., three from South Korea and 155 Indonesians, according to the latest AirAsia press release.

Airbus, the Toulouse, France-based planemaker, said it’s aware of the reports about Flight 8501 and the company is in contact with the airline.

The aircraft had undergone its last scheduled maintenance last month, the carrier said.

Fernandes said Sunday afternoon that he was flying to Surabaya with the airline’s management. Search-and-rescue operations are being conducted under the guidance of Indonesia’s Civil Aviation Authority, AirAsia said in the statement.

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