AirAsia flight from Indonesia to Singapore missing

An official from Indonesia's national search and rescue agency in Medan, North Sumatra points at his computer screen to the position where AirAsia flight QZ8501 went missing off the waters of Indonesia.
AFP | Getty Images

An AirAsia flight bound to Singapore from Indonesia with 162 people on board disappeared from air traffic radar early Sunday, sending authorities scrambling to locate its whereabouts and marking a new milestone in a grim year for air travel.

The airline said early Sunday that search and rescue operations underway for the flight, Indonesia AirAsia QZ8501. The Airbus A320-200 departed the Indonesian city of Surabaya around 5:30 a.m. local time. Air controllers lost contact with the plane at around 6:17 am local time, in what was typically a two hour flight.

There were 162 people on board the flight, including seven crew members. The overwhelming bulk of those on board were Indonesian, with a mix of nationalities from South Korea, Singapore and Europe, according to AirAsia. The plane's disappearance became the third missing plane linked to Malaysia this year, and capped a string of commercial air disasters this year.

With search efforts hindered by poor weather conditions, Indonesian vice-president Jusuf Kalla told news agencies that after 10 hours the search for the aircraft had found no wreckage. As heartbroken relatives and friends awaited word on the fate of the passengers, they were consoled by Indonesian officials and representatives.

Sunu Widyatmoko, CEO of AirAsia Indonesia said in a statement that AirAsia was "deeply shocked and saddened by this incident. We are cooperating with the relevant authorities to the fullest extent to determine the cause of this incident. In the meantime, our main priority is keeping the families of our passengers and colleagues informed on the latest developments."

The CEO added that a briefing center was being created in Surabaya for the families, but specifically requested that media not use the hotline, as it was being reserved for relatives.

"We will release further information as soon as it becomes available and our thoughts and prayers are with those on board QZ8501," Widyatmoko said.

On Sunday, the government of Singapore announced it would send vessels to assist in the search.

Air and sea search underway

The aircraft was in the Indonesian Flight Information Region (FIR) when contact was lost around 200 nautical miles southeast of the Singapore-Jakarta FIR boundary, Singapore's Civil Aviation Authority said in a statement.

Singapore has activated multiple agencies, including its air force and navy, to help Indonesian authorities with the search, the authority said. Singapore launched one C130 aircraft for the search on the request of Indonesia, the authority said. Malaysia's transport minister said that country deployed three vessels and one plane, according to a Dow Jones report.

Indonesian Transport Ministry official Hadi Mustofa said the plane asked for an unusual route before it lost contact, according to a Reuters report.

The aircraft was on its planned route and was requesting deviation due to weather before communication was lost, AirAsia said in a statement. No distress signal was sent, Joko Muryo Atmodjo, air transportation director at Indonesia's transport ministry, told Reuters.

Singapore is in the midst of its wet season and neighboring Malaysia has seen flooding due to heavy rains, with local media reports saying more than 160,000 people have been evacuated from hard-hit areas.

Relatives wait for news

Forty-seven friends and relatives of 57 passengers waiting for the flight at Singapore's Changi Airport were being looked after by airport staff and trained counselors, according to a statement from the airport.

Indonesia AirAsia #QZ8501 was flying at 32000 feet over Java Sea when ADS-B signal was lost

Indonesia AirAsia is a 49 percent owned affiliate of Malaysia-based AirAsia. The remainder is held by Indonesian investors.

International investigation

The AirAsia aircraft, is owned by the German aircraft lessor Doric, was delivered to its operator in 2008 and had recorded 23,000 flight hours on 13,600 flights, manufacturer Airbus said in a statement seen by Reuters.

Airbus provided no other details regarding the incident or the aircraft.

The manufacturer said it would provide full assistance to investigations, including one by the French authority BEA which gets involved in such events because Airbus is France-based.

The aircraft's engines were made by French-American venture CFM International, co-owned by General Electric and Safran, meaning the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board could also be accredited to take part in any investigation. The Washington-based NTSB was not available for immediate comment, Reuters reported.

Deadly year for aviation

If all passengers are confirmed lost, this would be the second-deadliest accident ever involving an A320, according to the Aviation Safety Network, a widely cited Dutch database.

It would also take the 2014 air fatality count over 600, making it the deadliest year for aviation since 2010. Malaysian Airlines endured two devastating incidents this year. The first was Flight MH370, which disappeared nine months ago, after leaving Kuala Lumpur for Bejing. It carried 239 people, and it's fate is still unknown and shrouded in mystery. Australian authorities continue to search for the plane's wreckage off its coastline.

Read MoreMH370 search resumes after 4-month pause

Malaysian Flight MH17 was shot down near the Ukrainian border in mid-July. There were 298 people aboard. Also in July, an Air Algerie flight carrying 118 people crashed in Mali. Authorities blamed poor weather.

In the U.S., the White House said U.S. President Barack Obama had been briefed on the missing flight and would monitor the situation.

This story is developing. Please check back for further updates.