AirAsia plane with 162 on board missing en route to Singapore

AFP , Sunday 28 Dec 2014

An AirAsia Airbus A320 passenger jet
An AirAsia Airbus A320 passenger jet lands at Sukarno-Hatta airport in Tangerang on the outskirts of Jakarta in this January 30, 2013 file picture. ( Photo: Reuters)

An AirAsia plane with 162 people on board went missing en route from Indonesia to Singapore Sunday morning, officials and the airline said, in the third major incident to affect a Malaysian carrier this year.

"The AirAsia flight flying from Surabaya to Singapore lost contact with Jakarta at 7:55am (local time)," Indonesian transport ministry spokesman J.A. Barata told AFP.

The Airbus A320-200 left Juanda international airport in Surabaya in east Java at 5:20am and was expected to arrive in Singapore at 8:30am (0030 GMT).

Indonesia's air transportation director general Djoko Murjatmodjo told AFP the plane was carrying seven crew and 155 passengers -- 138 adults, 16 children and a baby, updating earlier figures.

Local broadcaster MetroTV reported that the passengers included 149 Indonesians, three South Koreans, including a baby, one Briton and one Malaysian and one Singaporean.

Murjatmodjo said search efforts were being focused on an area between Belitung island and Kalimantan, on the western side of the island of Borneo, about halfway along the expected route of Flight QZ8501.

"We are coordinating with rescue team and looking for its position. We believe it is somewhere between" Tanjung Pandan, a town on Belitung island, and Kalimantan, he said. Singapore's Civil Aviation Service said the plane lost contact with Jakarta air traffic control while it was in Indonesian air space.

"Search and rescue operations have been activated by the Indonesian authorities from the Pangkal Pinang Search and Rescue office," it said, adding that Singapore's navy and air force had offered their help.

Malaysia-based AirAsia confirmed its plane was missing.

"At the present time we unfortunately have no further information regarding the status of the passengers and crew members on board, but we will keep all parties informed as more information becomes available," the airline said.

"At this time, search and rescue operations are in progress and AirAsia is cooperating fully and assisting the rescue service."

The latest incident comes at the end of a disastrous year for Malaysian aviation.

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, carrying 239 people, disappeared in March after inexplicably diverting from its Kuala Lumpur-Beijing course. No trace of the aircraft has been found.

Just months later MH17 went down in July in rebellion-torn eastern Ukraine -- believed to have been hit by a surface-to-air missile -- killing all 298 aboard.

AirAsia, Asia's budget travel leader, is led by flamboyant boss Tony Fernandes, a former record industry executive who acquired the then-failing airline in 2001. It has seen spectacular success and aggressive growth under his low-cost, low-overhead model.

While its rival Malaysia Airlines faces potential collapse after two disasters this year, AirAsia confirmed this month its order of 55 A330-900neo at a list price of $15 billion.

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