Rescue crews from four nations were set to resume searching off Indonesia's Belitung island this morning to locate Indonesia AirAsia Flight QZ8501 headed for Singapore that went missing amid bad weather.
In the third major air tragedy to befall South-east Asian airliners this year, the Indonesia AirAsia Airbus 320-200 with 162 on board, including a lone Singaporean infant, disappeared off radar screens at 7.17am yesterday on a flight from Surabaya.
Indonesian Vice-President Jusuf Kalla advised people to prepare for the worst as the search, involving the Indonesian Air Force, Navy and one Republic of Singapore Air Force C-130 aircraft, was called off at nightfall yesterday.
Two C-130s will continue the operation today, as Singapore also offered additional help.
"I've spoken again to Indonesian Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu and have offered the Indonesians a few ships that can assist in the search-and-locate mission - a frigate, a Landing Ship Tank, a corvette and the MV Swift Rescue. These vessels are already on standby," said Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen.
Three Malaysian navy ships are also headed to the area and will be joined by Australian P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft.
Meanwhile, family members and friends waited anxiously for news at airports in Singapore and Surabaya. Some were in tears.
But hopes were fading by evening and Mr Kalla's words reflected the despair.
"It has been 10 hours, there is a huge possibility there has been an accident," he said. "The government is concerned and expresses its deepest condolences to the families of victims."
Indonesia will continue the search until the plane is found, he said, adding there was as yet no information on where it might have fallen.
Indonesia AirAsia is 49 per cent owned by the AirAsia Group, promoted by celebrated Malaysian entrepreneur Tony Fernandes. Mr Fernandes, who is AirAsia's chief executive, left immediately for Surabaya. He said on Twitter: "My only thought(s) are with the passengers and my crew. We put our hope in the SAR (search-and-rescue) operation and thank the Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysian governments."
The 162 on board included 16 children, an infant and seven crew members. The flight was scheduled to land at Changi at 8.30am. But the airliner lost contact with Jakarta air traffic control at 7.17am, its last detected location between Tanjung Pandan on Belitung and Pontianak in West Kalimantan, in an area that meteorological data showed was populated by heavy clouds at the time.
Indonesia's acting director-general for civil aviation Djoko Murjatmodjo told the media that the pilot "had asked the Jakarta control tower to move up to 38,000 feet from 32,000 feet and to fly around a bad cloud". The tower lost contact shortly after that.
There were 155 Indonesians on board, as well as one Singaporean, one Malaysian, one Briton, three South Koreans, and a French crew member, AirAsia said.
Yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong called Indonesian President Joko Widodo to express concern and offer help. Mr Joko, who was on a visit to Papua province, told reporters he had accepted Singapore's offer to assist in search-and-locate efforts.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott also said their countries stood ready to help, and followed up with offers of aircraft and vessels.
Defence, foreign and transport ministers have also been in contact over the search.
Singapore's Transport Ministry and the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) said that Singapore air traffic control had been informed of the loss of contact by Jakarta at 7.54am, and CAAS and Changi immediately activated their crisis management centres.
CAAS will be sending an officer to search-and-rescue agency Basarnas in Jakarta to assist in coordination with the Indonesian authorities, and Singapore Transport Ministry's Air Accident Investigation Bureau has offered two teams of specialists and two sets of underwater locator beacon detectors to assist with the search.
This article was first published on Dec 29, 2014.
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