A missing AirAsia jet carrying 162 people likely crashed off the Indonesian coast and could be at the bottom of the sea.
“Based on our coordinates, we expect it is in the sea, so for now [we think] it is on the sea floor,” Soelistyo, head of Indonesia’s search and rescue agency, told reporters.
Flight QZ8501 did not send a distress signal and disappeared over the Java Sea five minutes after requesting to change course, which was refused because of heavy air traffic, Reuters reported Monday, citing officials.
The pilot had asked permission to fly at a higher altitude to avoid bad weather during the flight from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore on Sunday.
Meanwhile, countries around Asia sent ships and planes to help in the search effort.
The Indonesia AirAsia flight was carrying 155 Indonesians, three South Koreans, and one person each from Singapore, Malaysia and Britain. The co-pilot was French.
The incident caps a disastrous year for Malaysia-affiliated airlines. Indonesia AirAsia is 49 percent owned by Malaysia-based budget carrier AirAsia.
Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 went missing on March 8 on a trip from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 passengers and crew and has not been found.
On July 17, the same airline’s Flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board.
The AirAsia group, including affiliates in Thailand, the Philippines and India, had not suffered a crash since its Malaysian budget operations began in 2002.
Indonesian Air Force spokesman Hadi Thahjanto said two C-130 Hercules planes were focusing the search for the Airbus A320-200 aircraft in areas northeast of Indonesia’s Bangka island, which lies roughly halfway between Surabaya and Singapore, in the Java Sea.
The Indonesian pilot was experienced and the plane last underwent maintenance in mid-November, the airline said. The aircraft had accumulated about 23,000 flight hours in some 13,600 flights, according to Airbus.
Malaysia AirAsia chief Tony Fernandes flew to Surabaya and, along with Indonesian officials, updated distraught relatives of passengers at a makeshift crisis center at the airport in Indonesia’s second-largest city.
“This is my worst nightmare,” Fernandes said on Twitter. “But there’s no stopping”, he said of the search.
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