An AirAsia Indonesia Airbus A320-200 that took off from Surabaya in Indonesia at 5.20am local time with 162 people onboard has gone missing over the Java Sea.

The flight, with 155  passengers and seven crew on board (two pilots, four cabin crew and an engineer), was due to land at Singapore at 0830 local time, but failed to make contact with regional air traffic control after 0730hrs. The flight crew apparently requested a different flight path after encountering bad weather.

Search and rescue operations began with Indonesian and Singaporean aircraft and vessels, focused on the ocean area between Belitung island and Kalimantan, Borneo. They were temporarily suspended because of nightfall and bad weather.

The flight, QZ8501, apparently lost contact with ATC around 0724, according to a report on AirAsia’s Facebook page.

Tony Fernandes, founder and CEO of the overall AirAsia Group, a low cost carrier, no-frills operation started in 2001, appeared at a press conference, saying it was not known what had happened but there would be a full investigation and that he was "very devastated". He said he did not want to speculate about what had happened and that his first priority was the families of those onboard.

The airline has set up an emergency call center for relatives of the passengers, the majority of which were Indonesian but also with British, French, Korean and Malaysian nationals onboard.

Djoko Murjatmodjo, director at Indonesia’s Transport Ministry, said that "the plane was in good condition but the weather is not so good. We know there were some storms in that area.”
An Indonesian Directorate General of Civil Aviation spokesperson, Hadi Mustofa, added that the aircraft’s crew had requested a change of course due to weather, and was scheduled at that time of last contact to be over the sea between Kalimantan and Java.

AirAsia said that the carrier was “cooperating fully and assisting the rescue service” in the continuing search and rescue operation.

Airbus issued a statement saying the aircraft was MSN 3648, registered as PK-AXC and was delivered to AirAsia from the production line in October 2008. Powered by CFM56-5B engines, the aircraft had accumulated approximately 23,000 flight hours in some 13,600 flights. 

“In line with the ICAO Annex 13 international convention, Airbus will provide full assistance to the French safety investigation authority, BEA, and to the authorities in charge of the investigation,” Airbus said.

According to an AirAsia statement, the captain in command had a total of 20,537 flying hours of which, 6,100 flying hours were with AirAsia Indonesia on the Airbus A320. The first officer had a total of 2,275 flying hours with AirAsia Indonesia.

AirAsia has grown rapidly, beginning with just two old aircraft acquired from Malaysian owner DRB-Hicom, for a token of MYR1 (25 cents) and MYR40 million (USD11 million) in debt. It now has an all-new Airbus fleet with an average age of just 3.5 years and more than 150 A320s. It also has orders for 200 Airbus A320neos and is launch airline customer for the A330neo widebody.

The company operates numerous regional brands in Asia, including Indonesia AirAsia, Malaysia AirAsia, Thai AirAsia, Philippines AirAsia, AirAsia India and AirAsia X.

Sunu Widyatmoko, CEO of AirAsia Indonesia said in a statement, “We are 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.”

See also Editor's Blog.