Search suspended for missing AirAsia jet after nightfall

Associated Press/Families wait for news of loved ones on board a missing flight from Indonesia.

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — At nightfall, Indonesian officials suspended the air search for a missing AirAsia plane with 162 people aboard nearly 12 hours after losing contact with the plane. Some ships continued searching.

The jet lost contact with ground control on Sunday after takeoff from Indonesia on the way to Singapore.

The Singapore Civil Aviation Authority says the plane lost communication with Jakarta’s air traffic control at 7:24 a.m., local time about an hour before it was scheduled to land in Singapore. The contact was lost about 42 minutes after takeoff from Indonesia’s Surabaya airport.

AirAsia says flight 8501 is an Airbus A320-200.

The general manager of Surabaya’s Juanda airport says the plane had six crew and 155 passengers aboard, including 16 children and one infant.

He says there were six foreigners, three from South Korea, including one infant, and one person each from Singapore, Britain, and Malaysia.

Sunday morning, a South Korean government official pledged the country’s support to help find the missing flight and help the families of those on board. Australia also pledged its help, but an ambassador said Indonesia had not yet accept.

The airport official says the plane lost contact when it was believed to be over the Java Sea between Kalimantan and Java islands.

Sunardi, a weather forecaster at the Indonesia’s Meteorology and Geophysics Agency, said dense storm clouds were detected up to 44,000 feet in the same area at the time the plane was reported to have lost contact.

“There could have been turbulence, lightning and vertical as well as horizontal strong winds within such clouds,” said Sunardi, who like many Indonesians uses only one name.

Here’s a look at other key developments:

– Air Asia Flight 8501 takes off from Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-largest city, at 5:31 a.m. Sunday (2231 GMT Saturday), bound for Singapore.

– The last communication between the pilot and air traffic control is made at 6:13 a.m. (2313 GMT Saturday), when the pilot asks to turn left and climb to 34,000 feet (10,360 meters) to “avoid clouds,” according to Djoko Murjatmodjo, Indonesia’s acting director general of transportation, who also said there was no distress signal from the cockpit.

– AirAsia says the Airbus A320-200 was on the submitted flight plan route. Murjatmodjo says it is believed to have gone missing somewhere over the Java Sea between Tanjung Pandan on Belitung island and Pontianak, on Indonesia’s part of Borneo island.

– A search and rescue operation is launched involving Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia. Three Indonesian aircraft are dispatched to the area, while Singapore’s air force and navy search with two C-130 planes. The air search is suspended at nightfall, and is set to resume at 6 a.m. Monday.

– Dozens of relatives of people aboard the plane gather in a room at Surabaya airport to await word about their loved ones. Among the passengers were three South Koreans and one each from Singapore, Malaysia and the United Kingdom. The rest were Indonesians.

– Malaysian businessman Tony Fernandes, AirAsia’s chief and the face of the company, tweets, “This is my worst nightmare.” He also tweets that he is heading to Surabaya.

This is the third serious aviation incident tied to the region this year.

MALAYSIA AIRLINES FLIGHT 370

The disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 on March 8 triggered one of modern aviation’s most perplexing mysteries. Flight 370, carrying 239 people from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, vanished without a trace, sending searchers across vast areas of the Indian Ocean. An initial multi-national operation to locate the wreckage far off Australia’s west coast turned up empty, without a single piece of debris found.

After a four-month hiatus, the hunt resumed Oct. 4 with new, more sophisticated equipment, including sonar, video cameras and jet fuel sensors aboard three ships that will spend up to a year in a desolate stretch of the sea, about 1,800 kilometers (1,100 miles) west of Australia.

The 60,000-square-kilometer (23,000-square-mile) search area lies along what is known as the “seventh arc” — a stretch of ocean where investigators believe the aircraft ran out of fuel and crashed, based largely on an analysis of transmissions between the plane and a satellite.

Officials initially ruled out terrorism, but conspiracy theories have endured. Until the wreckage is found and examined, it will be impossible to say for sure what happened to the plane.

MALAYSIA ARLINES FLIGHT 17

All 298 passengers and crew aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 were killed when the Boeing 777 was shot down over rebel-held eastern Ukraine on July 17.

The plane was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when, according to Dutch air crash investigators, it was likely struck by multiple “high-energy objects” that some aviation experts say is consistent with a missile strike.

Hunks of the wreckage were transported to the Netherlands by trucks and will be reassembled in a hangar. However, international teams seeking to retrieve remains and salvage evidence have had difficulty reaching the crash site due to clashes between Ukrainian government and Russian-backed separatist rebels. Six victims have yet to be identified.

A high-ranking rebel officer has acknowledged that rebels shot down the plane with a ground-to-air missile after mistaking it for a Ukrainian military plane. Russian media, however, claim the plane was shot down by a Ukrainian jet.

The Dutch Safety Board’s final report may rule out one or the other scenario, but it will not seek to attribute responsibility.

Dutch prosecutors, meanwhile, are coordinating an international criminal investigation into the downing, but have yet to name any suspects or say when or how charges might be brought.

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