An AirAsia flight that lost contact with ground control on Sunday while flying over the Java Sea had requested permission to ascend to avoid bad weather shortly before it disappeared from radar, Indonesian aviation officials say.
"The aircraft was on the submitted flight plan route and was requesting deviation due to enroute weather before communication with the aircraft was lost while it was still under the control of the Indonesian air traffic control," the airline said in a statement.
No distress signal had been sent by Flight QZ8501 before it disappeared between the port of Tanjung Pandan and the town of Pontianak, in West Kalimantan on Borneo island, said Djoko Murjatmodjo, air transportation director at the Indonesian Transport Ministry.
Good safety record
Contact with the plane was lost about 42 minutes after the jetliner took off from Indonesia's Surabaya airport, another transportation ministry official told Indonesia's MetroTV. This was about an hour before the plane was due to land in Singapore at 0030 UTC, according to a statement from the Singapore Civil Aviation Authority.
The flight time from Surabaya to Singapore is normally just over two hours.
The plane was carrying two pilots, five cabin crew and 155 passengers, including 16 children and a baby, AirAsia Indonesia said in a statement. It said there were six foreigners on board – three South Koreans and one each from Singapore, Malaysia and France – with the rest being Indonesian nationals.
It said both the captain and the first officer were experienced flyers.
The airline said a search and rescue operation had been launched, with Singapore saying it had activated its air force and navy to help.
AirAsia is a regional low-cost carrier operating across several Southeast Asian countries and has an excellent safety record.
Year of aviation disasters
Sunday's incident comes in the wake of two disasters that have struck Malaysia's national flag carrier, Malaysia Airlines, which has lost two aircraft this year.
Flight MH370 went missing on March 8 while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board. It has still not been found despite a massive search operation by several countries.
Another Malaysia Airlines flight, MH17, was allegedly shot down over territory held by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine in mid-July. All 298 passengers and crew lost their lives.