AirAsia missing plane: LIVE REPORT

1 / 17
Relatives of passengers on board AirAsia flight QZ8501 gather at Juanda international airport in Surabaya in East Java, on December 28, 2014

15:01 GMT - AFP IS NOW CLOSING THIS REPORT after Indonesia suspended the search for an AirAsia plane that was carrying 162 people when it vanished in bad weather over the Java Sea.

The Airbus A320-200 disappeared at approximately 2320 GMT while en route from Surabaya in Indonesia's east Java to Singapore.

Shortly before it vanished from the radar screens, the pilot had asked air traffic controllers to ascend by 6,000 feet to 38,000 feet to avoid severe thunderstorms.

Indonesia has deployed seven aircraft, four navy ships and six boats from the search and rescue agency.

The airline says 155 of those on board Flight QZ8501 were Indonesians, with three South Koreans and one person each from Singapore, Malaysia, Britain and France.

14:19 GMT - Deep sorrow - Aviation officials are still trying to find out what happened to Flight QZ8501 but Indonesia AirAsia President Sunu Widyatmoko is fearing the worst...

"We are in deep sorrow with the incident that happened to Flight QZ8501 which lost contact this morning on its way from Surabaya to Singapore," he tells reporters in Surabaya.

14:17 GMT - Number one priority - "Our concern right now is for the relatives and the next of kin. That's something more important for us, for our crew's families and passengers' families, we will look after them. That's our number one priority," adds the AirAsia owner.

14:11 GMT - Safety checks - AirAsia owner Tony Fernandes confirms the plane had recently been given the all clear by aviation technicians.

"The aircraft had gone through all checks, it just had a check the end of November, it followed all procedures that were needed and it's in good condition. It has never had any problems whatsoever," he says.

14:02 GMT - Massive shock - AirAsia owner Tony Fernandes refuses to speculate on what might have happened to Flight QZ8501.

"Obviously this is a massive shock to us and we are devastated by what has happened. It's unbelievable. We don't know what's happened yet so we'll wait for the accident investigation… to find out what's happened," he says during a hastily scheduled press conference at Surabaya airport in Indonesia.

"We fully cooperate with the investigation and we hope the aircraft is found quickly so we can find out the cause of what's happened," he adds.

13:19 GMT - Experienced crew - AirAsia confirms there were two pilots, four flight attendants and one engineer on board Flight QZ8501.

"The captain in command had a total of 6,100 flying hours and the first officer a total of 2,275 flying hours," it adds in a statement.

13:09 GMT - Entrepreneurial spirit - AirAsia -- which has more than 120 A320s and is one of the biggest customers for the European aircraft maker Airbus -- is expecting nearly 360 new aircraft to be delivered by 2026.

In 2013, it was ranked as Asia and the world’s best low-cost airline for the fifth time in a row, and aviation analysts firmly believe the carrier can survive this apparent disaster.

"This incident will not dampen Fernandes' business spirit. This is such an unfortunate incident. AirAsia remains a strong budget carrier. I think the people will rally behind AirAsia," Endau Analytics aviation analyst Shukor Yusof tells AFP.

-- Vanished from radar --

12:58 GMT - Closed-door meeting - AirAsia owner Tony Fernandes arrives at Surabaya airport and is now addressing families in a closed-door meeting, according to AFP reporter Arlina Arshad.

12:50 GMT - Severe thunderstorms - Indonesia's national search and rescue agency (Basarnas) confirms the pilots had asked permission from Jakarta air traffic control to deviate from the plane's flight plan to avoid severe thunderstorms.

"The plane requested to the air traffic control to fly to the left side which was approved but their request to fly to 38,000 feet level from 32,000 feet could not be approved at that time due to a traffic, there was a flight above, and five minutes later the flight disappeared from radar," air transportation chief Djoko Murjatmodjo tells reporters gathered in Jakarta.

"According to our climate radar, the weather was not good. There were enough cumulonimbus there. We have deployed seven aircrafts and four navy ships and six boats from the search and rescue agency, Basarnas," he added.

12:41 GMT - Fearful relatives - AirAsia says 155 of those on board the missing jet were from Indonesia, prompting hundreds of anxious relatives to besiege Surabaya airport for news on Flight QZ8501.

A 45-year-old woman tells AFP that she had six family members on the plane.

"They were going to Singapore for a holiday," she says. "They have always flown with AirAsia and there was no problem. I am very worried that the plane might have crashed."

12:32 GMT - Maximum Effort - Indonesia confirms it has received offers of support from Australia, Singapore, Britain, South Korea and Malaysia, but air transportation chief Djoko Murjatmodjo tells reporters the Transport Safety Committee "is capable of carrying out search operation with maximum efforts on the sea and on land which include West Kalimantan and parts of South Sumatra".

12:26 GMT - Search zone expanded - Indonesia confirms it is expanding its search area and that no distress signal was sent from Flight QZ8501.

"Up to now the national search and rescue agency (Basarnas) has not yet captured any signal from the plane. The search operation is still ongoing," Djoko Murjatmodjo -- the transportation ministry’s acting air transportation director general -- tells reporters.

"The transport minister has also requested the army to carry out search operation on the ground including in mountainous areas," he said.

"The last contact with the aircraft was at coordinates 03 36 31 South – 109.41.46 East," he adds.

12:22 GMT - Massive show of support - AirAsia owner Tony Fernandes takes to Twitter to send messages of thanks and support.

"Our priority is looking after all the next of kin for my staff and passengers. We will do whatever we can," he writes before sending another tweet saying: "I am touched by the massive show of support especially from my fellow airlines. This is my worst nightmare. But there is no stopping."

-- No distress signal --

12:19 GMT - No wreckage found - Indonesian officials at Jakarta airport are quick to deny reports that wreckage from Flight QZ8501 has been found.

"Some rumours said that parts of wreckage have been found, but I can assure you that it was not true," says Tatang Kurniadi -- the head of the National Transport Safety Committee (KNKT)

12:14 GMT - Calm and strong - AirAsia owner Tony Fernandes is trying to maintain an image of calm even as his company faces its first major crisis after a passenger jet went missing in bad weather en route from Indonesia to Singapore.

"Thank you for all your thoughts and prayers. We must stay strong," he tweeted as he left for Surabaya, where most of the passengers are from. "My only thought (sic) are with the passengers and my crew."

12:09 GMT - Regional support - Indonesia confirms that its regional allies will help scour the Java Sea for signs of the missing plane.

"Tomorrow we will receive help from Malaysia. There will be three vessels and three planes (from Malaysia). Singapore offered a C130 plane, and Australia also offered too," says FHB Soelistyo -- the head of Indonesia's national search and rescue agency.

"The first stage of search lasts seven days, after which we will evaluate and can even extend depending on the situation on the ground. I will not tire in trying to successfully locate our friends. Hopefully we will find them as quickly as we can," he adds.

12:04 GMT - Fishermen join search - More information is starting to trickle through about the Indonesian-led efforts to locate missing Flight QZ8501.

FHB Soelistyo -- the head of Indonesia's national search and rescue agency -- tells reporters that fisherman joined in the search for the Air Asia plane.

"Our focus today was a preliminary search operation, where they (rescuers) have gone to the location where they believed the plane might be," he tells a packed press conference.

"We have focused all our strength, from the search and rescue agency, the military, police and help from the community as well as the fishermen," he adds.

11:53 GMT - Search called off - Indonesia's transport ministry says rescuers have suspended their search in the Java Sea for missing Flight QZ8501.

"We ended at 5:30 pm (1030 GMT) because it was getting dark. The weather was also not too good as it was getting really cloudy," transport ministry official Hadi Mustofa tells AFP.

"Tomorrow we will begin at 7 am, or even earlier than that if the weather is good," he adds.

11:46 GMT - Australia offers to help - Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott offers to help Indonesia with the search for missing AirAsia flight QZ8501.

"I’ve spoken to President Widodo tonight to convey Australia’s sadness at the tragedy and offered all we can to assist," he tweets.

-- Flight path --

11:38 GMT - INDONESIA HALTS SEARCH FOR MISSING AIRASIA PLANE

11:18 GMT - Missing fiance - Singaporean security personnel have been careful to shield family members from a large press pack which has gathered at Changi Airport.

Indonesian national Louis Sidartha, 25, is the first relative to address the media whilst standing outside the relatives holding room at Changi Airport.

She tells reporters that her fiance -- who she identified as a 27-year-old entrepreneur called Alain -- was on board Flight QZ8501.

They had taken separate flights from Surabaya to Singapore, and she only found out about the missing aircraft upon arriving in Singapore on a later flight, she said in Bahasa Indonesia.

Looking stoic, she told reporters she was "hoping for the best" and urged everyone to "think positive thoughts".

11:09 GMT - Flight manifest - AirAsia Indonesia issues a correction on the nationality breakdown of passenger and crew on board QZ8501.

The airline says 149 passengers were from Indonesia, along with three South Koreans, a Singaporean and a British national.

The crew comprised six Indonesians and a French national.

11:03 GMT - Anxious friends and relatives - Singapore's Changi Airport confirms that 47 relatives and friends of 57 passengers on board AirAsia flight QZ8501 have registered at the Relatives’ Holding Area (RHA) at Terminal 2.

Help and support are being provided to them by 36 airport care officers and four counsellors from the Ministry of Social and Family Development.

The airport says it has arranged local accommodation or travel to Indonesia for the next-of-kin.

10:44 GMT - Airbus statement - Airbus offers its thoughts to everyone involved in Flight QZ8501.

The manufacturer says the plane involved in flight QZ8501 was a A320-200 model which had accumulated approximately 23,000 flight hours in some 13,600 flights for Air Asia.

The A320-200 is a twin-engine single-aisle aircraft which can seat up to 180 passengers.

The first A320 entered service in March 1988 and there are over 6000 A320 aircraft in service with over 300 operators.

Airbus says the entire fleet has accumulated some 154 million flight hours in some 85 million flights.

10:38 GMT - Emergency helpline - AirAsia has established an Emergency Call Centre that is available for family or friends of those who may have been on board the aircraft. The number is: +622129850801

-- Poor visibility --

10:15 GMT - Clean safety record - AirAsia says the missing jet last underwent maintenance on November 16. The company was founded in 1996 and has never suffered a fatal accident in its 18-year history.

The airline has swiftly replaced its distinctive bright red logo with a grey background on its social media pages.

09:54 GMT - Search efforts - The Indonesian Air Force has dispatched two planes and a military helicopter to search for Flight QZ8501.

"Out planes, and a helicopter, have been scouring the waters off the islands of Bangka and Belitung for the past four hours," spokesman Hadi Cahyanto tells AFP.

"The planes could fly as low as 5,000 feet and the helicopter could go even lower . We had flown as low as 1,000 feet but we have not been able to visually detect any signs of the AirAsia plane," "

09:46 GMT - Next-of-kin contacted - Singapore's Civil Aviation Authority says it is in contact with the next-of-kin of Singaporeans on board the missing flight, who are gathering at the Changi Airport Relatives Holding Area (RHA).

"Assistance and support are being provided to the relatives and friends of affected passengers who are at the RHA," a spokesperson says.

09:40 GMT - British national on missing flight - British Foreign Office confirms that one of its nationals was on the missing flight.

"We have been informed by the local authorities that one British national was on board. Their next of kin has been informed, and we stand ready to provide consular assistance,” a spokesperson says.

09:27 GMT - Indonesian Prayers - Indonesian President Joko Widodo has told reporters he is praying for the safety of all on board Flight 8501.

"All Indonesians and I are praying for the safety of the crew and passengers of QZ8501.

"I received the information from the Transport Minister this morning that the QZ8501 had lost contact with radar .

"I have ordered the search and rescue agency, military and police chiefs … to help in the search. Singapore and Australia are willing to help.

"Besides the search, I have also ordered the Transport Minister to contact the families of passengers and crew and we all pray together."

-- Flawless safety record --

09:24 GMT - South Korea - South Korean government officials have held an emergency meeting on the missing AirAsia flight at the foreign ministry in Seoul, responding to reports that three South Koreans were on board the plane.

09:21 GMT - Help Accepted - The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore says Indonesia has accepted Singapore’s offer to assist in the search and rescue efforts being made to find the AirAsia aircraft QZ8501.

Singapore says it offered help at 0930 hours local time and received confirmation from the Indonesian authorities this afternoon at 1430 hours.

Singapore has offered aid from various agencies including the Air Force and Navy, but so far the Indonesians have requested they send one C130 aircraft for now.

09:13 GMT - Airbus Response - Airbus says it will provide full assistance to the authorities in charge of the investigation.

“The thoughts of the Airbus management and staff are with all those affected by Flight QZ 8501.”

In a statement Airbus has provided the following information on the missing plane:

“The aircraft involved is MSN (Manufacturer Serial Number) 3648, registered as PK-AXC and was delivered to AirAsia from the production line in October 2008.

Powered by CFM 56-5B engines, the aircraft had accumulated approximately 23,000 flight hours in some 13,600 flights. At this time no further factual information is available.”

The Airbus A320-200 is a twin-engine single-aisle aircraft seating up to 180 passengers in a single-class configuration. The first A320 entered service in March 1988.

By the end of November 2014, over 6000 A320 Family aircraft were in service with over 300 operators. To date, the entire fleet has accumulated some 154 million flight hours in some 85 million flights.

09:03 GMT - "My Only Thought" - AirAsia, Asia's budget travel leader, is led by flamboyant boss Tony Fernandes, a former record industry executive who acquired the then-failing airline in 2001.

In his latest Tweet Fernandes writes: "My only thought are with the passangers and my crew.We put our hope in the SAR operation and ... "

08:57 GMT - British Query? - The Foreign Office is investigating reports that a Briton may be on board the missing plane, the Mirror newspaper in the United Kingdom reports.

An official from Surabaya's Juanda airport is reported to have said a Briton was among those travelling on QZ8501, but an AirAsia statement listed the nationalities of passengers and crew as Indonesian, South Korean, Singaporean, Malaysian and French.

A Foreign Office spokesman is reported to have said: "We are aware of reports of an incident regarding Air Asia flight QZ 8501.

"Our thoughts are with the passengers' families as they await further news. We are aware of reports of a British national on board and are liaising urgently with the local authorities to establish further details".

08:51 GMT - Malaysian PM - Malaysian Prime Minister Mohd Najib Tun Razak has Tweeted his support: “Very sad to hear that AirAsia Indonesia QZ8501 is missing. My thoughts are with the families. Malaysia stands ready to help.”

-- Severe thunderstorms --

08:49 GMT - AirAsia Website - The main website for AirAsia may have changed its usually red logo to grey following the news of the plane going missing but it has been slow to make any other changes to the site.

The site: http://www.airasia.com/hk/en/home.page?cid=1 currently offers no news on Flight 8501, instead its main attraction remains: “Smashing 2015 with Low Fares” and ways to get amazing deals.

08:40 GMT - Care Officers - An official from Changi Airport in Singapore has told AFP’s Bhavan Jaipragas that "care officers" are attending to family members gathered in a holding room, offering blankets and drinks.

He said there are no AirAsia officials in the room at the moment.

08:32 GMT - Lost Contact - Indonesia’s National Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas) is overseeing the search and rescue for the missing AirAsia plane.

The agency says the Airbus 320 lost contact at 6.17 am (West Indonesia Time) at Teluk Kumai, Central Kalimantan.

Basarnas at Soekarno Hatta Airport told the New Straits Times Online that the last contact with the aircraft was at coordinates 03 09 15 South – 111 28 21 East.

It added that Flight 8501 was supposed to enter Singapore airspace at 6.52am (West Indonesia time).

08:29 GMT - The AirAsia Tweet after the news broke: "AirAsia Indonesia regrets to confirm that QZ8501 from Surabaya to Singapore has lost contact at 07:24hrs this morning http://on.fb.me/1xpx5pl"

08:27 GMT - Offers of Help - Singapore, Malaysia and Australia have quickly offered to help the hunt for the plane.

The White House says US President Barack Obama has been briefed on the disappearance and is monitoring the situation.

08:25 GMT - Malaysian Minister - Malaysia’s Minister of Transport, Liow Tiong Lai, says on Twitter: “Msian Govt has set up a rescue coordination centre at subang & deploying assets now to aid the SAR & coordinating with Indonesian led effort”.

08:21 GMT - Bad Weather - An official from Indonesia's transport ministry has told the media that the pilot had asked to ascend 6,000 feet to 38,000 feet to avoid heavy clouds.

"The plane is in good condition but the weather is not so good," Djoko Murjatmodjo told a press conference at Jakarta's airport, addressing reports of severe storms in the area where the jet went missing.

AirAsia says the missing jet last underwent maintenance on November 16.

-- Anxious relatives --

08:16 GMT - Malaysia Airlines Support - Malaysia Airlines, which has suffered great tragedy this year, has Tweeted its support for AirAsia: " - Our thoughts and prayers are with all family and friends of those on board QZ8501."

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, carrying 239 people, vanished in March after inexplicably diverting from its Kuala Lumpur-Beijing course. No trace of the aircraft has been found.

Another Malaysia Airlines plane went down in July in rebellion-torn eastern Ukraine -- believed to have been hit by a surface-to-air missile -- killing all 298 aboard.

08:15 GMT - AirAsia Boss - AirAsia boss Tony Fernandes has Tweeted: “On my way to Surabaya where most of the passengers are from as with my Indonesian management. Providing information as we get it.”

Earlier, after hearing the news on Flight 8501 he had written on Twitter: “We will be putting out another statement soon. Thank you for all your thoughts and prays. we must stay strong.”

08:09 GMT - Changi Airport - AFP's correspondent Bhavan Jaipragas says a relatives' holding area set up in Changi Airport in Singapore is tightly guarded by police and cordoned off from the media.

At least three family members who entered the area appeared to be of Chinese descent.

A Changi official said he could not comment on the number of family members in the holding area yet, and will do so later in the day.

Singapore civil aviation officials have said they will not hold a press conference today.

It was business as usual elsewhere in Changi Airport. Some travelers at the busy Asian aviation hub milled around the entrance of the relatives' holding area, curious about the large media presence.

08:04 GMT - Search Underway - Search and rescue teams are scouring the last recorded location of the AirAsia plane.

The Indonesian air force says two of its planes have been dispatched to search an area of the Java Sea, southwest of Pangkalan Bun in Kalimantan province.

"The weather is cloudy and the area is surrounded by sea. We are still on our way so we won't make an assumption on what happened to the plane," Indonesian air force spokesman Hadi Cahyanto has told AFP.

07:59 GMT - Waiting Families - Family members of passengers on missing Flight 8501 have begun to gather at Juanda international airport in Surabaya in East Java, where the plane departed from.

Many are in tears and frantically awaiting news of their loved ones.

07:56 GMT - The Missing - AirAsia says there are 138 adult passengers, 16 children and an infant, in addition to the two pilots and five cabin crew on board the missing plane.

The airline says 156 of those on the flight are Indonesians, along with three South Koreans and one person each from Singapore, Malaysia and France.

07:49 GMT - WELCOME TO AFP’S LIVE REPORT on missing AirAsia Flight 8501, which has disappeared while carrying 162 people from Surabaya in Indonesia to Singapore.

Air traffic controllers lost contact with the Airbus A320-200 around an hour after it left Juanda international airport in Surabaya, east Java, at 5:20am.

It was scheduled to arrive in Singapore at 8:30am.

Shortly before disappearing, the plane asked permission from Jakarta air traffic control to track away from its flight plan and climb above adverse weather in an area renowned for severe thunderstorms.