Indonesian teams called off their air search overnight due to thick clouds, although some sea operations continued. The main search resumed at 0700 local time today (29 December 2014), with Malaysian, Australian and Singaporean teams all assisting their Indonesian counterparts.
AirAsia said the pilots asked to deviate from the planned flight path due to bad weather conditions. Contact was lost shortly afterwards.
An earlier statement from Indonesia’s National Search & Rescue Agency (Basarnas), reported by the Jakarta Post, that the aircraft “experienced severe turbulence and crashed into the ocean”, appears to have been based on speculation.
A senior official at Indonesia’s Transportation Ministry, Djoko Muriatmodjo, has since warned against preempting the fate of the aircraft.
“Don’t make any early conclusions. There might be further developments; we will likely not know until we are able to find the aircraft,” said he was quoted saying by Indonesia’s Antara news agency during a press briefing.
The Ministry confirmed however, that the search effort is focused on the seas between Tanjung Pandan, the largest city in the Bangka Belitung Islands, and Pontianak in West Kalimantan. It is reported however, that the aircraft’s emergency locator transmitter signal has still not been detected by search and rescue teams, despite relatively shallow seas in the area.
In a statement this morning, Sunu Widyatmoko, CEO of AirAsia Indonesia said the airline is “shocked and saddened” by the 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,” he added.
AirAsia’s group CEO, Tony Fernandes, called the incident his “worst nightmare”.
The flight was carrying 155 passengers and seven crew members. According to the airline’s revised passenger list, the vast majority of those onboard were Indonesian nationals (149), while the aircraft was also carrying three South Koreans, one Singaporean, one Malaysian, one French and one UK citizen. The French national was the co-pilot and the only non-Indonesian crew member.
Up until today’s incident, AirAsia had a very good safety record, without a single recorded aircraft loss or passenger fatality in its history. It operates a modern fleet of almost 170 A320 aircraft, approximately 30 of which are based in Indonesia.
Airbus has issued a statement saying that the aircraft involved was delivered to AirAsia in October 2008, direct from the European planemaker’s production line.
Meanwhile, AirAsia’s statement said that the captain in command of flight QZ8501 had a total of 6,100 flying hours, while the first officer had 2,275.
An emergency hotline has been set up for people who believe they may have family or friends onboard the aircraft. The number is: +62 212 985 0801.