JAKARTA – Indonesia resumed a sea and aerial search at dawn on Monday for an AirAsia plane that went missing in the Java Sea with 162 people on board, an official said, as anguished relatives waited desperately for news.
"We have resumed the search for the missing AirAsia plane at 6:00 am (2300 GMT Sunday). We are heading to east Belitung island," Tatang Zainuddin, deputy operations chief of Indonesia's National Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas) said.
"We are expecting vessels and planes from Malaysia and Singapore (to assist in the search). We hope we can find the plane as soon as possible," Zainuddin said.
The Airbus A320-200 disappeared en route from Surabaya in Indonesia's east Java to Singapore after the crew requested a change of flight plan due to stormy weather, in the third crisis for a Malaysian carrier this year.
Five aircraft will be sent to search for the plane, including two C-130 military transport aircraft and a Boeing 737, Indonesian air force spokesman Hadi Cahyanto said.
"Two planes have already left. Three more will follow suit. It is cloudy in some parts but still bright," Cahyanto said.
"We are focusing the search area in the waters on the eastern and northern part of Belitung island." Australia, Malaysia and Singapore have also joined the search, which is centred on the Java Sea. The US has also said it was ready to assist.
A Royal Australian Air Force AP-3C Orion equipped with sophisticated search equipment took off Monday from the northern Australian city of Darwin while Singapore said it was deploying two C-130 aircraft in addition to naval ships already dispatched.
– Distraught relatives –
AirAsia said 155 of those on board flight QZ8501 were Indonesian, with three South Koreans and one person each from Singapore, Malaysia, Britain and France. The Frenchman was the co-pilot.
Distraught relatives of the missing passengers spent the night in Surabaya hoping for news of their loved ones.
Security was tight at the airport crisis centre, with dozens of security officers and soldiers seen standing guard.
Vicky, whose two siblings were on the plane, said he was upset to hear an airline official say he joined in their "sadness." "What he said was not appropriate at all. If they were sad it means there's death. But the flight has not been found yet," he said.
Air traffic controllers lost contact with the twin-engine aircraft around an hour after it left Surabaya's Juanda international airport at about 5:35 am (2220 GMT Saturday).
Shortly before disappearing, the pilot asked to ascend by 6,000 feet to 38,000 feet to avoid heavy clouds, according to an Indonesian transport ministry official.
"But their request to fly to 38,000 feet from 32,000 feet could not be approved at that time due to traffic, there was a flight above, and five minutes later the flight disappeared from radar," Djoko Murjatmodjo told a press conference Sunday.
"According to our climate radar, the weather was not good. There was enough cumulonimbus (cloud) there," he said. — AFP