Singapore-bound AirAsia plane with 162 aboard goes missing in stormy weather

Singapore-bound AirAsia plane with 162 aboard goes missing in stormy weather
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By RYAN GORMAN

An AirAsia flight with 162 people aboard lost contact Sunday morning with air traffic control after encountering storms shortly after takeoff from Indonesia.

The Airbus A320-200 plane had 155 passengers and seven crew members aboard when it lost communication with Jakarta's air traffic control at 7:24 a.m. It is suspected to have gone down near Belitung Island.

A flight manifest cited by News Detik claims there were 138 adults, 16 children and one infant among the passengers expected to land Singapore about an hour after the flight disappeared from radar screens.

There were 156 Indonesians, three South Koreans and one each from France, Malaysia and Singapore among the passengers, the airline confirmed in a statement.

The crew was composed of two pilots, four flight attendants and one engineer.

Flight QZ8501 was lost about 42 minutes after takeoff from Indonesia's Surabaya airport, Hadi Mustofa, an official of the transportation ministry told Indonesia's MetroTV.

Flight tracking website FlightRadar24 shows the plane went down in the Java Sea near the Java Islands.

Weather observations from the time show rough seas amid stormy weather in the region. The pilot asked for a "route deviation" because of the storms, according to the airline.

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

A leaked picture of an air traffic control screen shows the plane climbing past 36,000 feet at a speed of only 353 knots. Storm clouds towered over 50,000 feet, according to at least one meteorologist.

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AirAsia said that search and rescue operations were in progress. Civilian shipping traffic has also been advised to notify authorities of any possible wreckage sightings.

The airline's normally red logos used across all social media branding were quickly changed to grey.

The Singapore aviation authority said it was informed about the missing plane by Jakarta ground control about half an hour after the contact was lost.

"Search and rescue operations have been activated by the Indonesian authorities," it said, adding that the Singapore air force and the navy also were activated with two C-130 planes.

The White House also confirmed U.S. President Barack Obama has been briefed on the incident and that American officials are keeping an eye on developments.

Relatives of the passengers gathered at Changi International Airport, in Singapore, and Juanda International Airport, in Surabaya, where crisis centers were set up by local authorities.

Many broke down into tears while awaiting updates on the missing flight.

AirAsia, based in Malaysia, is a dominant low-cost carrier in the region with more than 100 destinations around the world, according to the airline's website.

It has an impeccable safety record with no crashes going back nearly two decades.

Malaysian officials have offered to provide assistance in the search efforts.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.