Air Asia said the pilot of flight QZ8501 that went missing between Indonesia and Singapore early Sunday had requested “deviation” from the its flight plan because of bad weather.
“The aircraft… was requesting deviation due to enroute weather,” the Malaysia-based carrier said in a statement posted on its Facebook page.
“Communication with the aircraft was lost while it was still under the control of the Indonesian Air Traffic Control (ATC).”
The Airbus A320-200 with 162 people on board left Juanda international airport in Surabaya in east Java at 5:20 am Sunday and had been expected to arrive in Singapore at 8:30 am (0030 GMT).
Malaysia-based AirAsia said a search and rescue operation was underway.
Indonesia’s air transportation director general Djoko Murjatmodjo told AFP the plane was carrying seven crew and 155 passengers — 138 adults, 16 children and a baby.
Local broadcaster MetroTV reported that the passengers included 149 Indonesians, three South Koreans, including a baby, one Briton and one Malaysian and one Singaporean.
The Indonesian air force said two of its planes had been dispatched to scour 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,” said Indonesian air force spokesman Hadi Cahyanto.
The aircraft was operated by AirAsia Indonesia, a unit of Malaysian-based AirAsia which dominates Southeast Asia’s booming low cost airline market.
– Search and rescue –
An official from Indonesia’s transport ministry said the pilot 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.
Murjatmodjo said search efforts were being focused on an area between Belitung island and Kalimantan, on the western side of the island of Borneo, about halfway along the expected route of Flight QZ8501.
Singapore has offered help from its navy and air force in the hunt for the plane.