A major search operation into the missing AirAsia plane carrying 162 people that lost contact with ground control has been suspended for the night.
The search operation for the plane, which is believed to have gone missing while flying over the Java sea, was halted as darkness fell and will resume in the morning at 6am local time.
The Singapore-bound plane had taken off from the provincial city of Surabaya in Indonesia, and lost contact with air traffic control at 7:24am Singaporean local time, nearly two hours after take-off.
Both countries are now conducting a major search and rescue operation for flight QZ8501, and South Korea has said it will help also.
There was no update on the plane’s whereabouts more than six hours after it went missing.
AirAsia, a regional low-cost carrier with a presence in several Southeast Asian countries, said the 162 people on board the Airbus A320-200 included seven crew members.
A British national is on board the plane, the Foreign and Commonwealth office has confirmed. "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," it said in a statement.
Trikora Raharjo, the general manager of the airport the plane departed from, told The Associated Press a Briton was on the flight, after AirAsia released a statement detailing the nationalities of the passenger and crew. The statement did not mention a British passenger.
AirAsia said in a statement the people on board included 156 Indonesians, three South Koreans, one French person, one Malaysian and one Singaporean.
At Surabaya airport, dozens of relatives sat in a room, many of them talking on mobile phones and crying. Some looked dazed.
“We don't dare to presume what has happened except that it has lost contact.” Djoko Murjatmodjo, Indonesia's acting director general of transportation, told reporters. He said the last contact between pilot and the air traffic control was at 6.13 a.m. (23.13 GMT Saturday) “when he asked to hinder cloud by turning left and go higher to 34,000 feet.”
The pilot has been named as Iriyanto, and the co-pilot identified as Remi Emmanuel Plesel.
One of the flight attendants on board is believed to be Oscar Desano, according to reports.
The missing plane had been on the submitted flight plan route, but had requested deviation due to the weather, before the communication with the aircraft was lost, AirAsia said in a statement.
The plane’s communication was lost while it was still under the control of the Indonesian Air Traffic Control.
According to officials, the pilot contacted Jakarta air traffic control at 6:12 a.m. Indonesian local time, reporting clouds and asking to climb from 32,000 feet (9,700 metres) to 34,000 feet (10,303 metres), the usual cruising altitude for jetliners.
There was no distress signal made from the flight, Murjatmodjo said.
The aircraft is believed to have gone missing somewhere over the Java Sea between Tanjung Pan on Belintung island and Pontianak, on Indonesia’s part of Kalimantan island.
The airline said the captain in command had a total of 6,100 flying hours, a substantial number, and the first officer a total of 2,275 flying hours.
Tony Fernandes, chief executive of AirAsia and chairman of the English football club QPR, tweeted that he is on his way to Surabaya, adding: "My only thought are with the passengers and my crew. We put our hope in the SAR operation and thank the Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysian governments."
Officials said search and rescue operations have been activated by the Indonesian authorities. It said the Singapore air force and the navy also were searching with two C-130 planes.
An Indonesian navy official told the BBC that no wreckage of the flight has been found, adding that there are poor weather conditions in the search area.
Mr Fernandes said at a press conference: "Our concern right now is for the relatives and next-of-kin. There is nothing more important right now than our crews' families and our passengers' families, and we'll look after them."
AirAsia said in a statement on its Facebook page: “At this time, search and rescue operations are being conducted under the guidance of The Indonesia of Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). AirAsia Indonesia is co-operating fully and assisting the investigation in every possible way.
”The aircraft was on the submitted flight plan route and was requesting deviation due to enroute weather before communication with the aircraft was lost while it was still under the control of the Indonesian Air Traffic Control (ATC).“
Another AirAsia flight has reportedly been forced to turn back due to "technical difficulties", according to the New Straits Times. Flight AK6242 from Penang to Langkawi is understood to have turned around this morning.
The Malaysia-based AirAsia, which has dominated cheap travel in the region for years, has never lost a plane before. AirAsia Malaysia owns 49 percent of the Indonesian subsidiary.
Flightradar24, a flight tracking website, said the plane was delivered in September 2008, which would make it six years old.
This is the third major air incident involving Malaysia this year. On March 8, Malaysia Airlines flight 370, a wide-bodied Boeing 777, went missing soon after taking off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing. It remains missing until this day with 239 people in one of the biggest aviation mysteries.
Another Malaysia Airlines flight, also a Boeing 777, was shot down over rebel-controlled eastern Ukraine while on a flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on July 17. A total of 298 people on board were killed.
The crew's request for an unusual route is curious since the weather “didn't seem to be anything unusual,” said William Waldock, an expert on air crash search and rescue with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona.
Severe weather is the reason pilots usually request a different route, but in this case the “winds were light, there were a few thin clouds, but that's about it,” he said in an interview.
Waldock cautioned against drawing comparisons to the disappearance of Malaysia flight 370.
“I think we have to let this play out,” he said. “Hopefully, the airplane will get found, and if that happens it will probably be in the next few hours. Until then, we have to reserve judgment.”
The circumstances bode well for finding the plane since the intended flight time was less than two hours and there is a known position at which the plane disappeared, he said.
Additional reporting by AP
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