Search Area Expands for Missing AirAsia Jet

PHOTO: This photograph from April 2014 shows Indonesia AirAsia’s Airbus A320-200 PK-AXC in the air near Jakarta Soekarno–Hatta International Airport.

The search area for the missing AirAsia jetliner that disappeared Sunday morning over the Java Sea has expanded, as dozens of vessels scour the water for the missing plane.

The search area initially focused on four sectors, but the search area has been expanded to seven sectors, Indonesia’s National Search and Rescue Agency said in a press release. The division of the sectors is based on initial data received when the plane lost contact as well as supplementary data related to natural conditions.

The agency is contributing 12 ships, tens of boats and two helicopters. Malaysia and Singapore are each deploying three ships and one Hercules plane, the Indonesian Air Force is deploying two Hercules planes, one Boeing 737 and two « Puma » aircraft, and the Indonesian Navy is deploying two warships, authorities said. Additionally, the Australian Defence Force has deployed an AP-3C Orion maritime patrol Aircraft to assist in the search.

Searchers « currently suspect » that the plane is on the bottom of the ocean, the head of the lead agency in the operation said.

PHOTO: Relatives of the passengers of AirAsia flight QZ8501 comfort each other at Juanda International Airport in Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia, Dec. 28, 2014.

« We currently suspect that plane is located on the ocean floor, » Bambang Soelistyo, the head of Indonesia’s National Search and Rescue Agency said.

If the plane is found on the ocean floor, there would be a challenge in getting the plane to the surface because they do not have the « submersible » equipment, Soelistyo said.

The plane’s Emergency Locator Transmitter should function automatically and send warning signals, but no signal has been detected by control centers in Indonesia or in neighboring countries, Soelistyo said.

Soelistyo confirmed that Indonesia’s National Search and Rescue Agency is spearheading the search effort.

AirAsia Airbus A320-200 Map flight path with times

The AirAsia jet lost contact with air traffic control over the Java Sea during a flight to Singapore Sunday morning, shortly after the pilots requested a change of flight plan because of weather.

Flight QZ8501, an Airbus A320-200, lost contact with air traffic control in Jakarta at 6:17 a.m. Sunday local time near Belitung Island, Indonesia, after the flight left Surabaya, Indonesian Air Transport Director Djoko Murjatmodjo said during a news conference Sunday.

The flight, which had at least 161 people on board, was scheduled to land in Singapore at 7:57 a.m. local time.

Relatives of passengers onboard the Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 that went missing on March 8, 2014, watch TV news about missing AirAsia flight QZ8501, during their year-end gathering at a house in Beijing, China Sunday, Dec. 28, 2014.

The six-year-old aircraft was on its submitted flight plan but the pilot requested a deviation because of en-route weather before communication with the aircraft was lost, AirAsia said.

Murjatmodjo said the pilot also requested to increase altitude to 38,000 feet from 32,000 feet to « avoid clouds. » Thunderstorms were reported in the area with clouds up to 50,000 feet.

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