An AirAsia plane with 162 people on board lost contact with ground control today while flying over the Java Sea after taking off from Indonesia for Singapore, initiating a massive search for the third possible aviation disaster to affect the region this year. AirAsia, a regional low-cost carrier based in Malaysia, said the missing Airbus A320 was on its submitted flight plan route. However, it had requested permission to deviate because of weather. "We don't dare to presume what has happened except that it has lost contact," said Indonesia's acting director general of transportation. He said the last contact between the pilot and air traffic control was at 6:13am local time when the pilot asked to go up to 34,000 feet, apparently to avoid stormy weather. It was last seen on radar at 6:16am, and a minute later was no longer there, he said. Darkness has fallen in the region, reports the BBC, and the search has been called off for the night. It will resume in the morning.
He said there was no distress signal from Flight QZ8501. The contact was lost about 42 minutes after the single-aisle jetliner took off from Indonesia's Surabaya airport. It still had about an hour to go before arriving in Singapore. The plane had seven crew and 155 passengers, including 16 children and one infant, said the general manager of Surabaya's Juanda airport. There were six foreigners—three South Koreans, including the infant, and one each from Singapore, Britain, and Malaysia. The rest were Indonesians. The 6-year-old plane is believed to have gone missing somewhere over the Java Sea between Tanjung Pandan on Belitung island and Pontianak, on Indonesia's part of Kalimantan island. The AP has a list of key developments in the plane's disappearance here. (Read more AirAsia stories.)