AirAsia: Search Area for Missing Jet to Expand

PHOTO: Indonesias Marine Police head out to sea in search for the missing AirAsia flight 8501, at Pangkal Pinang port in Sumatra Island, Dec. 29, 2014 in Indonesia.PlayTatan Syuflana/AP Photo
WATCH Search Efforts Continue for Missing AirAsia Flight 8501

The search for the missing AirAsia jetliner that disappeared Sunday morning over the Java Sea has been suspended for the day, with no significant breakthroughs reported, according to Bambang Soelistyo, the head of Indonesia's National Search and Rescue Agency.

While the second day of searching mainly focused on the waters around Belitung Island, Indonesia, search crews plan to spend day 3 focusing on utilizing foreign vessels with sonar capabilities, Soelistyo said. The day 3 search area will contain at least four new sectors, including ground area, he added.

The day 2 search area was expanded to seven sectors after initially focused on four sectors, the rescue agency said in an earlier statement. The search area was devised from data received when the plane lost contact, as well from as supplementary data such as weather conditions.

Authorities were testing oil and objects spotted by search crews, Soelistyo said.

The agency has contributed 12 ships, tens of boats and two helicopters. Malaysia and Singapore were each deploying three ships and one Hercules plane, the Indonesian Air Force was deploying two Hercules planes, one Boeing 737 and two "Puma" aircraft, and the Indonesian Navy was deploying two warships, authorities said. Additionally, the Australian Defence Force 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: Indonesian Air Force officials show AirAsia Flight 8501 debris during a press conference at the airbase in Pangkalan Bun, Central Borneo, Indonesia, Dec. 30, 2014.
SLIDESHOW: Wreckage From AirAsia Plane Found

"We currently suspect that plane is located on the ocean floor," Soelistyo said at an earlier news conference.

If the plane is found on the ocean floor, there would be a challenge in getting the plane to the surface because Indonesia does not have the "submersible" equipment necessary, he 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, he said.

Soelistyo said Indonesia's National Search and Rescue Agency is spearheading the search effort.

AirAsia Airbus A320-200 Map flight path with timesABC News
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 after the flight left Surabaya, Indonesia, Indonesian Air Transport Director Djoko Murjatmodjo said during a news conference Sunday.

The flight, which had at least 162 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. Andy Wong/AP Photo
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 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.

While ground control in Jakarta approved the pilot's request to divert the flight, the request to raise elevation hadn't been approved before contact with the plane was lost, said Murjatmodjo.

The plane had been in the air for about 41 minutes at the time.

PHOTO: An AirAsia plane went missing Sunday, Dec. 28, 2014 while en route to Singapore.ABC News
An AirAsia plane went missing Sunday, Dec. 28, 2014 while en route to Singapore.

The flight manifest for the jet showed there were 155 passengers on board, plus seven crew members, although the Indonesian transport ministry only reported six crew members.

Of the passengers, 149 were Indonesians, three were South Korean, and there was one traveler each from Malaysia, Singapore and the United Kingdom, according to AirAsia.

This was the third air incident this year for Malaysian-based airlines.

In July, another Malaysia Airlines jet was shot down over Ukraine, killing all 298 on board.

In March, Malaysia Airlines flight 370, a wide-bodied Boeing 777 with 239 people on board, lost contact with air traffic control soon after taking off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing. It hasn't been found.

ABC News consultant Col. Stephen Ganyard lamented the disappearance of another aircraft this year.

"It's really disheartening," said Ganyard. "It just shouldn't happen in this day and age."

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