Rescuers scouring Indonesian waters for an AirAsia plane that went missing with 162 people aboard have found no sign of the missing jet more than 16 hours after it lost contact with air-traffic control, officials said Sunday.
After more than 10 hours of scouring the Java Sea, Indonesian authorities called off the aerial search for the night and said it would resume at 6 a.m. Monday (6 p.m. ET Sunday). Achmad Toha of Indonesia's Search and Rescue Agency (BASARNAS) said some ships in the area would continue looking for the missing plane overnight, according to The Associated Press.
AirAsia Indonesia Flight QZ8501 lost contact with air traffic control at around 7:24 a.m. local time in Indonesia (7:24 p.m. ET) on Sunday after requesting a course change due to bad weather while en route from Surabaya, Indonesia, to Singapore.
Indonesia's acting director general of transportation, Djoko Murjatmodjo, said there had been no distress signal from the cockpit of the Airbus A320-200, but a minute before contact was lost, the pilot "asked to avoid clouds by turning left and going higher to 34,000 feet.” Forecasters told NBC News that "numerous showers and hail" littered the missing jet's flight path.
"We hope we can find the location of the plane as soon as possible, and we hope that God will give us guidance to find it," Murjatmodjo told reporters. "We don't dare to presume what has happened except that it has lost contact."
The flight had 155 passengers on board, including 16 children and one infant, and two pilots and five crew members, the airline said. Most on board were Indonesian though there were around six foreigners — including three South Koreans, a British national, a Singapore national and a Malaysian. A French national was part of the crew, according to AirAsia.
"The aircraft was on the submitted flight plan route and was requesting deviation due to en route weather before communication with the aircraft was lost," the airline said, adding that the missing plane last underwent maintenance on Nov. 16.
The pilot in command has a total of 20,537 flying hours, of which, 6,100 flying hours were with AirAsia Indonesia on the Airbus A320, the airline said.
Airbus confirmed in a statement that the plane was delivered to AirAsia in October 2008 and that it had accumulated about 23,000 flight hours in some 13,600 flights.
Indonesia's Transport Minister Ignasius Jonan told reporters in Surabaya that search-and-rescue efforts now involved the Indonesian army, the National Search and Rescue Agency as well as Singapore and Malaysia, according to The Associated Press. The Search and Rescue Agency's operation chief, Maj. Gen. Tatang Zaenudin, said 200 rescuers had been deployed to the east side of Belitung island, the AP reported.
Singapore's military confirmed to NBC News that it had deployed a C-130 plane to assist in search and rescue efforts.
"Following the Indonesian authorities calling off the search for the day, the aircraft has since departed the area of operations," the military said in a statement, adding that it would send two C-130s to continue the search operation on Monday.
The U.S. National Transportation Safety board is monitoring developments in the search and is prepared to assist if asked by the Indonesian government, agency spokesman, Terry Williams, told NBC News. Officials with the U.S. State Department said they were ready to assist in the search, if needed, adding that none of the passengers on the plane were carrying U.S. passports. “Our hearts and hopes are with the passengers and families of AirAsia QZ8501,” Secretary of State John Kerry posted on Twitter.
Weeping and distraught relatives of passengers flocked to Singapore's Changi Airport, which set up an area to provide assistance to passengers' family. “Our main priority is keeping the families of our passengers and colleagues informed on the latest developments,” the CEO of AirAsia Indonesia, Sunu Widyatmoko, said in a statement. The country's prime minister, Lee Hsien Loong, said on Twitter that his "thoughts are with the passengers and their families."
Tony Fernandes, the head of AirAsia, said he was en route to Indonesia's city of Surabaya — where most of the passengers were from — and that his thoughts were with the passengers and crew.
The White House said that President Barack Obama was briefed on the disappearance of the flight and monitoring developments. The National Transportation Safety Board is also monitoring developments, but would need an invitation to assist in any investigation.
The loss of contact with the AirAsia flight comes nine months after the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which vanished during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people aboard on March 8. It has never been found.
Malaysia Airlines sent a message of support amid the ongoing search for the AirAsia flight, saying in a Twitter message on Sunday that its "thoughts and prayers are with all family and friends of those on board."
— The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.