Missing AirAsia Jet Likely Crashed Into Sea, Authorities Say

Search continues for lost airliner.

AirAsia QZ8501 Flight Path

AirAsia QZ8501 Flight Path

Wikipedia Creative Commons/Andrew Heneen

A second day of searching for the AirAsia Airbus A320-200 that went missing while en route from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore turned up empty on Monday, prompting officials to downplay hopes of finding the airplane.

Flight QZ8501, carrying 162 people, disappeared around 7:30 a.m. Singapore time while flying over the Java Sea. Some 30 ships and 15 aircraft have been launched in the search effort, which has focused on the area between the islands of Borneo, Java and Sumatra.

The airplane was flying in an area of heavy thunderstorms when officials lost contact with it, although investigators have not yet said whether or not weather played a role in the disappearance. The A320 was in cruise at 32,000 feet when the crew asked for a higher altitude to avoid a cloud bank, which was denied due to the presence of other aircraft according to local news reports. Its request to turn left, however, was approved. No mayday calls or other signals of an emergency were issued by the crew.

An unconfirmed radar image depicting the A320 climbing at a speed of 353 knots has spurred conjecture that the airplane may have stalled at high altitude.

An Australian plane spotted floating debris on Monday 700 miles away from the airplane's last known location, but officials said there was "insufficient evidence" that it was in any way related to the flight.

Most of those aboard the airplane were Indonesians, although the flight also carried three South Koreans, one person from Britain, one individual from Malaysia and one from Singapore. The co-pilot was French. Authorities say they are performing background checks on all aboard as part of standard procedure.

The captain, Iriyanto, had 20,000 hours, 7,000 of which were in an Airbus A320.

After two days of fruitless searching, authorities issued statements attempting to temper hopes of finding the airplane.

"Based on the coordinates that we know, the evaluation would be that any estimated crash position is in the sea, and that the hypothesis is the plane is at the bottom of the sea," said Indonesia National Search and Rescue chief Henry Bambang Soelistyo.

AirAsia has set up a crisis center at the airport for relatives of those aboard the flight as the search continues.

The tragedy comes just 10 months after the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which still remains unfound.

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