The missing AirAsia passenger plane “is likely at the bottom of the sea”, the chief of Indonesia’s search effort has said.Bambang Soelistyo added that an initial investigation into the disappearance of Flight QZ8501 had revealed that the “estimated crash position is in the sea”, as more than a dozen ship try to find the aircraft.
The Airbus A320 stopped communicating with air traffic control over the Java Sea in the early hours of Sunday morning. The pilot issued no distress signal.
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A British businessman and his two-year-old daughter are among the 162 people on board the jet, which was travelling from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore.
The main focus of the search-and-rescue operation lies near Belitung island, where the plane last made contact.
Five planes, three helicopters, 12 navy ships and several warships have been deployed, officials have confirmed.
A Royal Australian Air Force aircraft has also joined the effort, with Prime Minister Tony Abbott pledging that his country would do “whatever it humanly can to assist”.
First Admiral Sigit Setiayana said visibility was good, adding: “God willing, we can find it soon.”
Several storm clouds were along the route of the flight, and Sunday’s search for the Airbus A320 was hampered by heavy rain.
AirAsia is a low-cost carrier which has been in operation since 2001. It has a good safety record, and none of its planes have gone missing before.
The company’s founder, Tony Fernandes, has described the incident as “his worst nightmare”.
The experienced captain of the plane, who has amassed more than 20,000 flying hours, had requested to change route because of bad weather.
His 22-year-old daughter has used social media to beg for his safe return, writing: “Papa, come home, I still need you.”
A fellow pilot, Rakam Singh, told Sky News: “As you climb higher the temperature gets lower… if you hit turbulence you’ve got more chance of stalling an aircraft if you hit this kind of weather.”
He said the chances of carrying out a safe landing after that were low.
This year has been the worst year for aviation accidents in a decade – largely as a result of the MH17 and MH370 disasters.
Shares in AirAsia fell by 11.6% at the start of trade in the Malaysian stock market on Monday morning.