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International relations

Search continues for missing jet

Tony Fernandes, CEO of AirAsia Group, spoke at a press conference in Surabaya on Monday. (Photo by Keiichiro Asahara)

JAKARTA -- Search operations in Indonesia continued late into Monday afternoon for an AirAsia jet that disappeared on Sunday morning with 162 people aboard.

     In a press conference in Surabaya on Monday, Indonesia's Vice President Jusuf Kalla said 30 vessels and 15 airplanes and helicopters are searching for the missing plane, with support from Singapore, Malaysia and Australia. Indonesia AirAsia Flight QZ8501 departed from Surabaya to Singapore before losing contact with air traffic control.

     The search is currently focused on the sea between the Bangka Belitung Islands and the island of Kalimantan, where officials believe the plane went missing.

     Kalla added that Indonesia's National Search and Rescue Agency, which is leading the search operations, could not clarify media reports that Australian planes spotted objects in sea in the search area.

     "Our operations continue and there is no [time] limit to find the plane and passengers," Kalla said.

     Meanwhile, details of the incident are slowly starting to emerge. The pilot had asked to ascend from 32,000 feet to 38,000 feet to avoid clouds, according to Indonesian air traffic authorities. Tatang Kurniadi, head of Indonesia's National Committee of Safety Transportation, said earlier Monday at a press conference in Jakarta that air traffic control did not have time to approve the request due to heavy air traffic. The plane lost contact with air traffic control about five minutes after the request was made.

     Transport minister Ignasius Jonan said the Indonesian government will review operations of AirAsia as well as the safety conditions of the country's entire aviation industry.

     "It is important to avoid similar problems in the future," Jonan said.

     Indonesian officials have said there is the possibility that the plane is at the bottom of the sea. Bambang Sulistyo, head of Indonesia's National Search and Rescue Agency, said Monday that the country has limited equipment capabilities and may ask for assistance from the U.S., U.K. and France.

     AirAsia Indonesia is an affiliate of Malaysia-based budget carrier AirAsia, which holds a 49% stake in it. The company has not suffered a crash since its establishment in 2001.

     Tony Fernandes, CEO of AirAsia Group, said at a press conference in Surabaya on Monday: "We have carried 220 million people up to this point. Of course there is going to be some reaction but we are confident in our ability to carry people"

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