Flight QZ8501 dropped off the radar Sunday morning local time after taking off from Indonesia's second-largest city of Surabaya. Satellite images show heavy thunderstorms in the vicinity of the site where the plane lost contact, the Guardian noted. AirAsia said in a statement that the plane had requested "deviation due to enroute weather" before communication broke off.
The Airbus 320-200 carried 155 passengers and seven crew on board. Most of the passengers were Indonesian. Three South Koreans, one Singaporean, one Malaysian, one French citizen and one Briton were also aboard.
The captain and co-captain were identified as Iriyanto, who like many Indonesians uses only one name, and Frenchman Remi Emmanuel Plesel. According to AirAsia, both are experienced pilots.
A reported passenger manifest shows a total of 26 passengers, including three infants, who were scheduled to be aboard but are listed as no-shows. A crisis center and hotline have been set up for relatives of those who are aboard the flight, and the airline said it is working to identify the next of kin.
AirAsia Indonesia CEO Sunu Widyatmoko said in a Facebook post that the airline was "deeply shocked and saddened" by the disappearance. "We are cooperating with the relevant authorities to the fullest extent to determine the cause of this incident. In the meantime, our main priority is keeping the families of our passengers and colleagues informed on the latest developments.”
The company changed its logo from red to gray on social media.
More than 100 relatives of missing passengers gathered at the Juanda International Airport, the flight's point of departure, Reuters reports. Even AirAsia Malaysia chief Tony Fernandes joined the group. The airline has offered free hotel rooms and food to those waiting to hear from loved ones.
Family members also massed at Changi Airport in Singapore, where the flight had been scheduled to land around 8:30 a.m. local time. According to The Sydney Morning Herald, one woman waiting at the airport's crisis center said that she had seven family members on the flight, including her mother and brother.
One woman told CNN that her fiancée and his family were on the flight.
The hunt for Flight QZ8501 is being headed up by Indonesian search and rescue teams, with additional assistance from Malaysia, Australia and a Singaporean surveillance plane. Indonesia's head of search and rescue, Bambang Soelistyo, told the Associated Press that more than a dozen ships and eight aircraft would be deployed to look for the missing plane.
The United States has also offered support for the search. Spokespersons for the National Transportation Safety Board and the State Department said that the agencies are monitoring the situation and "ready to assist" the rescue team if needed.
The plane's disappearance has provoked an outpouring of support from the public, politicians and business leaders.
U.S. President Barack Obama was briefed on the missing flight and White House officials are monitoring the situation. Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong wrote on Twitter that he was "saddened" to hear about the missing plane. "My thoughts are with the passengers and their families," he said.
Malaysia's Prime Minister Mohammad Najib Razak said his country "stands ready to help."
"Our hearts and hopes are with the passengers and families of AirAsia QZ8501," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry tweeted.
Eline Gordts and Alana Horowitz contributed to this report.