Plane with 16 children, 146 others disappears

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There was grief across the globe on Sunday as two separate disasters in Indonesia and Greece put the lives of 562 air and sea passengers   at high risk.

The first disaster was the disappearance of a Singapore-bound AirAsia commercial jet carrying 162 people from the radar in Surabaya, Indonesia.

Just as the news spread, a ferry carrying nearly 500 people caught fire off the Greek island of Corfu in Greece.

The   AirAsia plane disappearance comes nearly 10 months after   Malaysia Airlines Flight 370,   dropped off radar over Southeast Asia   with 239 people on board.

The AirAsia   Flight QZ8501 was said to have flown at 38,000 feet over the Java Sea between the islands of Belitung and Borneo — a heavily traveled shipping channel with shallow waters when it lost contact with the radar.

The search operation for the missing jet was halted last night but would resume at about 7am on Monday depending on weather condition,   the Indonesian Transportation Ministry said.

The UK Guardian, said in its report on Sunday that before communication was lost,   the pilot, an Indonesian named Iriyanto,   contacted air traffic control in Jakarta and requested to rise to 38,000ft to avoid a storm cloud.

At 11.41am, the management of the airline posted a statement to its Facebook page, saying, “AirAsia Indonesia regrets to confirm that flight QZ8501 from Surabaya to Singapore has lost contact with air traffic control at 07.24hrs this(Sunday) morning.

“At the present time, we unfortunately have no further information regarding the status of the passengers and crew members on board, but we will keep all parties informed as more information becomes available.”

Of the people on board the Airbus A320-200, 155 are Indonesians, three   South Koreans, a Briton,   a   Frenchman, a Malaysian and a Singaporean.

Seventeen children, including one infant, are among the passengers, the carrier said. Seven of the people on board are crew members.

The Cable News Network reported that at the airport in Surabaya, loved ones gathered and wept as they waited for any word on the passengers.

Some took cell phone pictures of a flight manifest posted on a wall. The black-and-white papers showed every passenger’s name and seat number, but not their fate.

Others simply sat and dabbed tears from their eyes.

“Our concern right now is for   the relatives and the next of kin,” AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes, said during a news conference in Surabaya.

He confirmed that storm clouds caused the pilot to ask for a change in flight plan, but added, “We don’t want to speculate whether weather was a factor. We really don’t know.”

Earlier,     the Governor of East Java, the National Search and Rescue Agency of the Republic of Indonesia, the Airport Authority of Indonesia, the Airport Operator (Angkasa Pura I) and the management of the airline met with the members of the families to update them on the latest developments.

Sunu Widyatmoko, CEO of AirAsia Indonesia, said, “We are deeply shocked and saddened by this incident. 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 about the latest developments.

“We will do everything possible to support them as the investigation continues and have already mobilised a support team to help take care of their immediate needs, including accommodation and travel arrangements. A briefing centre has also been set up in Surabaya for the families.”

“For the families in Singapore, there is also an emergency briefing room at Changi International Airport Terminal Two, where AirAsia Indonesia will be providing regular updates.

“We have also established an Emergency Call Centre that is available for those seeking information about relatives or friends who may have been on board the flight. The number is+622129270811.”

But as word spread of the missing plane, the airline changed the colour of its logo on its website and social media accounts from red to gray.

Pope Francis prayed for the missing passengers.

At the Greek island of Corfu, about 500   passengers of a ferry were trapped by fire   on Sunday as gale-force winds and choppy seas hampered their evacuation.

According to USA Today, Greek and Italian rescue helicopters and vessels struggled to reach the stricken ferry, with nearby merchant ships lining up to form a wall against the raging gusts.

The fire broke out on the car deck of the Italian-flagged Norman Atlantic, travelling from the Greek port of Patras to Ancona, Italy with 423 passengers and 55 crew members on board.

Passengers, stranded on a high deck for more than six hours, told Greek media that lifeboats from surrounding vessels had been unable to take them off due to the high seas.

“The fire is still burning,” Greek passenger Sofoklis Styliaras told private Mega television. “On the lower deck, where the lifeboats are, our shoes were starting to melt from the heat. … There’s nowhere else for us to go. It’s impossible to walk on the lower deck because of the heat.”

Merchant Marine spokesman Nikos Lagadianos said a life boat carrying about 150 passengers had been lowered into the water, but that only 42 had been moved to a nearby cargo ship.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras was in contact with his Italian counterpart, Matteo Renzi, to coordinate the operation “at the highest level,” Greek government officials said, adding that the operation was now under Italian control.

Greek authorities said   sent five helicopters and a military transport plane to the area to assist in the operation, with the ship reported to be   78 kilometres northwest of Corfu.

Italian Coast Guard spokesman Marco Di Milla said the rescue operations would likely last for hours. An Italian Coast Guard boat was at the scene, as well one helicopter each from the Italian Navy and Air Force.— Agency report

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