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AirAsia Flight QZ8501: What we know about the missing plane so far

Searchers looking for the missing AirAsia Flight QZ8501 jet with sonar believe they have located it on the ocean floor off Borneo, although the CEO of the airline says there is no confirmation the wreckage has been found.

Pilot didn't get quick permission to climb to higher altitude to avoid rough weather

Searchers looking for the missing AirAsia Flight QZ8501 jet with sonar believe they have located it on the ocean floor off Borneo, although the CEO of the airline says there is no confirmation the wreckage has been found.

AirAsia Flight QZ8501 took off early in the morning of Dec. 28 from the Indonesian city of Surabaya, en route to Singapore with 162 passengers and crew on board.

But the Airbus A320-200 disappeared from radar 42 minutes after takeoff, amid reports of stormy weather and without any distress call being issued.

Here's what we know so far about the missing plane.

The flight was mostly over water

AirAsia Flight QZ8501 was headed from Surabaya, Indonesia to Singapore on Sunday morning when it disappeared from radar over the Java Sea.
​AirAsia Flight QZ8501 took off at 5:35 a.m. local time on Sunday (5:35 p.m. ET Saturday) from Juanda International Airport in Surabaya, a city in eastern Java, for a two-hour flight northwest to Changi Airport in Singapore.

The flight path would have taken the plane over the relatively shallow Java Sea between the islands of Borneo and Sumatra.

Pictures of floating bodies were broadcast on television and relatives of the missing gathered at a crisis centre in Surabaya on Tuesday. 

About 30 ships and 21 aircraft from Indonesia, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and the United States had been involved in the search of up to 10,000 square nautical miles (34,299 square kilometres).

The weather was nasty

The airspace was thick with storm clouds. One of the jet's pilots asked to fly higher to avoid the bad conditions.

The plane didn't get quick clearance to climb

The last communication from the cockpit was the pilot's request to increase altitude from 9,754 metres to 11,582 metres.

An Indonesian marine policeman checks his surroundings from his search and rescue craft as he and his crew members prepare a search operation for the missing AirAsia flight QZ8501 at Pangkal Pinang port in Sumatra on Monday. (Tatan Syuflana/Associated Press)

Air traffic control was not able to immediately grant the request because another plane was in the airspace, said Bambang Tjahjono, director of the state-owned company in charge of air traffic control.

By the time clearance could be given, Flight 8501 had disappeared, Tjahjono said.

The pilot had a lot of experience

The plane's captain, who goes by the single name of Iryanto, has logged more than 20,000 flying hours. More than 6,000 of them are with AirAsia, according to reports.

Family, neighbours and friends say Iryanto is an experienced air force pilot who flew F-16 fighter jets before he turned to commercial flying, the Daily Telegraph reported.

Indonesian media reported the captain's daughter Angela posted a message to her father on a social networking site.

"Papa come back. I still need you. Return my papa to me. Papa come back, we have to meet," the message said, according to the Malaysian Insider website.

The BBC reported that Iryanto's father, Sawarto, saw his son last week at the funeral of another son. Now, Suwarto says, whatever happened, "it was in the hands of fate," the BBC reported.

The Airbus A320 is a workhorse

Airbus describes the A320 jetliner group as "the world's best-selling single-aisle aircraft family." The planes are widely considered to be workhorse aircraft for short-haul flights.

An AirAsia A320-200 plane takes off from Kuala Lumpur International Airport 2 in Sepang, Malaysia. (Joshua Paul/Associated Press)
​AirAsia has been the largest commercial airline customer of the A320, ordering 184 planes and taking delivery of 157, CNN reported.

Airbus says the aircraft used for Flight QZ8501 on Dec. 28 was delivered to AirAsia in October 2008 and has 23,000 flight hours logged during 13,600 flights.

AirAsia said the aircraft had its last scheduled maintenance on Nov. 16.

The A320 has also made headlines in North America — that was the plane pilot Chesley Sullenberger guided to a safe landing on the Hudson River in New York City in 2009.

It's been a tough year for airlines in Southeast Asia

The AirAsia disappearance comes nine months after Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. The plane with 239 passengers and crew on board has not been found.

Four months later, another Malaysia Airlines jet, flight MH17, was shot down over Ukraine. All 298 people on board were killed.

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