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Search Set to Resume for Missing AirAsia Jet

The search for a missing AirAsia plane with 162 people aboard is set to resume full force on the Java Sea at daybreak Monday, after rescuers scaled back efforts overnight.

The Airbus A320 disappeared Sunday morning, Asia time, on a flight from Surabaya in Indonesia to Singapore. Most of the 162 passengers and crew on board were Indonesians.

Flight QZ 8501 by the low-cost airline was nearly halfway from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to its destination of Singapore when it disappeared from radar at 7:24 Sunday morning, local time, 42 minutes into its flight.

Vessels remain in the area

Indonesia said its vessels would remain in the search area overnight, scanning the waters with powerful lights. Search flights have been suspended until dawn.

Speaking from Surabaya, AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes said storms made for poor weather conditions at the time the plane went missing, but avoided further speculation about what happened to the aircraft.

"We are very devastated about what's happened, it's unbelievable, but we do not know what's happened yet, so we'll wait for the accident investigation to really find out what's happened," Fernandes said.

"Our concern right now is for the relatives and for the next of kin, there is nothing more important to us for our crew's family, and for our passengers' families, that we look after them. That is our number one priority at the moment to make sure that we take care of them. And to fully cooperate with the investigation," he added.

No distress signal

The director general of aviation for Indonesia's transportation ministry, Djoko Atmojo, told reporters that the last transmission from a crew member on the Airbus came at 6:12 a.m. local time (Sunday) and no distress signal was subsequently received.

He said the pilot stated that he was trying to avoid clouds and was moving left of the intended route and requested permission to climb (1,800 meters higher) to nearly 11,600 meters (38,000 feet).

A few minutes later the plane disappeared from radar and no contact was re-established.

There were thunderstorms with lightning reported in that vicinity, along with wind shears.

Indonesian authorities said the plane's last known position was about halfway along its course, off the island of Belitung, which in recent years has become a tourist destination but was long better known for its pepper and tin.

Indonesia's transport minister, Ignasius Jonan, said military and rescue teams from his country, as well as Singapore, initiated search operations.

Busy waterway

The Java Sea is one of the world's busiest waterways and is relatively shallow.

The flight manifest listed 149 Indonesian passengers, including 16 children, as well as three South Koreans, including an infant; a Malaysian and a British man traveling with his 2-year-old Singaporean daughter.

An Indonesian pilot and French first officer lead the seven-member crew aboard. The flight crew was comprised of two pilots, four flight attendants and one engineer - all are Indonesian citizens except for the French first officer, according to AirAsia.

The plane's captain is described as experienced, with about 20,500 flying hours, according to a statement front the airline, roughly 6,000 of those hours were with AirAsia Indonesia on the Airbus A320.

The six-year-old aircraft had last undergone maintenance on November 16.

Indonesia AirAsia is 49 percent owned by Malaysia-based AirAsia. The low-cost AirAsia family of airlines, serving more than 100 destinations in 22 countries, has had a good safety reputation with no fatalities since beginning operations 18 years ago.

Malaysia Airlines, which saw its Flight 370 disappear from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing in March, posted a message of support to Twitter on Sunday encouraging the loved ones of AirAsia's passengers to "stay strong." The plane was never found.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with all family and friends of those on board [the flight]," Malaysia Airlines tweeted.

A White House spokesman said U.S. President Barack Obama was briefed about the missing plane and officials “will continue to monitor the situation.”

Singapore and Malaysia have joined rescue efforts.

Reuters reports the United States has offered to assist "in any way that's helpful," though none of the passengers are believed to be American citizens.

Steve Herman contributed to this article from Bangkok. Some material for this story came from Reuters.

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