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AirAsia flight QZ8501: Fears for 162 people after airliner disappears from radar mid-flight

By Aine Fox and Ryan Hooper

Rescue crews looking for passengers - including a Briton and his toddler daughter - on board missing AirAsia flight QZ8501 were due to resume their search at first light this morning.

AirAsia said 155 passengers, including 16 children and one infant, and seven crew, including two pilots, four flight attendants and one engineer, were on the Airbus A320.

The Briton is named as Chi Man Choi, according to reports of the passenger manifest in the Indonesian media. He is thought to have been travelling with his two-year-old daughter, Zoe, on tickets bought on Boxing Day.

He is believed to hold a British passport but had been living in Singapore with his family.

Mr Choi's social media accounts say he comes from Kingston upon Hull and attended Essex University. It is understood he works for French multinational company Alstom Power.

After taking off from Indonesia's second city Surabaya shortly after dawn, the jet climbed to a cruising altitude of 32,000ft between the islands of Borneo and Java. Forty minutes into the flight, the pilots sought permission to alter direction and climb to 38,000ft to avoid a thunderstorm.

An airline statement said: "The aircraft was on the submitted flight-plan route and was requesting deviation due to en-route weather before communication with the aircraft was lost."

The last communication with the ground was 41 minutes after take-off. One minute later, radar contact was lost. No distress call was transmitted.

All but six of the 155 passengers were Indonesian. The remainder comprised three South Koreans, and one citizen from each of the UK, Malaysia and Singapore.

Six of the crew were Indonesian; the first officer was French.

AirAsia's chief executive Tony Fernandes flew to Indonesia to help with the search.

He described the incident as "my worst nightmare".

Mr Fernandes said: "There is nothing more important now than our crews' families and passengers' families, and we'll look after them.

"The aircraft had just had a check at the end of November.

"It had gone through all the procedures that were needed and was in good condition.

"It never had any problems.

"We have no idea at the moment what went wrong. The weather conditions were not good. Other than that we do not want to speculate.

"Let's find the aircraft and then we will do a proper investigation."

It is the third incident involving Malaysia this year - in March, Flight 370 disappeared with 239 people and in July Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine, killing all 298 people on it.

Aviation expert David Learmount said there was slim chance of finding survivors on board the short-haul flight.

He said: "We can speculate ad infinitum when the only thing we can go on is that it is missing.

"But I think the prognosis is not good."

Background

Malaysia-based AirAsia chief executive and Queens Park Rangers owner Tony Fernandes believed no-frills aviation could flourish in south-east Asia, and set out to emulate easyJet in building a high-frequency network in a heavily populated region.

This year, AirAsia will fly more than 40 million passengers.

It has a fleet of Airbus A320 jets; the lost aircraft was delivered new to AirAsia in 2008.

AirAsia has a good safety record and has never lost a plane before.

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