While over the Karimata Strait, the crew requested clearance to change altitude from 32,000 feet to 38,000 feet to avoid storm clouds. Permission was denied by Indonesian controllers due to already heavy traffic in the area. Less than 45 minutes into its flight, the Airbus A320 disappeared from screens with 162 people on board and no distress signal sent.
Searchers began scouring the area of QZ88501's last known whereabouts with aircraft and sonar within hours of the flight's disappearance. After nearly 48 hours, searchers believed they had spotted debris from the air and bodies were being recovered from the sea by helicopter and warship. Horrified relatives waiting on news regarding their loved ones were reportedly shown images from Indonesian media of a helicopter crew retrieving a dead body floating from the sea.
By early Wednesday, Indonesian officials said that they had obtained what appeared to be sonar images of an airplane upside down on the sea floor. Meanwhile, Air Asia CEO Tony Fernandes sent out a tweet that confirmed the debris spotted by Indonesian searchers was in fact the remnants of QZ8501.
My heart is filled with sadness for all the families involved in QZ 8501. On behalf of AirAsia my condolences ... http://t.co/OJGobL93cR— Tony Fernandes (@tonyfernandes) December 30, 2014
The A320 used by the Kuala Lumpur-based airline was reportedly purchased new from Airbus in 2008, According to the passenger manifest, all but 7 of QZ8501's passengers and crew were from Indonesia. Other nationalities on board included South Korea, Malaysia, the UK, Singapore and France.
Air Asia was started in 1993 and is widely considered to be southeast Asia's first viable budget airline.