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Breaking News

Airasia Flight 8501 Missing

Aired December 27, 2014 - 23:15   ET


ISHA SESAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Isha Sesay. We have this breaking news. An Airasia flight from the Indonesian city of Surabaya is missing. An Indonesian transport official tells CNN Flight 8501 lost contact with air traffic controllers early Sunday morning while en route to Singapore.

The pilot reportedly requested an unusual route before the plane lost contact. The airline says a crisis center has been set up and search and rescue operations are under way. Now, there are reports that as many as 162 people are on board the Airbus 320 like the one you see here on your screens.

Indonesian TV reports most are Indonesians, with three Koreans, one passenger from Singapore, one from the UK, and one from Malaysia also on board that flight.

Airasia Indonesia released a statement which reads in part, "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."

We will do the same for you here at CNN. We are closely following this breaking news story. We will bring you those developments. For our international viewers, "Backstory" is next. For our viewers in the United States, we return you now to "THE HUNT."



SESAY: Now there are reports as many as 162 people, 162 people we're hearing are on board the Airbus 320. The aircraft is like the one you city here on your screens. Indonesian TV reports most are Indonesian with three Koreans, one passenger from Singapore, one from the UK, and one from Malaysia also on board.

Now, Airasia Indonesia issued a statement which reads, "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.

We are staying on the story for you. Let's go to CNN's Paula Hancocks. She joins us now from Seoul. Paula, what more can you tell us? What are you hearing?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, Isha, details are fairly scarce at this point, obviously. Airasia is desperately trying to find out what has happened to this flight. They haven't given us many details, as they're clearly unable to.

All they can confirm is the fact that this flight from Surabaya in Indonesia to Singapore did lose contact with air traffic control at 7:24 a.m. local time, now, that's about four hours ago. And according to some reports, it should have reached Singapore a couple of hours ago, but hasn't at this point.

Now, we do know there's a search and rescue operation in progress. We're hearing this from Airasia themselves. They say they're cooperating fully in trying to assist this rescue service and that they will give more information just as soon as they can.

Now, there are some reports out there that we can't confirm at this point suggesting that the pilot had requested to descend because of turbulence, had requested an unusual route. Now, we don't know at this point whether or not that is correct.

We're trying to confirm with Indonesian Transport Ministry officials at this point, but we are looking also into whether or not there was adverse weather in the area and whether or not that could have played a part in why this airline has gone missing.

There has been an emergency call center set up by Airasia, and they say at this point they have no further information regarding the status of passengers and crew members on board. As you say, even the number of passengers on board at this point, there's conflicting reports.

Reuters saying 155. You have another figure from another report. So we really are trying to pin down the details here -- Isha.

SESAY: Yes, absolutely. This is a story that is in motion. But Paula, what can you tell us about the airline itself, this Airasia?

HANCOCKS: This is a low-cost airline. It's a Malaysian company, but it really flies all across Asia. It's a very popular airline. Obviously, it's a budget airline, many people wanting to fly them. They have according to reports I'm seeing online something like 100 destinations.

So it's a fairly widespread route plan that Airasia has. And as I say, they are fairly popular within the Asia clientele that want those budget flights. Now, we know from Airasia itself the flight was an Airbus 320-200. And as I say, it was due to land at about three hours ago in Singapore. Beyond that we don't have many more details -- Isha.

SESAY: Yes, absolutely. But at a time like this obviously that crisis center will be extremely busy. As they really try and gather the data from the aircraft's tracking devices. Paula, are you still with me?

HANCOCKS: Hello, yes, I can hear you now. Sorry, I lost you for a moment. SESAY: We have lost connection with Paula Hancocks who was joining us on the line from Seoul. As Paula made clear to us, this is a developing news story that is developing. Details are hard to come.

Let me reset for you the breaking news, that an Airasia flight en route from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore is missing. An Indonesian transport official telling CNN that Flight 8501 lost contact with air traffic controllers early Sunday morning.

The pilot reportedly -- this is not confirmed. This is reportedly. The pilot requested an unusual route before the plane lost contact. The airline is telling us that a crisis center has been set up and search and rescue operations are under way.

If you are just joining us, Paula was giving us some insight into this airline itself saying it is a low-cost budget airline. A Malaysian company with about 100 destinations that is quite popular. The aircraft in question is an Airbus 320-200.

Fluctuating reports on the number of people on board. We have heard between 155 and 162 people on board the flight. Indonesian TV is reporting that most of those on board were Indonesian. Although according to some reports we're hearing that three Koreans, one passenger from Singapore, one from the UK, and one from Malaysia were also on board the flight.

Now, to tell us what Airasia Indonesia is saying at this point in time, a statement was released just a short time ago. Let's bring that to you. It says, "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."

Now, joining me on the phone right now is the former inspector general of the U.S. Department of Transportation and CNN aviation analyst, Mary Schiavo.

Mary, good to have you with us at this time. Let me just ask you right off the bat what you make of all of this.

MARY SCHIAVO, CNN AVIATION ANALYST (via telephone): Well, a couple things jump out at me, and first and foremost is there was an unusual request for unusual route requested, and some people have questioned whether weather might come into play.

Ordinarily, the pilots would get the updated weather from air traffic control and of course their on-board radar. So whether there was weather in the area would not be a mystery. So I would immediately question whether weather was a factor.

And requesting an unusual route will certainly raise some suspicion. Before you take oft pilots have to have alternate safety routes, and they program them into their flight computers and they have their alternative safety routes already preprogrammed and preplanned before they take off. So if it was some kind of on-board emergency you would have expected to have heard either what's called a mayday call or a pan-pan call. Mayday means you're immediately in danger of losing the flight. Pan- pan means that it's urgent. You can continue the flight and request an alternate route or an alternate airport.

It's disconcerting in that the standard procedures for emergency don't seem to have been deployed.

SESAY: Yes. We've heard from Airasia saying they don't have much more information to share with us. But let me ask you this. What can you tell us about this route? Is it a difficult one from Surabaya, Indonesia to Singapore?

SCHIAVO: Well, it's difficult only in terms of, you know, you're flying around a number of different jurisdictions. You're flying sometimes in difficult weather over the oceans, land masses, ocean currents can send up particularly sometimes troublesome different currents into the air from the water mass versus the land mass.

So it's difficult sometimes just flying throughout island areas and negotiating your way through different countries, flying from Indonesia to Singapore, but in this kind of modern airliner, no. Basically, a 320 can fly anywhere in the world and they fly at such altitudes it should not be difficult.

But if you have some sort of mechanical, ordinarily what would happen is you would declare emergency before you ask for a change of route or you would indicate difficulty before asking for a change of route. So the lack of any kind of information to air traffic control about why you need the different route is of concern. That causes me some concern.

SESAY: And Mary, you were part of our coverage with the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 that disappeared back on March 8th. As part of that conversation we talked a great deal about aircraft's tracking devices, the voice, the data, and the satellite, all of those things. Talk to us about that and what will be happening right now in the crisis center.

SCHIAVO: Well, right now in the crisis center what they're doing is trying to look for those tracking devices. And they're going to have the same problem on this aircraft that they had with 370 in that the aircraft may not have any kind of satellite tracking.

Only about a third of the aircraft that are equipped with this ability of satellite tracking on the plane can actually do it. So what we don't know at this point, whether this aircraft had that kind of capability. But we do have the advantage right now to track it on radar.

SESAY: And the Airbus 320, give us a little back story to it, its safety record. This is a plane that works hard, works tirelessly, flies all over the world.

SCHIAVO: That's right. The 320 is a workhorse. It's basically in use around the world. It doesn't have any particular -- if you had any kind of mechanical mayday, in an emergency a pilot is trained to let air traffic control know about that.

So it's disconcerting that they did not pass on that kind of information right off the bat. You're trained in flight school, when I was trained, first thing you do if you're having difficulty is tell air traffic controllers what your difficulty is.

So now that they know it's missing hopefully they won't have a repeat of 370 where they did not look at the radar immediately, where they did not look at every possible source to locate the plane.

We've learned from 370 that it is absolutely vital at this moment to grab every possible positioning clue that you can. You can't wait a minute. You can't wait an hour. They must grab all that radar now and start tracking it so it is not lost like 370.

SESAY: And as we look at this route, as we look at the route the light was flying from Surabaya, Indonesia on its way to Singapore, with what you know of the route itself is this an area that would have had military satellites that could have detected the plane? Just trying to get a sense of, you know, tracking this aircraft.

SCHIAVO: Yes, this area as we learned from 370 does have military tracking. What was disconcerting about 370 is it appears it wasn't continuously monitored. But the information did come out that it does have military tracking and radar tracking.

Now, Indonesia did not provide a lot of information on Malaysia 370. But they did indicate that they did have radar tracking. So whether or not they have it at this point the point is to get the information immediately.

So they do not spend time -- for example, on 370 four days were lost searching in the South China Sea, and later the Malaysian military indicated that they knew the plane had taken a turn and gone up and around Indonesia.

So at this point it's important not to have any sort of wild hares, if you will, and look at places it should not be, but instead grab everything to try to pinpoint as quickly as possible because without that tracking on the plane the only thing you have is radar data and you have, you know, the reporting from air traffic control to help pinpoint it. But it's tough if you don't have the tracking.

SESAY: Yes, it's extremely tough. Mary Schiavo joining us there on the phone. Mary Schiavo, CNN aviation analyst, always good to talk to you. Thank you for being with us.

We will of course ask you to stick around so we can come back to you to continue this conversation as more details come in to us. Mary, we thank you.

We turn now to Richard Quest, CNN's aviation correspondent, who joins us on the phone. Richard, it's hard to believe that the year is not out yet, we're talking about another missing aircraft. We don't know the details here, but an Airasia flight has lost contact with air traffic controllers. What jumps out at you right now?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, what will jump out at me, Isha, is first of all the moment of flight this will have happened. We need to know a lot of details about the moment of flight, where it was headed, the condition of the aircraft, as Mary was saying, any warnings.

It doesn't appear to be a pan-pan. It doesn't appear to be a mayday. What flight level was the plane at? According to some reports it was at altitude at the time. There are these reports that it had requested a different routing to its destination.

So these are pieces of the jigsaw, Isha, that you're going to have to look at to make the complete picture. In terms of Airasia it's well worth remembering Airasia is the dominant low-cost carrier around Southeast Asia with 170 aircraft.

So this is not some small airline. It is a core part of the aviation infrastructure of Southeast Asia -- Isha.

SESAY: All right, it's a dominant aircraft. Obviously, the question is going to be its safety record, the safety record of this aircraft. Give me your insight as to, again, what is happening at that crisis center right now and those key bits of information you want right at this moment.

QUEST: Well, if you talk about Airasia's safety record, it is exemplary. They've had warnings in 2011. Other than that it's sparkling, its safety record. I have flown Airasia many times. The chief executive of Airasia is one of the most famous men in aviation.

He is of course Tony Fernandez, who's also chairman of one of the English football clubs. And Tony Fernandez is a very, very well-known man in the business, larger than life. He will obviously be deeply involved in what is happening now.

I visited the Airasia network operations center in Thailand, in Malaysia, in Kuala Lumpur, and seen how it's run. This is an airline that has in many ways -- it's brought aviation to the masses in that part of the world.

The core aircraft it has, it has 170 of them, and it is the A-320. It's airbus's short haul plane. It's one of the most successful, one of the safest, one of the best-loved aircraft not only by airlines but also by passengers. It's a flyby wire cockpit. It's extremely modern.

This aircraft we're talking about tonight, if it's the one I think it is, you're looking at a plane six years old. So it's not an old aircraft. It's being flown by an extremely reputable airline with a very good reputation for safety.

SESAY: All right. Our Richard Quest, CNN aviation correspondent. Do stand by for us, Richard. We will come back to you shortly because I want to bring in Derek Van Dam, our meteorologist, standing by with more.

Obviously the question on the minds of many as they hear, Derek, that the pilot reportedly requested a change in the route would be the weather. What can you tell us about what the weather was like in that region at the time? This plane lost contact 7:24 a.m. local time Sunday.

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: All right, Isha, well, it is the middle of monsoon season across this part of the world. And normally thunderstorms or convection don't quite start bubbling up until we get the daytime heating from the sun.

So typically towards the afternoon, but we have looked at the latest satellite which we'll show new just one second, and it has been extremely busy weatherwise across this area. In fact, we've been covering very heavy rain and flooding across the border of Malaysia and Thailand for the past 24 to 48 hours.

But obviously this is an unrelated topic. This is the flight path taking place from Surabaya to Singapore with Airasia Flight 8501. You can see just how far it made it across the Java Sea before it lost contact.

Now, if we go to the next slide you'll see the exact same area. This is the Java Sea. Here's Singapore. Here's Surabaya. And you can see just how active the thunderstorms are across this region. It didn't matter that it was at 7:15 in the morning.

We still had lines of very heavy thunderstorms obviously giving the pilot good reason to redirect their route as they were flying north towards Singapore. But keep in mind that turbulence doesn't necessarily bring down an airplane.

It usually leads to other human factors. We recall the Air France tragedy back in June of 2009. That was attributed to some form of bad weather, and unfortunately the pilot did make an error in rerouting the plane around the thunderstorm that developed, ultimately taking down the Air France plane.

This is all speculatory of what's actually taking place. All of the information is so new with this particular instance here with Airasia. But there's one thing for certain. This is a very active weather pattern across this part of the world.

In fact, you can see this moisture flow that's just coming down from the South China Sea. This is a northeasterly wind that builds up all kinds of moisture and then it reaches Singapore into Malaysia and Thailand, a very mountainous part of the world.

It takes that moisture, cools it, condenses it, and helps form those thunderstorms. And if the thunderstorms move across the Java Sea, where the plane was traversing, keep in mind there's a lot of updrafts with thunderstorms.

And that can really throw around airplanes quite easily. We've called that turbulence of course. This is our concern going forward, that the recovery efforts, if this is the case, is going to be hampered by additional bad weather.

You can see just how active our precipitation forecast is across Singapore, and just to the south we have lots of rainy conditions and thunderstorms moving through the region. Again, this is monsoon season. We expect this type of weather this time of year.

But it has just been consistent. In fact, we have rainfall totals going forward over the next two days upwards of 100 millimeters near Singapore so definitely bad weather. Speculative, but certainly could have been a factor in the disappearance of this plane -- Isha.

SESAY: Derek, let me just ask you before I let you go about the water conditions in that area, what you know. At this stage we do not know what has happened to this Airasia flight that went missing from Indonesia to Singapore.

But Mary Schiavo was pointing out that this was an area with quite rough currents. What can you tell us about water depths? Just give us some sense of the lay of the land.

VAN DAM: OK. Well, this is a very deep ocean across this part of the world. But one thing's for certain. When we get convective thunderstorms that develop thanks to the monsoon season across this area, it doesn't take much for the outburst of a thunderstorm to push up the waves and create very choppy conditions.

So not only is the cloud cover overhead and the persistent rain and perhaps thunder and lightning hampering some of the efforts across that region, we've got to remember that on the ocean if there are boats traveling to the last point of contact of this particular Airasia plane waves could be very choppy.

We're talking about two, three, even four-meter waves possible with some of this wind-swept ocean currents from thunderstorms moving through -- Isha.

SESAY: All right. Our Derek Van Dam closely monitoring this for us from CNN's International Weather Center. Derek, we appreciate it. Do stand by for us.

If you are just joining us we want to reset and tell you about the breaking news coming in to us here at CNN. That an Airasia flight en route from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore is missing. An Indonesian transport official tells CNN Flight 8501 lost contact with air traffic controllers early Sunday morning.

To be precise, we are told it lost contact at 7:24 a.m. Sunday morning local time. Now, the pilot reportedly requested an unusual route before the plane lost contact. The airline says a crisis center has been set up and search and rescue operations are under way.

There are reports as many as 162 people are on board that airbus 320. We want to put up a shot on our screen so you can see the aircraft, the type of aircraft that we're talking about. We have a picture of that Airbus 320. That's the kind of plane we're talking about an Airbus 320. Indonesian TV reports that most of those on board this flight are Indonesians I should say with three Koreans, one passenger from Singapore, one from the UK, and one from Malaysia, all on board.

Now, we are standing by for a statement from the Malaysia transport minister. That should be coming in to us any moment now, but it has not come through yet.

Let me tell you about the statement that was released by Airasia Indonesia a short time ago. It reads in part, "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."

If you are just joining us and you're wondering about this airline, Airasia, let me bring in CNN's aviation correspondent, Richard Quest, who knows a great deal about this airline and its operations.

Richard, if you're still with us, just reset for our viewers, tell us a little more about this airline. You say it's a very reputable airline and it is the dominant airline in Southeast Asia.

QUEST: Well, when I say that, we're talking about Airasia the parent company. That's the parent company owned and run, or run by Tony Fernandez. What we have here is Airasia Indonesia, which is an operating company. It's branded Airasia.

It's a low-cost airline. It's based in Jakarta. It operates domestic and international services and it is an associate of Airasia. Airasia has a sizable stake but we do know, and this is where I'm going to qualify things I was talking about earlier now we have a moment or two longer.

We do know there have been problems with Indonesian air carriers before. There was one point -- and I'm not suggesting for a moment that that's relevant here, Isha. I'm just putting it on the table. That the airline we're talking about here is Indonesian Airasia, which is a branded subsidiary in which the main company, Airasia, has a sizable stake.

So that gives you an idea of how this actually comes together. Indonesian airlines have had a dramatic improvement in air safety in recent years, but there was a time when they were actually having problems and they weren't allowed to fly Indonesian carriers to the European Union because of safety. That's in the past.

We're talking here about a low-cost carrier that's affiliated with Airasia, a branded affiliate part owned by Airasia that is an Airasia itself is the largest low-cost carrier in the region.

SESAY: And Richard, this aircraft, airbus -- the Airbus 320, again, this is a workhorse -- it's called the workhorse of the skies. It is one with a remarkable safety record. Am I right?

QUEST: Yes. If you look at the incidents that have taken place with the A-320, and there have been -- I mean, it's inevitable there will be a number of incidents. This is a plane that just about -- I can't think of any -- I'm sure somebody will correct me, but any European carrier that doesn't have A-318, 19, 20s, or 21s.

It's all part of the same family. It's a short haul twin-jet aircraft. It's the backbone, for example, of EZ jet in the UK, which has a totally A-320 fleet. Just about every airline, short haul airline, low-cost carrier.

And indeed, this aircraft, the 320 is for the low-cost carriers like Airasia. It has exceptional fuel efficiency. There's a new version coming out. All in all it carries about 180, 183 passengers, depending on the configuration. And what we have here of course is Airasia Indonesia running it in its maximum configuration.

SESAY: Richard, many of our viewers who are just joining us may seize on these reports we're getting that the pilot reportedly requested a route change, an unusual route change. How common, how unusual I should say is that?

QUEST: Well, in the sense that we don't know, A, if he did and B, the reason why. We can speculate to our heart's content. The truth is pilots will often request a different routing. It might be for weather. It might be for all sorts of -- for technical reasons.

There can be all -- it's not that unusual. I mean, obviously there is a logical way for getting from a to b. But as you're going along the way you may go one way versus the other. Mary was saying quite properly, if there is some reason why he would want this.

The pilot would want this different routing, one might expect him to say to air traffic control, I've lost an engine, I'm having difficulty with this, there's bad weather ahead, I've got fuel problems, whatever it might be. You would expect him to have said that.

We don't know yet that he didn't because at the moment we're dealing with this vacuum of information where somebody says he requested something and it is going to take an hour or two more before we can confirm or deny this.

SESAY: We are standing by for a statement from the Malaysian transport minister. As you look at the situation, details are thin, so to speak. We don't have a lot. What is it that you want to hear? What will you be listening out for?

QUEST: I'm going to be listening out for firstly the point of flight. Where was this plane when it went down? According to some of the things I heard online it was over one of the way points. Was this in the cruise? That's crucial.

If it was in the cruise, and I'm seeing some reports suggesting it might have been up at 30-odd-thousand feet. Then we're looking at something very different than if it was on an approach or making a maneuver or something else.

So I'm going to be wanting to know what was the stage of flight that this aircraft was in. What communications have they got? What radar information have they got? And then the normal course of search and rescue search and recovery will take place.

The planes are already in the sky. This plane is Indonesian. It was on its way to Singapore. It will probably, depending, god forbid, if something's happened to this where any wreckage would be found, this is probably the Indonesian authorities under the treaties that will have the duty of investigating it.

That's just off the top of my head, without actually seeing where the plane might or might not have come down.

SESAY: All right. And Richard, let me ask you this. As you led CNN's coverage of Malaysia Airlines 370, if I can get the words out, forgive me. We talked a great deal about tracking devices, satellite, radar, all the rest of it. We talked about steps that need to be taken, change that need to be made. Between now and then were any changes made to track systems on aircraft?

QUEST: Well, that's -- there's certainly been no official -- there's certainly been no new rules come into it. The body looking into it is still debating what rules. We're still waiting for -- we're still waiting for Hayarta to come out with their tracking principles.

But most airlines have dramatically improved their reporting, the so- called en route reporting for this. And it's worth mentioning here, it is worth mentioning, I do not foresee that we would be in a similar situation that we are in 370 for several reasons.

Firstly, there's more reporting from the computers on board. But also the air space around here. We are not talking about the deep Indian Ocean here. We are talking about congested air space around Southeast Asia.

So there will be much better radar coverage. There's certainly much better air traffic control coverage of it. And even if the plane were between radar centers, there will be much better information on where this plane -- where it was at the time, that I'm pretty certain about.

SESAY: Richard, let me ask you just to explain. You said that there's much better ACARS in this case as opposed to Flight 370. What exactly do you mean by that?

QUEST: The Aircraft Advisory and Reporting System. This is the computer. This is the way in which -- think of it as Bluetooth. You know, the plane is constantly discoverable. The plane is constantly sending out information to the ground.

And this aircraft -- remember, with MH-370 the ACARS were disabled, or switched off, or something happened to the ACARS that meant it no longer gave information. The transponder was switched off. It no longer gave information.

The odds of this happening in this case are fantastical. It's just not likely. So when request what we are likely to have is depending on the position of flight, it was over a way-point at the time. We are likely to have radar coverage. If we haven't got radar coverage, we most certainly will have ACARS information from the aircraft that will allow the authorities to pin down quickly where this event took place. And as I emphasized, between Indonesia -- look at the map.

Between Indonesia and Singapore where this plane was going there is strong and good military and civilian radar because this is such a heavily traveled area.

SESAY: And as you talk about it being a heavily traveled area, I don't know if you've been able to check this. Were there other aircraft in the skies flying this route at this time? Do we know?

QUEST: I don't know. But I would imagine -- look, it's coming up to 11:00. It was late at night. If I look at the previous flights of QZ 8501, you're looking at sort of a departure and an arrival time late at night. So it leaves at about 10:00 at night. It gets there at midnight.

So there will be a certain amount of this late-night pan-Asian traffic. And there's a lot more of this traffic. There's been an entire explosion of growth of low-cost carriers.

And in fact, air Indonesia Airasia is a hybrid that's been born out of Airasia, Batavia, a whole load of other carriers that have formed together ultimately to create this Airasia -- Indonesia Airasia, which is predominantly led by the Airasia group.

SESAY: As we stand by waiting for this Malaysian transport minister's statement, which we don't have a time for when it's actually due, but we know that it's coming, you know, one of the things again from MH- 370 was the lack of -- I shouldn't say the lack, but the difficulty in getting information out. I would imagine in this case they'll be trying to do things very differently, Richard.

QUEST: Well, first of all, it won't be Malaysia. I mean, you know, the airline -- the parent company may be Airasia, or at least the majority stake may be Airasia. But the airline itself, as I'm looking online, is based in Indonesia.

Its hubs are in Jakarta and Surabaya. So it's unlikely -- it will be the Indonesian authorities that will lead the way in this. With of course extremely useful help by the exceptionally competent Singaporean authorities, who really know their business when it comes to dealings with these sorts of incidents.

And I'm guessing airbus is already on the way, depending on who the engines are, the engine manufacturer is on the way. The A-320, I can tell you, it is not just -- it is not just any old plane. This is a plane that most airlines have in their fleet because of its reliability, its safety, and its economics.

SESAY: All right. Richard, stand by for us because I want to share with our viewers some information just coming in to us. This is a developing story. We want to bring our viewers the details immediately as they come in to us here at CNN. We're getting this statement, this more detailed Singapore air traffic control was notified at 0754 -- sorry. That just moved at 0754 this morning, 0724, I should say. That was the last time it made local contact with air traffic controllers.

Right now there is a crisis center set up and the search and rescue operation is under way. And now this Indonesia Airasia aircraft QZ 8501 was scheduled to arrive at 8:30 hours local time from Surabaya. It lost contact with Jakarta air traffic control, as I said, at 0724 hours local time Sunday.

Now, Singapore air traffic control was informed of the loss of contact at 0754 hours by Jakarta air traffic control. These are the new details that I was just referencing. So the plane lost contact with air traffic control at 0724 a.m. The authorities were alerted at 7:54 a.m.

So it took a matter of some 30 minutes. The Indonesia air information region when contact was lost was more than 200 southeast of the Singapore Jakarta boundary. Some details that were just put out for me. We haven't had time to go through them ourselves to actually make some sense of it.

Richard, were you listening to that information that was just coming in to us which I'll share with our viewers in real time? This 7:24 it lost local -- it lost contact local time. At 7:54 before Singapore air authorities realized. How do you understand that?

QUEST: Well, these kinds -- you're talking about local time, aren't you?

SESAY: Yes, that's right.

QUEST: As opposed to Greenwich mean universal time. I just realized earlier I was talking about universal time and not local time. Give me those numbers once again, Isha. Forgive me.

SESAY: Yes, let me read it to you. I'm reading it in real time as it's just coming in to us here at CNN. It lost contact with Jakarta air traffic control at 7:24 hour local time. Today is Sunday.

Singapore air traffic control was informed of this loss of contact at 7:54 hours. At 7:54 by Jakarta air traffic control. What do you make of that and the time lapse?

QUEST: The time lapse doesn't sound -- I mean, I'm going to be realistic here. If it lost contact at 7:24, you're talking about a 20, 30-minute gap before Singapore was -- I'm guessing in that time when we get the final transcripts what it will show almost certainly is that the air traffic control had had control of the aircraft, they would have been calling to the previous one to see if they'd seen it.