JAKARTA, Indonesia – An Indonesian passenger plane carrying 102 people disappeared in stormy weather Monday, and rescue teams were sent to search an area where military aviation officials feared the Boeing 737-400 may have crashed.
Transport Minister Hatta Radjasa said a distress signal was picked up over , a major island in the Indonesian archipelago about 470 miles from the Adam Air flight's destination. He said emergency crews were on their way to search for survivors.
"Let's hope the plane had an emergency landing," he told El-Shinta radio.
It was unknown if the aircraft disappeared over sea or land, but the Navy was contacted about a possible rescue operation.
Eddy Suyanto, military airport chief in South Sulawesi province, said the final transmissions indicated the plane "likely had an accident or a crash."
Search parties comprising an airplane and five helicopters would set out to two possible locations at dawn Tuesday, he said.
Air traffic controllers lost contact with flight KI-574 while it was flying at 35,000 feet from Indonesia's main island of Java to Sulawesi. It was still missing more than eight hours after its scheduled arrival.
The 17-year-old plane — on a two-hour flight from East Java to Manado, on Sulawesi's northern tip — carried six crew and 96 passengers, including 11 children.
National aviation chief Ichsan Tatang refused to speculate about the cause of the incident because the plane was in good condition, but stressed that it was flying in "very bad weather."
In the North Sulawesi capital Manado, hundreds of people gathered at the airport seeking information about their missing relatives.
Justin Tumurang, 25, was waiting at the airport to pick up her twin sister, but she never arrived.
"Being a twin, we share almost every feeling. I felt something was not right, and it grew worse. Now I feel pain," she said.
Several navy officers were also believed to have been onboard.
Weeks of seasonal rains and high winds in Indonesia have caused several deadly floods, landslides and maritime accidents, including the sinking of a ferry in the Java Sea on Friday that has left dozens dead and some 400 still missing. That accident was about 1,000 kilometers (650 miles) from the area where the Adam Air plane is believed to have gone down.
An Indonesian air traffic controller, Bhabr, told Metro TV the plane hit "very bad" weather and may have run out of fuel because, if still airborne, it would be "over its (fuel) limit."
"This is an emergency," Bhabr, who like many Indonesians uses one name, told the broadcaster.
Adam Air is one of at least a dozen budget airlines that have emerged in Indonesia since 1999, when the industry was deregulated. The rapid expansion has led to cheap flights to scores of destinations around the sprawling country, but has raised some safety concerns, since many of the airlines are small and lease planes that are decades old.
In September 2005, a Mandala Airlines' Boeing 737 crashed after take off on Sumatra island, killing 143 people.
In September 1997, a Garuda Airlines Airbus crashed into a jungle-covered mountain slope in Sumatra, killing all 234 people aboard. Two months later, a Silk Air Boeing 737 jet crashed into a river on Sumatra, killing 104 people.
Adam Air, which began operations in 2003, was founded by Agung Laksono, the speaker of Indonesia's house of representatives and the company's chairman.
Last year, one of the airline's jetliners lost all communication and navigation systems for four hours during a flight between the Indonesian capital Jakarta and Makassar on Sulawesi Island, forcing the pilot to make an emergency landing.
Tatang, the aviation chief, said the missing aircraft's last inspection was on Dec. 25 and that the plane had flown 45,371 hours.