AirAsia flight QZ8501: Australia joins hunt for missing plane

SYDNEY (AFP) - Australia on Monday joined the Indonesia-led search for an AirAsia plane which disappeared on Sunday with 162 people on board, the military said.

A Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) AP-3C Orion took off from the northern city of Darwin early Monday to join the operation, which is centred on the Java Sea, the Australian Defence Force said.

Chief of defence Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin said the Orion would help in the search for the AirAsia Indonesia flight, which went missing in bad weather en route to Singapore.

"The RAAF AP-3C Orion aircraft has a well proven capability in search and rescue and carries maritime search radar coupled with infra-red and electro-optical sensors to support the visual observation capabilities provided by its highly trained crew," he said.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has pledged to help Indonesia in the search for the missing flight, calling President Joko Widodo on Sunday to offer assistance.

Abbott told Widodo that Australia would do "whatever we humanly could to assist," his office said in a statement.

Australia is already leading the search for another missing aircraft, Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which disappeared in March with 239 people on board and is believed to have crashed in the remote Indian Ocean far off Australia's west coast.

No sign of that plane has so far been found.

Sydney Morning Herald reported on Monday that the satellite service used in seach efforts for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH 370 said it is ready to search for AirAsia flight QZ 8501 if necessary, and has "tasked" its satellites to scan the area the plane was last seen.DigitalGlobe's crowd-sourcing arm Tomnod said that if search and rescue teams deployed were unable to recover and rescue the missing plane, it would release satellite imagery and launch a crowdsourcing campaign. " We will launch a Tomnod campaign as necessary," Tomnod said on Facebook.

The service later said it was "tasking" its satellites in order to collect imagery of the area of interest, reported Sydney Morning Herald. As individual satellites don't cover the entire surface area of the globe, they need to be tasked - or assigned - to scour certain areas if they are not covering them already.