JAKARTA, Indonesia — An astonishingly tragic year for air travel in Southeast Asia turned worse Sunday when an AirAsia plane carrying 162 people disappeared over stormy Indonesian waters, with no word on its fate despite several hours of searching by air and sea.

AirAsia Flight 8501 vanished in airspace possibly thick with dense storm clouds, strong winds and lightning on its way from Surabaya, Indonesia, to Singapore. Searchers had to fight against heavy rain. The Malaysia-based carrier’s loss comes on top of the still-unexplained disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in March and the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in July over Ukraine.

At the Surabaya airport, shocked family members pored over the plane’s manifest, crying and embracing when they learned the news. Nias Adityas, a housewife from Surabaya, was overcome with grief when she found the name of her husband, Nanang Priowidodo, on the list.

The 43-year-old tour agent had been taking a family of four on a trip to Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia’s Lombok island, and had been happy to get the work.

“He just told me, ‘Praise God, this new year brings a lot of good fortune,”‘ Adityas recalled, holding her grandson tight while weeping uncontrollably. “He apologized because he could not join us for the new year celebration.”

Nearly all the passengers and crew are Indonesians, who are frequent visitors to Singapore, particularly on holidays.

The Airbus A320 took off Sunday morning from Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-largest city, and was about halfway to Singapore when it vanished from radar. Djoko Murjatmodjo, Indonesia’s acting director general of transportation, said there was no distress signal from the cockpit of the twin-engine, single-aisle plane.

The last communication between the pilot and air traffic control was at 6:13 a.m. local time, when the pilot “asked to avoid clouds by turning left and going higher to 34,000 feet,” Murjatmodjo said. It was last seen on radar at 6:16 a.m., he told reporters.

Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia launched a search and rescue operation for Flight 8501 near Belitung island in the Java Sea, the area where the jetliner lost contact with ground traffic control about 42 minutes after takeoff.

“We hope we can find the location of the plane as soon as possible, and we hope that God will give us guidance to find it,” Murjatmodjo said.

The air search was suspended Sunday evening and was to resume Monday morning, said Achmad Toha of Indonesia’s search and rescue agency. Some ships were continuing to comb the area overnight, he said.

AirAsia group CEO Tony Fernandes flew to Surabaya and said that the focus should be on the search and the families rather than the cause of the incident.

“We have no idea at the moment what went wrong,” said Fernandes, a Malaysian businessman who founded the regional low-cost carrier in 2001. “Let’s not speculate at the moment.”

Malaysia-based AirAsia has a good safety record and had never lost a plane before. “This is my worst nightmare,” Fernandes tweeted.

But Malaysia itself had already had a catastrophic year, with 239 people still missing from Flight 370 and all 298 people aboard Flight 17 killed when it was shot down over rebel-held territory in Ukraine.

Flight 8501 was operated by AirAsia Indonesia, a subsidiary that is 49 percent owned by AirAsia Malaysia.

AirAsia said that Flight 8501 was on the submitted flight plan route. However, it had requested a change due to weather before communication with the aircraft was lost while it was still under the control of Indonesian air traffic control.

Sunardi, a weather forecaster at the Indonesia’s Meteorology and Geophysics Agency, said dense storm clouds were detected up to 44,000 feet in the same area at the time the plane was reported to have lost contact.

“There could have been turbulence, lightning and vertical as well as horizontal strong winds within such clouds,” said Sunardi.

AirAsia said the captain has a total of 6,100 flying hours, but Fernandes later said the number is more than 20,000. At Surabaya airport, dozens of relatives sat in a room waiting for news, many of them talking on mobile phones and crying. Some looked dazed. As word spread, more and more family members were arriving at the crisis center to await word.

Search and rescue head Bambang Soelistyo said his agency would search Monday with 12 ships and three helicopters, along with three aircraft from the air force, two aircraft from the navy and a number of warships. He added that Malaysia and Singapore would each deploy one C-130 plane and three ships, and that Australia also would assist.

Airbus said in a statement that the missing aircraft was delivered to AirAsia in October 2008, and that the plane had accumulated about 23,000 flight hours during some 13,600 flights. AirAsia said the aircraft had last undergone scheduled maintenance on Nov. 16.

Flight 8501 disappeared while it was at its cruising altitude, which is usually the safest part of a trip.