Search area expanded in hunt for AirAsia plane

SURABAYA, Indonesia (AP) — The search for AirAsia Flight 8501, missing since Sunday, is expanding.

The number of planes and ships hunting for the aircraft is being increased after a third day without any solid leads.

At least 30 ships, 15 aircraft and seven helicopters have been looking for the plane, which was carrying 162 people.

Most of the craft are Indonesian but Singapore, Malaysia and Australia are contributing to the effort. Aircraft from Thailand are also joining the search.

The U.S. Navy is also joining the search. It said in a statement that the USS Sampson, a destroyer, which was already on an independent deployment in the Western Pacific, and will arrive in the area soon. And China says it’s sending a navy frigate already on patrol in the South China Sea and aircraft to help the search.

The plane dropped from radar shortly after the pilots sought permission to climb above threatening clouds. Air traffic control couldn’t say yes immediately — there was no room. Six other airliners were crowding the airspace, forcing Flight 8501 to remain at a lower altitude.

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