The disappearance of an AirAsia passenger jet soon after takeoff inevitably brings back memories of the mystery behind Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared nearly 10 months ago and is yet to be found.
But while it is still not known what happened to AirAsia Flight 8501, there appear to be no reasons its presumed crash is anything other than a regular if tragic aviation disaster, whose cause will become apparent only when the wreckage and flight data recorders are recovered.
But until that happens, comparisons will be made of the circumstances leading up to the two events, the responses by regional authorities and airline officials, and the nature and challenges of the search efforts.
Authorities suspect Flight 370 was deliberately diverted by someone on board, and suspicions of foul play emerged within days of its disappearance. There has been no suggestion that the AirAsia flight is anything but an accident, meaning the aircraft should have crashed not far from the spot where it fell off the radar. Indonesia’s Transportation Ministry said its pilots asked permission to turn left and fly higher to avoid clouds three minutes before the jet was last seen on radar. That strengthens early speculation that adverse weather, or the pilot’s response to it, was a factor in the accident.
Southern Indian Ocean
Based on data “pings” from Flight 370, authorities believe the plane crashed into the southern Indian Ocean, a vast, deep, isolated stretch of water far from the last known position of the plane. The AirAsia flight was carrying enough fuel for about four hours of flying. Assuming it crashed soon after it dropped off the radar, finding it should be far easier. The Java Sea is a contained body of water, shallow, and crisscrossed by planes and ships. In normal circumstances, a plane leaves wreckage even if it enters the water largely intact. It can take several days for it to be spotted, however. On January 1, 2007, an Indonesian jetliner carrying 102 people went missing on a domestic flight from Surabaya to Manado. A search effort across land and sea turned up nothing until 11 days later, when a fisherman found the plane’s right horizontal stabiliser.
Malaysia Airlines was severely criticised following the Flight 370 disaster for giving out contradictory and vague information. So far, that has not happened with the latest incident. The boss of AirAsia, Tony Fernandes, has tweeted about the incident and what the company is doing, drawing praise not scorn. Managing communications about the loss of the flight will become more challenging if the wreckage is not found quickly.