KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 29 — As search continues for Indonesia AirAsia Flight QZ8501 that went missing yesterday, parallels are being drawn between its disappearance amid stormy weather and that of other recent air disasters.
Aviation safety experts compared the Indonesia AirAsia flight to several fatal air tragedies, notably the case of Air France Flight 447 in which malfunctioning equipment during inclement weather led to a crash that killed all 228 people on board, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported.
Robert Francis, former vice-chairman of the US federal agency National Transportation Safety Board, said yesterday that Flight QZ8501 "sounds more like Air France to me" than other possibilities for now.
According to WSJ, Francis said his opinion could change but said he does not know 'how else you can account" for the incident as modern commercial aircraft are built to withstand severe turbulence without having parts that fall off or break apart.
In the 2009 Air France case, a storm while the Airbus A330 plane was flying at high altitudes caused its pitot tubes to ice up and render its airspeed indicators inoperative.
This factor coupled with the pilots' failure to respond appropriately ultimately resulted in the plane crashing into the Atlantic Ocean from a similar altitude where QZ8501 was last spotted on radars, WSJ said, citing crash investigators.
Flight QZ8501 was flying at an altitude of 32,000 ft when the pilot requested for permission from Jakarta air controllers to move to the left and climb to 38,000 ft to avoid storm clouds ahead. Minutes after making the request, the plane disappeared from radar screens.
While the paper noted that airlines have been asked to replace their airspeed indicators on Airbus planes, it said it was uncertain if the missing AirAsia aircraft was included in European regulators' fresh order in October for additional changes.
The European air safety regulators had given airlines two years to do so as the initial replacement parts did not display the "level of robustness" required to bear ice crystals at high altitudes.
The WSJ report pointed to other lingering air safety concerns, including the effective use of weather radars on the planes as well as real-time transfer of a plane's flight data during emergencies.
Flight QZ8501 disappeared from Jakarta’s radar at 6.18am local time yesterday amid stormy weather enroute to Singapore from Surabaya.
On board the Airbus A320 jet were 155 Indonesians, three South Koreans, one Malaysian, one Singaporean, one Frenchman and one Briton, comprising 155 passengers and seven crew members.
The plane’s last known position was between the Indonesian port of Tanjung Pandan and the town of Pontianak in West Kalimantan on Borneo Island.