One would have thought that more than half a year after the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia flight MH-370 airlines would have taken precautions to keep track of airplanes at any given moment. One would be wrong, and as the latest mystery surrounding AirAsia's missing jet deepens, it has become clear that like with its Malaysian predecessor, nobody has any clue where the plane may be, so the speculation begins. Cue Reuters, which reports that the plane "could be at the bottom of the sea after it was presumed to have crashed off the Indonesian coast, an official said on Monday, as countries around Asia sent ships and planes to help in the search effort."
The disappearance was quite unexpected, even to the pilots, as Flight QZ8501 did not even get a chance to issue a distress signal and disappeared over the Java Sea five minutes after requesting the change of course, which was refused because of heavy air traffic, officials said. What is just as surprising is that the airplane in question, an Airbus A320 has traditionally had a virtually spotless flight history: The plane that disappeared was delivered to AirAsia from the production line in October 2008. Powered by CFM 56-5B engines built by a joint venture of General Electric Co. and France’s Safran SA (SAF), the aircraft had accumulated approximately 23,000 flight hours in some 13,600 flights, Airbus said on its website.
According to Bloomberg, the A320 and the related A318, A319 and A321 have among the lowest accident rates of modern commercial aircraft, with a fatal crash in about 1 in every 7 million departures, according to a study published in August by Boeing Co. (BA) The last fatal accident involving an Airbus single-aisle plane was in 2010, when an A321 operated by Pakistani carrier Airblue crashed into rugged terrain in heavy rain, killing all 152 people on board.
So what likely happened? From Reuters:
"Based on our coordinates, we expect it is in the sea, so for now (we think) it is on the sea floor," Soelistyo, head of Indonesia's search and rescue agency, told reporters when asked about the missing plane's likely location.
A senior Indonesian civil aviation source told Reuters that authorities had the flight's radar data and were waiting for search and rescue teams to find debris before they started their investigation into the cause.
As previously reported, some of the early clues hinted at an airplane crash, and these are currently being investigated: Air force spokesman Hadi Tjahjanto said searchers were checking a report of an oil slick off the east coast of Belitung island, near where the plane lost contact. He also said searchers had picked up an emergency locator signal off the south of Borneo island but had been unable to pinpoint it.
Some more coverage from Bloomberg:
The first planes that reached the region where the AirAsia plane was last reported didn’t find any signs of the missing aircraft, Sutono, a communication director at the Indonesian search and rescue agency, said today. Searchers focused on an oil spill seen 100 nautical miles off Belitung island, Hadi Tjahjono, spokesman for Indonesia’s Airforce told reporters.
Objects spotted by one of the search planes later turned out to be unrelated to the aircraft, the Airforce said.
Shares of AirAsia dropped 8.5 percent in Kuala Lumpur trading, their biggest slide since 2011. While AirAsia is based in Sepang, Malaysia, it operates with subsidiaries and affiliates in different countries. The missing plane belonged to its Indonesian operations.
“We’re devastated, but we don’t know what’s happened yet,” Chief Executive Officer Tony Fernandes said at a press conference in Surabaya yesterday.
In any event, the search continues although the likelihood that it will have a more faborable outcome than the search for MH-370 is virtually nil:
The last signal from the plane was between the city of Pontianak on Borneo and the town of Tanjung Pandan on Belitung island. The search was initially concentrated around Belitung, Transport Minister Ignasius Jonan said earlier. Sulistyo said the search area had been widened to include the Karimata strait and land areas in western West Kalimantan.
Robert Mann, head of aviation consultant R.W. Mann & Co. in Port Washington, New York, said searchers missed crucial daylight hours because authorities in Indonesia took an hour and 38 minutes to classify the plane as missing.
“It’s the golden hour in an accident scene; you only have so many daylight hours,” he said in a phone interview.
AirAsia had no fatal crashes in its history of more than a decade of operations. The A320 has built a reputation as a sturdy workhorse, with more than 6,000 A320 family aircraft in service to date with over 300 operators.
Finally, for the visual learners: