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Indonesia Air Asia plane missing

Geoffrey Thomas

28 Dec 2014

Indonesia AirAsia plane missing with 162 on board

AirAsia A320

Radar image showing intense thunderstorms in the area where the plane went missing

Radar plot of missing Flt QZ8501 with call sign AWQ8501 showing the A320 with an airspeed about 100kts too slow. Altitude is shown as 363, which is 36,300ft and climbing.

An Airbus A320, registered PK-AXC with Indonesia AirAsia, operating flight QZ8501 with 162 passengers and crew aboard went missing on Sunday December 28. It left Surabaya at 5.20am local time and was due to arrive in Singapore at 8.20am.

Before communication was lost, the pilots asked to deviate left of the planned flight route and to climb to an altitude of 38,000ft to avoid severe thunder storms.

Indonesia air traffic control agreed to the request but shortly afterwards at 7.24 am contact was lost as it flew over the Java Sea near Belitung Island.

Weather radar images of the area where contact was lost show intense thunderstorm activity.

However pilots believe that the crew in trying to avoid the thunderstorm by climbing somehow have found themselves flying too slow and thus induced an aerodynamic stall similar to the circumstances of the loss of Air France Flt AF447 to crash in 2009. This could be caused by a variety of different factors. However, with a sophisticated aircraft such as the A320 this should be impossible

One former A320 pilot who spoke to said the A320 was flying far too slow when it disappeared and it “may have been in a stall.”

“Flying slow at high altitude is very dangerous,” said the pilot. The A320 was shown on radar at 36,000ft at 353kts over 100kts too slow for the altitude and wind conditions. 

AirAsia and Airbus yesterday confirmed the plane was missing. “At this time, search and rescue operations are being conducted under the guidance of the Indonesian Civil Aviation Authority,”  AirAsia said.

The nationalities of those on board are 155 Indonesian, three are South Korean, one French, one Malaysian one Singaporean and one Briton.

CNN meteorologist Derek Van Dam said there was very bad weather in the area. “We still had lines of very heavy thunderstorms when the plane was flying,” Mr Van Dam said.

AirAsia has been in business as a low cost carrier since 2001 and has carried more than 217 million passengers.

Until flight QZ8501, it had a perfect safety record.

AirAsia's Chief Executive Tony Fernandes, who flew yesterday to Surabaya, told media; "We don't want to speculate but right now of course the plane has been missing for 12 hours and there's a deep sense of depression here.

"This is a massive shock to us and we are devastated by what has happened. It's unbelievable."

Mr Fernandes said the A320 captain was very experienced with more than 20,500 hours and almost 7,000 of them with AirAsia.

Sunu Widyatmoko, CEO of AirAsia Indonesia said, “We are deeply shocked and saddened by this incident. We are cooperating with the relevant authorities to the fullest extent to determine the cause of this incident. In the meantime, our main priority is keeping the families of our passengers and colleagues informed on the latest developments.”

“We will do everything possible to support them as the investigation continues and have already mobilized a support team to help take care of their immediate needs, including accommodation and travel arrangements. A briefing center has also been set up in Surabaya for the families.”

AirAsia has established an Emergency Call Centre available for family or friends of those who may have been on board the aircraft.

The number for the hotline is +622129850801.

A multinational search will resume at first light Indonesian time on Monday December 29. Singapore, Malaysia and Australia are assisting in the search.