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AirAsia Flight QZ8501 – Replica of AirFrance 447 OR mechanical failure ?

on December 31, 2014

2014 seems to be a year full of unfortunate for the Malaysian airlines industry, starting from 2014 March 8, July 17 and December 29, three aircrafts had gone down killing 543 people ( at the time of writing this article only 6 has been confirmed dead out of 162 people on board) and socking the nations.

"Indonesia AirAsia Airbus A320-216; PK-AXC@SIN;07.08.2011 617eo (6068918367)" by Aero Icarus from Zürich, Switzerland - Indonesia AirAsia Airbus A320-216; PK-AXC@SIN;07.08.2011/617eoUploaded by russavia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Indonesia_AirAsia_Airbus_A320-216;_PK-AXC@SIN;07.08.2011_617eo_(6068918367).jpg#mediaviewer/File:Indonesia_AirAsia_Airbus_A320-216;_PK-AXC@SIN;07.08.2011_617eo_(6068918367).jpg

Photo of Flight QZ8501, taken in 2011 
Image Courtesy : Wikipedia.org

Flight QZ8501/AWQ8501, an Airbus A320 which was a routing flight from Surabaya, Indonesia to Singapore disappeared on 28 Dec 2014, recently Indonesian officials has confirmed that the wreckage has been found at sea near Borneo. Even though the cause for the accident is yet to be revealed, many suspect the cause would be the bad weather.

AirAsia owns clear good safety records with no crashes until 28th December. It should be noted that there is a restriction for AirAsia flights in Europe Union according to their latest update on December 2014. Nevertheless AirAsia Indonesia was exempted from that restriction, that suggests their flights are on good fit to fly.

How ever it is questionable that a flight having such sophisticated technology can bring down just because of the bad weather. In the history, AirFrance flight 447, an Airbus A330-203 was one of the flights which went through some similar sequence of incidents which was flying through the equator, crashed due to pilot error. Though surprisingly the cause for the crash was lead by the bad weather.

Airbus flights are equipped with  top notched sophisticated technology from decades and they lead the innovation on civil aviation from the time of their introduction of Fly-By-Wire technology for commercial aviation in 1980s. Airbus safety records are clearly showing that it is one of the safest air planes on the earth. In such a background, it is quite unbelievable that the cause for the flight QZ8501 crash is just alone the bad weather. Thanks to nose radar in each and every commercial airplane, storms, weather effects can be identified and avoided. On the other hand strong storms are common near the equator and the flight was in experienced pilots hands.

According to the records the flight was out of the radar contact after 5 minutes of the pilots communication. Even the bad weather did damage the flight and fulled down, there should be enough time for the pilots to issue a “MayDay” call, unless the flight was caught on very disturbing turbulence which plunged the flight down rapidly. However it was not reported that the weather was such disturbing in that time in the area since there were few flights on the area of nearly 2000 ft of vertical separation.  The aircraft was flying an altitude of 32,000 ft and hit the sea around in nearly 6 minutes (radar contacts were lost at 2317 GMT and the pilots made the last communication at 2312 GMT). Air crash investigations time to time have been revealed that such rapid descends can be due to damages to fuselage, lose/ lock/ malfunction of rudder or vertical/horizontal stabilator or deliberate nose down maneuver which can be temporarily ruled out according to the evidence so far. The only assumption based on the prevailing facts could be that the tail or the vertical stabilizers were damaged or ripped off from the flight due to turbulence or a lightning strike or both which results in plunging the flight down which was highly unlikely to be happened but for some extend there is a possibility for such sequence. There is no clear explanation other than that for the high descend of the flight. The rate of descend can be accurately calculated if the air traffic controllers do have the flights’ transponders data of the flight height or if the radar data provides the altitude data. It can help the investigators to get a clear picture of the scene before it hits the sea level.

A similar incident in the history which caused the rudder issue to plunged an aircraft down was American Airlines Flight 587 in 2001 which was an Airbus A300B4. Airbus was not that popular for rudder issues than Boeing does but the threat cannot be simply ruled out.

Taking data, as the flight was at altitude of 32,000 ft and time taken to lose radar contact was 6 minutes, the rate of descend for a minute would be  nearly 5,000 ft, which creates high g-forces that ripped the aircraft into pieces before it hit the sea water (this can be verified by analyzing the spread of debris on the sea bed unless that the waves change their initial location). Assuming that the flight hit the sea at the time it disappeared from the radar but the rate should be higher since the radar coverage ends in some feet above the sea level. It should be noted that such a rate of descend is highly impossible, should due to a reason as noted above. According to the above developed hypothesis, there is a high possibility of being the cause for the accident would be poor maintenance.

Due to bad weather, a flight may experiences fatal situations due to lightening, structural damages to the fuselage/ wings, ice formation on wings, engine flame-outs and etc. Though modern aircraft are designed to withstand such situations. Even in highly extreme situations flights have been survived. Moreover some sequence of incidents may lead to a disaster and the bad weather could be the catalyst or the initiator of those fatal incidents.

Hopefully, all the questions can be answered once the black boxes (Flight Data Recorder and Cockpit Voice Records) of the flight has been rescued. It is rather very important to figure out the cause while A320 was one of the widely used aircrafts over the world and how it reacts to bad weather would be a lesson yet to be learnt.

References:

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-30632735
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_France_Flight_447
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indonesia_AirAsia_Flight_8501
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malaysia_Airlines_Flight_370
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malaysia_Airlines_Flight_17
http://www.airbus.com/innovation/proven-concepts/in-design/fly-by-wire/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Airlines_Flight_587
http://ec.europa.eu/transport/modes/air/safety/air-ban/doc/list_en.pdf
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boeing_737_rudder_issues

Legal Note : The author is NOT an aviation expert and only the authors purview of the incident based on the public information is noted. The real cause could be far different from what is noted here.

This article can be republished under the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs CC BY-ND

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