What’s Going On?
An AirAsia passenger jet with 162 people aboard went missing Sunday morning while flying from Indonesia to Singapore. The crew of the Airbus A320 asked to deviate from its planned route due to weather shortly before losing contact with air traffic control.
The plane had taken off from Surabaya and was supposed to arrive in Singapore at 8:30 am. Reports indicate there were thunderstorms in the area, and the AirAsia crew asked to move from its cruising altitude of 32,000 feet, up to 38,000 feet to avoid a cloud, according to the Wall Street Journal. A few minutes later, the plane disappeared from radar.
What’s Happening Now?
Search and rescue. At 9:30 Sunday morning, planes and ships from Singapore’s air force and navy were offered to the Indonesian National Search and Rescue Agency, including one C130 Hercules, a cargo transport aircraft. Now that the sun has set, the visual search for evidence of the jet has been slowed, but Monday morning, two C130s will take off again. Singapore has also offered two teams of specialists and two sets of underwater locator beacon detectors to help Indonesian authorities with the effort.
One thing that made looking for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared in March, so difficult, was that that plane, a Boeing 777, apparently flew for several hours with its Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) disengaged. The search operation didn’t even focus on one particular body of water for several days.
The AirAsia plane’s last location was over a well-trafficked shipping route, and over the relatively narrow Java Sea between the islands of Malaysia and Indonesia. That should make finding the plane, or debris from a possible crash, easier. “But still, the ocean is awfully big,” former NTSB director Peter Goelz told CNN.
AirAsia, which has changed its logo color from red to grey on its website, has set up an emergency hotline for families and friends of those on board, and a “Relatives Holding Area” at Singapore’s Changi Airport. The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore has provided counselors for all next-of-kin at the airport, and is arranging local accommodation and travel to Singapore from Indonesia for passenger relatives.
The investigation will, by default, be run by Indonesia, where the missing plane is registered. The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) could be invited to participate, and France’s Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis for Civil Aviation Safety may play a role, since one crew member is French.
Whether or not there are survivors, finding the plane’s two black boxes will be crucial to figuring out exactly what went wrong. The flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder will have information on a wide variety of aircraft parameters, and what was happening in the cockpit in the final two hours of flight.