What role did weather play in disappearance of AirAsia Flight QZ8501? – CNN

Posted: Monday, December 29, 2014

(CNN) — The passengers and crew aboard AirAsia Flight QZ8501 expected to land in Singapore at 8:30 a.m. on Sunday after a flight of just over two hours.

They departed Juanda International Airport in Indonesia’s East Java early that morning, but amid increasingly bad weather, one of the pilots requested to deviate from their planned route, AirAsia said in a statement.

Although little is known about the aircraft’s disappearance, the region has been struck by torrential rain. That has some speculating that inclement weather could have played a role in the flight’s disappearance

The plane was still traceable about five minutes before it disappeared, according to Indonesian state media. One minute before it lost contact, the pilot requested to raise the plane’s flying altitude because of bad weather.

Former pilot: Thunderstorms pose risks

AirAsia pilot requested to change route

Missing AirAsia plane was on common route

CNN meteorologist Karen Maginnis said this maneuver could have been made to avoid turbulence or thunderstorms.

“Turbulence doesn’t bring an aircraft down,” Maginnis said. “It may be a pilot reaction to the turbulence. It may be perhaps it got too close to a thunderstorm. There could be so many variables.”

Former pilots say it’s best to try to go around thunderstorms instead of flying into them.

“Generally you want to pass upwind of a thunderstorm, because otherwise you’re going to pick up more turbulence (than) if you went to the other side of the storm,” Alastair Rosenschein, a former pilot, told CNN.

But flying over the top of the storm may not have been a feasible strategy, according to Rosenschein.

“You try and avoid thunderstorms by flying around them, not really by going over the top of them,” he said. “That’s not possible in the tropics.”

People on board AirAsia QZ8501

155 passengers total:

138 adults

16 children, 1 infant

7 crew total:

2 pilots

4 flight attendants

1 engineer

Passenger nationalities:

1 Singapore

1 Malaysia

3 South Korean

1 British

149 Indonesian

Crew nationalities:

1 French

6 Indonesian

AirAsia statement on missing airliner

Torrential rains

The region has been plagued by heavy rain and severe flooding in recent weeks — something that the pilots should have been acutely aware of and trained to respond to, according to Maginnis.

“It is typical they would encounter monsoon weather,” Maginnis said. “They (the pilots) would have had monsoon training.”

“In a monsoonal season, you will get the heavy precipitation supercells,” Maginnis said. “We have seen torrential rainfall — even from Malaysia and Indonesia standards. We have seen incredible and fierce flooding across this region over the last several weeks.”

A company that tracks worldwide weather conditions says a number of lightning strikes occurred near the path of Flight 8501 around the time it disappeared.

Bob Marshall, CEO and founder of Earth Networks, told CNN on Sunday that lightning indicates a significant number of thunderstorms.

“Planes can handle very heavy rain,” he said. “That’s not the issue. The issue is where are the tiny, small pockets of those storms that have significant updrafts and downdrafts that cause dangerous turbulence that can cause real problems for the pilots? That’s what the lightning information tells you. The lightning allows you to kind of bore through the clouds and see the details of the storm and provides guidance to pilots on how to avoid it.”

Marshall said he doesn’t know what kind of lightning forecast equipment to which the pilots had access.

“There are vast swaths of the world that have very little weather information,” he said. “Even our lightning network is a global lightning network and we detect storms but we don’t have enough sensors in that part of the world to track them very, very precisely.”

Search and rescue

Tony Fernandes, the CEO and founder of AirAsia, told CNN’s Andrew Stevens that the captain had 20,000 hours of flying experience, 7,000 of which were with AirAsia on the same model of plane that disappeared.

AirAsia flight 8501 missing

Family members of passengers on missing AirAsia Flight QZ8501 gather at Juanda International Airport in East Java, Indonesia, on Sunday, December 28. The passenger jet carrying 162 people lost contact with Indonesian air traffic control early Sunday, gripping Southeast Asia with a second missing plane crisis in less than a year.Family members of passengers on missing AirAsia Flight QZ8501 gather at Juanda International Airport in East Java, Indonesia, on Sunday, December 28. The passenger jet carrying 162 people lost contact with Indonesian air traffic control early Sunday, gripping Southeast Asia with a second missing plane crisis in less than a year.
Relatives comfort each other at the airport. The search operation for the missing flight was been halted for the night.Relatives comfort each other at the airport. The search operation for the missing flight was been halted for the night.
Military personnel perform a search operation to the point where the jetliner lost contact.Military personnel perform a search operation to the point where the jetliner lost contact.
A relative weeps as she waits for the latest news on the missing jetliner.A relative weeps as she waits for the latest news on the missing jetliner.
Sunu Widyatmoko, CEO of Indonesia AirAsia, gives a press conference in Surabaya, Indonesia, announcing that the flight lost contact with air traffic control.Sunu Widyatmoko, CEO of Indonesia AirAsia, gives a press conference in Surabaya, Indonesia, announcing that the flight lost contact with air traffic control.
Members of the Indonesian Regional Disaster Management Agency walk at a beach as they search for the missing plane.Members of the Indonesian Regional Disaster Management Agency walk at a beach as they search for the missing plane.
Jiang Hui, whose relatives were on board Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which went missing on March 8, watches the news about the missing AirAsia flight at his house in Beijing.Jiang Hui, whose relatives were on board Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which went missing on March 8, watches the news about the missing AirAsia flight at his house in Beijing.
An official from Indonesia's national search and rescue agency points to the position where AirAsia Flight QZ8501 went missing. Before communication was lost, a pilot asked to deviate from its planned route -- from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore -- because of bad weather, officials said.An official from Indonesia’s national search and rescue agency points to the position where AirAsia Flight QZ8501 went missing. Before communication was lost, a pilot asked to deviate from its planned route — from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore — because of bad weather, officials said.
The aircraft went missing as it flew over the Java Sea between the islands of Belitung and Borneo, according to Indonesian authorities, who are leading the search and rescue operations.The aircraft went missing as it flew over the Java Sea between the islands of Belitung and Borneo, according to Indonesian authorities, who are leading the search and rescue operations.
An airport official checks a map of Indonesia at the crisis center for the missing flight, set up by local authorities at Juanda International Airport.An airport official checks a map of Indonesia at the crisis center for the missing flight, set up by local authorities at Juanda International Airport.
This file photo shows a Airbus A320-200, similar to the missing plane. Of the people on board, 155 are Indonesian, three are South Korean, one is British, one is French, one is Malaysian and one is Singaporean, the airline said.This file photo shows a Airbus A320-200, similar to the missing plane. Of the people on board, 155 are Indonesian, three are South Korean, one is British, one is French, one is Malaysian and one is Singaporean, the airline said.

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AirAsia flight goes missingAirAsia flight goes missing

Mary Schiavo, CNN aviation analyst and former inspector general of the U.S. Department of Transportation, said weather can change quickly and there may have been little time to act.

“This weather system might have built up very quickly and they’re on their own up there. With the weather up to 52,000 feet, and the operation ceiling is up to about 40,000 on this plane, so they might not have had many options,” she said.

MH370 and AirAsia very different incidents

The plane was flying through Indonesian-monitored airspace — or Indonesia’s flight information region — when contact was lost, according to AirAsia.

Several hours after it disappeared, Malaysia’s Ministry of Transport confirmed the Indonesian government had started a search and rescue mission for the missing plane.

“They need to be searching the water but not necessarily for a plane, they need to be searching for any clues,” Schiavo said.

The flight’s original flight path, a journey of 1,362 kilometers (846 miles), took it over the Java Sea.

And while the search won’t cover as large an area as that of MH370, the Malaysia Airlines flight that disappeared in March, it is still a “broad area,” which will be affected by weather, according to Maginnis.



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