Bad Weather May Have Contributed To The Disappearance of QZ8501

Aviation experts said a range of causes could be responsible for the disappearance of AirAsia flight QZ8501, which had 162 people on board and which lost contact at 7.24am yesterday local time near Belitung island, Indonesia, but many pointed to the bad weather in the area and the fact that the plane’s crew had asked for a course and altitude change to avoid it.

The crew had requested to increase altitude to 38,000ft from 32,000ft to avoid clouds. Thunderstorms were reported in the area, with clouds up to 50,000ft, Indonesian officials said.

Flight-tracking website Flightradar24 said the jet was flying at the regular cruising altitude for most jetliners, 32,000ft, when the signal was lost. No distress reports came from the plane, officials said.

This was the third air incident this year for Malaysia, which lost two Malaysia Airlines jumbo jets, one of which mysteriously disappeared without a trace over the South China Sea, while the other was shot down over Ukraine.

“This aircraft has disappeared in a very similar fashion (to Malaysia Airlines flight 370 in March), but we have heard nothing about a Mayday call … so we don’t know at this moment what has happened,” said former airline pilot Desmond Ross in an interview with the BBC.

While there is no clear indication of what happened to the jet and what caused its disappearance, Mr Michael Palmer — lead forecaster at The Weather Channel — said there were numerous showers and hail throughout the Java Sea and the flight path. The large clusters of thunderstorms, some as tall as 50,000ft, would have forced a pilot to change course and the flight could have run into turbulence and hail, he said.

“We don’t know if it was the cause, but certainly, the weather was not calm,” Mr Palmer added.

Mechanical problems cannot be ruled out at this time, but the plane was said to be in good working order and had undergone its last scheduled maintenance on Nov 16.

Earth Networks, a company that tracks weather conditions across the globe, said it had recorded a number of lightning strikes near the path of flight QZ8501 yesterday between 6.09am and 6.20am Indonesian time. The last communication between the pilot and air traffic control was made at 6.13am local time, when the pilot asked to change course.

While it is rare for a lightning strike to cause serious structural damage that threatens the safety of an aircraft, it can disrupt navigation systems such as magnetic compasses. A lightning flash, particularly at night, can also momentarily disorient pilots.

The turbulence associated with a big storm can sometimes be severe and sudden shifts in wind direction could disrupt the airflow through a jet engine, potentially causing it to shut down.

However, a shutdown of all engines in such a scenario would be highly unlikely and the Airbus A320 is certified to fly up to three hours on a single engine, in compliance with global aviation safety regulations.



Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *