AirAsia Flight QZ8501, which went missing at 7:24 p.m. U.S. Eastern Standard time Saturday night, will be found very soon, aviation experts say. Though after almost 24 hours since the AirAsia Airbus A320-200 vanished from radar, no trace of the plane had been found, the experts say that this tragic disappearance bears major differences from the baffling case of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370.
The Malaysia Airlines plane disappeared on March 8, and despite a multimillion dollar international search effort, has yielded not a single shred of evidence of its fate.
But Flight MH370 is believed to have gone down in the remote — and very deep — waters of the Indian Ocean. The AirAsia Flight, by all early indications, crashed in the relatively shallow and well-explored waters of the Java Sea off Indonesia.
“It’ll be easier because it’s very well mapped,” former Air Force pilot John Nance told ABC News.
Another advantage for searchers looking for Flight QZ8501 is that the plane vanished from radar just four minutes after a ground controller last spoke with one of the AirAsia pilots, and just one minute after the plane was last seen on radar.
Compare those short intervals to the Malaysia Airlines case, in which a full 17 minutes elapsed before ground controllers even realized the plane was missing, because the plane was in a border zone between two Flight Information Regions — the zones in which air traffic controllers from one country maintain contact with a plane.
But in the border areas between FIRs, no one is in contact with the plane, and it effectively flies invisibly. Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 was in a border between Malaysian and Vietnamese FIRs.
The AirAsia flight was being watched by Indonesian controllers until the moment it vanished.
“You haven’t got the complications of 370 where the Malaysians fluffed the handover to the Vietnamese,” said another aviation expert, Neil Hansford. “They know where this one was, and if they can’t find it then Houston, we have a problem.”
Flight 370 gave no indication that it was headed into bad weather, but Flight QZ8501, in its final communication, requested an adjustment to its flight plan because it was about to fly directly into dangerous thunder clouds.
The AsiaAir flight bears stronger similarities to another flight that vanished, the 2009 Air France Flight 447 disaster.
In that crash, pilots found themselves in a surprise thunderstorm, causing its “pitot tubes” — which allow a plane to measure its airspeed — to clog with ice. As a result, the Air France plane experienced a cascading series of failures that led to the crash. No debris from the plane was spotted for about 24 hours after it disappeared.
Though the early stages after any plane crash are often filled with misinformation and inaccurate speculation, it appears at least likely that AirAsia Flight QZ8501 may have suffered a terrible fate more similar to the Air France plane, than to Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370.