AirAsia Flight QZ801 was flying between Indonesia and Singapore, when it vanished dropping off radar not to be seen for the past two-days. As speculation rages on, here are some of the facts we know so far about the missing plane.
As details of the events surrounding the mysterious disappearance keep coming to light, weather seems to be at the center of reasons that presumably could have brought AirAsia Flight QZ8501 down. Indonesian officials have deemed that the Airbus now sits at the bottom of the sea, as an oil leak in the Java Sea has been discovered.
One of the most disturbing pieces of information that has surfaced in connection with the missing airliner is that the pilot reportedly requested a change of altitude from 32,000 feet to 38,000 feet at approximately 6:12 a.m., local time, to avoid a powerful thunderstorm, but the request was denied by air traffic control. That was the last known communication from AirAsia Flight QZ8501.
According to Fox News meteorologist Maria Molina, some of the storms that occur near the Equator in that part of the world are the strongest we see on Earth, where trade winds in both hemispheres intersect, forcing moist, tropical air to rise.
Molina says these storms can be located at about 44,000 feet, though AirAsia Flight QZ8501 was flying at 32,000 feet, according to reports. Even thought this is a tropical climate, at that altitude it’s very cold, and ice could have affected the plane. The pilots may have encountered strong turbulence, lightning, and horizontal and vertical winds, which they were apparently trying to avoid.
Air traffic control did not receive a distress call from the plane, which makes it difficult to find the aircraft. The Airbus 320-200, carrying 162 people on board at the time of its disappearance, has a “flight by wire” computer system, which allows the crew to input data and the plane then sets a route, which could override the pilots.
Ken Christensen, former NASA pilot, compares the powerful storms in the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) as the motions of a popcorn machine. The storm rises from earth and then it falls down, if the plane was caught in that system it could have been catastrophic.
Weather is the cause of the majority of past air disasters, as with the crash of Air France 447 in 2009, which killed 228 passengers and crew. A similar aircraft to the missing AirAsia Flight QZ8501, the Air France plane encountered turbulence over the Atlantic Ocean while traveling from Brazil to Paris.
According to Tim Vasquez, a former U.S. Air Force meteorologist who followed the Air France crash closely, in that incident, airspeed indicators — known as pitot tubes — were covered with ice and delivered inaccurate airspeed data to the aircraft’s flight control system, which in turn confused the pilots.
Vasquez says that in the AirAsia Flight QZ8501 disappearance, top clouds extended past 50,000 feet, and he concludes that “based on the available data and a close correlation of thunderstorm activity at the last received location, it appears that weather was a factor, or was a compounding factor. The most likely hazard, if weather was a factor, appears to be icing. This is only an assessment of best available meteorological information, and is not a final determination on the cause of the incident.”
Stay tuned for all the latest news about the disappearance of AirAsia Flight QZ8501.
[Image via Diario Meridional/Twitter]