Investigators have confirmed that the co-pilot of AirAsia Flight QZ8501 was at the controls when the plane went down in the Java Sea, killing all 162 people on board. The pilot, an experienced former fighter pilot, was monitoring the flight during the time of the crash, but did not have the controls.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the lead investigator in the AirAsia Flight QZ8501 crash has determined, based on black box data, that the plane’s co-pilot had the controls when the plane crashed in to the Java Sea. The report indicates that the co-pilot, First Officer Rémi-Emmanuel Plesel, had considerably less flight hours than the captain, who was a former fighter pilot.
“Mr. Plesel, who left a job as an engineer at Total SA to fulfill a childhood dream of becoming an airline pilot, had about 2,200 flight hours over roughly three years flying for AirAsia. Captain Iriyanto, a former fighter pilot, had nearly 10 times that many total hours in his logbook, including more than 6,000 flying A320s for the Indonesian arm of the fast-growing budget carrier.”
Investigators note that it is too early to know for certain that pilot error caused the crash. However, two people who have been working on the case note that flight data recordings indicate that the first officer’s control stick pulled the plane’s nose up. The order in which the events took place are unclear at this time, but data recordings do indicate that the nose-up maneuver was initiated by the co-pilot, who had the controls during the plane’s steep climb before plummeting into the sea.
The Telegraph notes that a dramatic 30 seconds took place prior to the plane falling into the sea. The plane “rose from 32,000 feet to 37,400 feet, then dipped to 32,000 feet, before descending for around three minutes when the black boxes stopped.” This is the point at which investigators have concluded that co-pilot Plesel had the controls.
Reports indicate that the weather in the area of the crash was very volatile during the time of the crash, noting that the cumulonimbus clouds in the area were at a height of up to 44,000 feet at the time of the crash. Though the large clouds could cause extreme turbulence, investigators are declining to say whether the plane had flown directly into clouds during the incident.
With the investigation still underway, workers in the sea are still trying to find the remaining bodies from the wreckage. As of this morning, 72 of the 162 bodies have been recovered from the Java Sea.
[Image Credit: Plesel Family]