Monday, December 29, 2014

Air Asia Flight QZ8501

Rest assured your pilot is well prepared to ensure your plane will never get lost.

From an article published in Travel 3Sixty, the in flight magazine of Air Asia.

That bit of hubris created a public relations nightmare for the budget minded carrier when it first appeared in March of this year. That's because on the 8th of the same month Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 flew off into the twilight zone with 239 passengers and crew aboard. Even as they apologized for the article and pulled the magazine, Air Asia executives were claiming the magazine was printed before the Malaysian aircraft went missing.

Now the piece, written by a retired pilot, has come back to haunt them again, because despite the sunny promise, an Air Asia pilot has indeed lost a plane.

Early reports vary some, but all agree flight QZ8501 disappeared off radar screens Sunday morning at 6:24 am local time. A few say the flight crew requested to make a turn in order to avoid storms in the area, which ground controllers agreed to. Other accounts don't mention the turn at all. Shortly after the possible course change the pilot asked permission to climb from 32,000 feet to 38,000. Again, sources vary in detail about what happened next. At least one claims the decision to allow the Air Bus A320-200 to climb was put off for four minutes because another flight in the area was at that altitude. By the time air traffic controllers decided to allow the shift the plane was lost. Another says the pilot was given permission to go only to 34,000 feet which he presumably did. Then a few minutes later, just before controllers were going to let him go the extra 4,000 the flight was gone from the radar.There wasn't a distress call, or at least not one received.

Which ever is the case, the 155 passengers and seven crew are now presumed lost somewhere in the Java Sea. In the words of one Indonesian official flight QZ8501 is, "likely at the bottom of the sea." Search teams from Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Australia are searching an area of ocean roughly the size of New Mexico, so far without success. One report claims, "suspicious," objects were been spotted floating around, but they are close to 700 miles from the aircraft's last reported position.

As with MH370 confusion and wild rumors seem to reign in the early stages of the search. It is a situation which will, no doubt, fuel the unhinged imaginations of conspiracy theorists everywhere. If the wreckage isn't found in a couple of days all sorts of wild stories about CIA black ops, particle rays, and American Death Stars will begin to infest places like You Tube.

The simple fact is there are major differences in the circumstances of the disappearances, but they probably won't squelch rumors of a computerized hijacking and secret landing strips in Vietnam.

MH370 appeared to deliberately hide from radar screens for hours on end, while the Air Asia flight was heading into turbulent weather and trying to get both around and above it. There wasn't an attempt by someone on board to turn off all the technology which allows it to be tracked.

In addition an NBC report noted the Java Sea is well traveled and averages a depth of anywhere from 130 to 160 feet. It is a far cry from the vast expanse of empty and extremely deep ocean most experts believe MH370 fell into. In other words, the odds of finding QZ8501 are much better.

None of that will be of comfort to family and friends of the passengers and crew who are now coming to grips with a terrible truth. Yes, this latest disaster probably won't have all the mystery and speculation, but their loved ones will still be dead and that is what matters the most. Then, in a few weeks, or months, when shock and grief turns to anger, we all know the next step will be massive litigation. Lawyers everywhere in southeast Asia are already lining up for a shot at the air line.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, Air Asia CEO, Tony Fernandes seems to have come down with a distinct case of reality. Yesterday he told the press, "Until today we have never lost a life, but I think any airline CEO who says he can guarantee that his airline is 100 percent safe is not accurate."

That's one way of putting it.

Another is human technology will never be perfect, or able to completely conquer the brute forces of nature. And--when our arrogance allows us to forget it--people have always perished.

sic vita est


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