Doomed AirAsia Flight QZ8501’s climb echoes Air France disaster

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Jakarta | Published: January 21, 2015 9:59:47 PM

Revelations that AirAsia Flight QZ8501 climbed too fast before stalling and plunging into the sea point to "striking" similarities...

airasia, airasia flight qz8501, airasia flight missingAirAsia Flight QZ8501 climbed too fast before stalling and plunging into the sea point to “striking” similarities between the Java Sea accident and the 2009 crash of an Air France jet. (Reuters)

Revelations that Tony Fernandes-led AirAsia’s Flight QZ8501 climbed too fast before stalling and plunging into the sea point to “striking” similarities between the Java Sea accident and the 2009 crash of an Air France jet, analysts said today.

Indonesian Transport Minister Ignasius Jonan said the Airbus A320-200 was ascending at a rate of 1,800 metres a minute before stalling, as it flew in stormy weather last month from Indonesia’s Surabaya to Singapore.

“In the final minutes, the plane climbed at a speed which was beyond normal,” he told reporters yesterday.

That ascent is about two to three times the normal climb rate for a commercial jetliner, according to experts.

Indonesian divers recovered the plane’s black boxes a week ago, after an arduous search for the jet that crashed on December 28 with 162 people on board. The cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder are now being analysed, with a preliminary report due next week.

Relatives lay flowers on the coffin of victims of AirAsia Flight 8501 Yongki Jou and his son Brian Youvito Jou, during their cremation procession in Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia, Thursday, Jan. 8, 2015. Divers were hoping to zero in on the flight's black boxes Thursday, after search and recovery operations got a much-needed boost with the discovery of a chunk of the plane's tail - nearly two weeks after it plummeted into the sea, killing everyone onboard. (APRelatives lay flowers on the coffin of victims of AirAsia Flight 8501 Yongki Jou and his son Brian Youvito Jou, during their cremation procession in Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia, Thursday, Jan. 8, 2015. Divers were hoping to zero in on the flight’s black boxes Thursday, after search and recovery operations got a much-needed boost with the discovery of a chunk of the plane’s tail – nearly two weeks after it plummeted into the sea, killing everyone onboard. (AP)

While they stressed the difficulty of drawing conclusions without seeing the full black box data, analysts said the accident had strong echoes of the crash of Air France flight 447 into the Atlantic in 2009, with the loss of 228 lives.

“The similarities are pretty striking,” Daniel Tsang, founder of Hong Kong-based consultancy Aspire Aviation, told AFP.

In that case, the Airbus A330 en route from Rio to Paris vanished at night during a storm. The aircraft’s speed sensors were found to have malfunctioned, and the plane climbed too steeply, causing it to stall.

As with the AirAsia disaster, the accident happened in what is known as the “intertropical convergence zone”, an area around the equator where the north and south trade winds meet, and thunderstorms are common.

Head of Indonesian National Transportation Safety Committee Tatang Kurniadi, center, shows the newly recovered Cockpit Voice Recorder from the ill-fated AirAsia Flight 8501 during a press conference in Pangkalan Bun, Central Borneo, Indonesia, Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2015. Divers retrieved the crashed AirAsia plane's second black box from the bottom of the Java Sea on Tuesday, giving experts essential tools to piece together what brought Flight 8501 down. (AP)Head of Indonesian National Transportation Safety Committee Tatang Kurniadi, center, shows the newly recovered Cockpit Voice Recorder from the ill-fated AirAsia Flight 8501 during a press conference in Pangkalan Bun, Central Borneo, Indonesia, Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2015. Divers retrieved the crashed AirAsia plane’s second black box from the bottom of the Java Sea on Tuesday, giving experts essential tools to piece together what brought Flight 8501 down. (AP)

The investigation into AF447 found that both technical and human error were to blame. After the speed sensors froze up and failed, the pilots failed to react properly, according to the French aviation authority who said they lacked proper training.

Jonan yesterday likened the doomed plane’s ascent to a fighter jet, although experts noted that warplanes can climb considerably faster — 10,000 feet per minute when at altitude.

However, Tom Ballantyne, Sydney-based chief correspondent for Orient Aviation magazine, said the rate of climb of the AirAsia jet was “just phenomenal”, adding: “I’m not sure I’ve heard of anything that dramatic before.”

He said it would be unusual for weather alone to cause such a rapid ascent, but added it was possible if the jet hit “some bizarre unprecedented storm cell”.

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