Flying on wild guesses and wild weather

Flying on wild guesses and wild weather

After such an eventful, controversial and tragedy-filled year, I wanted my last column on the last day of 2014 to strike an upbeat note.

But as luck, fate, whatever would have it, more bad news hit us in the remaining days of 2014: many states were hit by severe floods, sending thousands fleeing into temporary shelters.

And as if that weren't bad enough, on Sunday, Indonesia AirAsia flight QZ8501 from Surabaya to Singapore went missing with 162 people on board.

All of us who heard the news must have reacted in a similar way: shock followed by disbelief. Then, when the truth could not be denied, that wretched sense of loss and sorrow.

I was in my local mall shortly after I got the news and when I ventured into a store, the sales assistant was quite jovial about the missing plane, telling her co-worker that no Malaysians were on board, as if that made it all right.

Indeed, most of the passengers and crew were Indonesian, but there was a Malaysian, a businessman from Sarawak, as well as one Briton, one Singaporean and three South Koreans. Among them were 16 children and one infant.

I don't think the sales assistant meant to be callous but it is certainly not all right. Even if our loss was one citizen and it was an Indonesian-majority owned airline, we feel the pain because the victims are our neighbours.

Also making the rounds are conspiracy theories making a big deal over the AirAsia pilots' request to deviate from their scheduled route by ascending to a higher altitude and the plane having turned "slightly" by a few degrees.

All that brought back memories of the still missing MH370 and its strange flight path, which obsessed us for months in the first quarter of 2014.

But I believe there is nothing sinister in QZ8501's disappearance. In all likelihood, it was bad weather that downed the plane.

According to press reports, the pilot asked to divert his plane because of dense storm clouds, strong winds and lightning.

Aviation experts say modern planes can literally weather stormy flying conditions and experienced pilots know how to navigate such conditions. That seemed to be what the AirAsia pilots were trying to do. They were ascending to 38,000 feet when contact was lost.

But apparently the storm clouds were rising up to 52,000 feet, which means flying at 38,000 feet did not help the pilots overcome the extremely adverse weather.

All this is still speculation at this point and how big a role bad weather played in this air disaster remains yet unknown. But it cannot be denied that bad weather is increasingly becoming unprecedented wild weather because of climate change.

The world is experiencing fierce erratic weather never seen before; or at least since we started recording weather patterns. So what aviation experts think they know about bad weather may not hold water anymore. We could now be flying in uncharted weather conditions.

It is this thought that sends frissons down my back. After all, almost everyone flies these days. I took almost 20 flights to near and far destinations this year.

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