Missing flight QZ8501: Hope ...amid year of despair

Family members of passengers onboard missing AirAsia flight QZ8501 at Juanda International Airport, Surabaya, yesterday. The plane, which was carrying 162 people, is presumed to have crashed off the Indonesian coast.

One cannot help having a sense of deja vu when three jetliners carrying Malaysian logos fall out of the sky in just under 10 months.

How could this have happened to two airlines that had an excellent safety record till this year?

From what we know so far, it seems to be sheer coincidence, stunning bad luck.

Here are some of the similarities and differences between the latest incident, involving an Airbus A320 of Indonesia AirAsia (affiliate of Malaysia AirAsia) and the two earlier ones, involving Boeing 777s of Malaysia Airlines.

Together, the three had almost 700 people on board, 239 missing and presumed dead (MH370), 298 confirmed dead (MH17), and now, 162 missing. That is about 70 per cent of the air crash fatalities listed on the Aviation Safety Network for this year.

All three lost contact when cruising in mid-flight, with no distress call. Only about 20 per cent of crashes occur mid-flight.

Four out of every five crashes occur when the aircraft is taking off or landing.



Whatever happened to MH370 and MH17 was in clear weather. QZ8501 had reported bad weather in its flight path and was apparently trying to avoid storm clouds.

MH17, on its way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on July 17, is believed to have been shot down, its wreckage found in Ukraine - though recovery took time because it is a war zone.

The known flight paths of MH370 and QZ8501 were mostly over water, and the search has been almost entirely at sea.

Indeed, as of press time last night, the two incidents retain some eerie similarities: Little confirmed information and no wreckage.

The big difference is that weather may have been a factor in the disappearance of QZ8501, which was flying from Surabaya to Singapore on Sunday.

No trace of MH370, on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, has been found despite a huge multinational effort, and it remains one of the biggest unsolved mysteries of modern times, quite unprecedented in aviation history.

Surely that cannot happen again. We can expect - and at this stage still hope - that the story of QZ8501 will turn out differently.

What it won't change though, is how this has been a terrible year for aviation, with more than 1,000 deaths from air crashes - triple the figure of about 350 killed last year.

Cold figures that probably mean nothing to the stricken loved ones awaiting news. As the hours turn into days and the search goes on, they can only cling to a sliver of hope - and pray.

This article was first published on Dec 30, 2014. Get The New Paper for more stories.