QZ8501
December 28, 2014 9:13 PM   Subscribe

A major search is underway to find AirAsia Indonesia Flight QZ8501 after it lost contact with Indonesian air traffic control while enroute from Surabaya, Indonesia to Singapore yesterday without a distress signal. Its parent company, the Malaysia-owned budget airline AirAsia (no connection to Malaysia Airlines) has had a clean safety record; AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes considers this his "worst nightmare". There were initial reports of a plane crashing in East Belitung Island, which are yet to be verified, but the multi-national search is still under way after a break due to darkness and bad weather. Indeed, powerful storms were in QZ8501's flight path, prompting the pilot to request an "unusual" route. There were 162 people on board, primarily Indonesians (including one of the pilots), as well as three South Koreans, one Singaporean, one Malaysian, one French, and one British citizen. There is currently some strong media attention on a family that missed the flight by minutes, who were told by airport officials while negotiating a replacement flight that "This must have been the best Christmas gift your family ever received".

(Yesterday's post about this was deleted with a note to try again in about 24 hours once more information has come in, so I hope this is OK.)
posted by divabat (127 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is a good post and I hope it stays. Heartbreaking situation. Thanks divabat.
posted by triggerfinger at 9:33 PM on December 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm holding out hope that there will be survivors and answers.
posted by arcticseal at 9:35 PM on December 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


This must have been the best Christmas gift your family ever received," she recalls him saying. "The flight you were supposed to be on has crashed."

I wish it was somehow comforting to know that the total and complete lack of compassion knows no geographical boundaries.
posted by item at 9:36 PM on December 28, 2014 [24 favorites]


Up until recently, I held some sort of possibly misinformed assumption that most plane crashes occur on takeoff or landing. Once we were in the air at cruising altitude, regardless of the turbulence, I would tell myself that planes do not simply fall out of the sky. I need a new mantra to get me through when I fly.
posted by 724A at 9:44 PM on December 28, 2014 [27 favorites]


This is extremely sad. Technological progress does not come without real casualties.
posted by hal_c_on at 9:58 PM on December 28, 2014


I'm forever hopeful but it's hard to imagine a genuinely happy ending.
posted by Dip Flash at 10:00 PM on December 28, 2014


Good lord, not again... Best of luck to all involved, and many thanks to Divabat for having the patience, persistence, and experience to jump into the fray yet again.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 10:00 PM on December 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


This is becoming alarmingly too frequent an occurrence. Best wishes for all involved.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 10:01 PM on December 28, 2014


Has the Bermuda Triangle moved to the Indian Ocean?
posted by double block and bleed at 10:04 PM on December 28, 2014


This is tremendously sad.

As an infrequent flyer I wouldn't know the answer to this: is it common that a flight would leave 2 hours before its originally scheduled departure time?
posted by jamaro at 10:06 PM on December 28, 2014




jamaro: I've had flights on Delta moved up a couple of hours for some unknown reason. Not sure how common it is though, I've never really experienced it with any other airline (including AirAsia).
posted by divabat at 10:09 PM on December 28, 2014


AirAsia just announced all you can fly for a month tickets for $148 a little while ago. We were thinking of buying them for our honeymoon. We are having second thoughts now obviously.
posted by empath at 10:10 PM on December 28, 2014


I've still got my aviation forum bookmarks from MH370 and they are saying that after a similar crash from several years ago, Adam Air, it took a week to find the wreckage.

I'm due to fly AirAsia a week today over basically the same route.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 10:17 PM on December 28, 2014


There's a lot of discussion on the PPRuNE thread about having better flight tracking. Apparently Iridium has the ability to receive tracking information from all flights, but this would require aircraft to install a transmitter. It also seems that a better emergency beacon system is needed.
posted by Golden Eternity at 10:18 PM on December 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


"This must have been the best Christmas gift your family ever received," she recalls him saying. "The flight you were supposed to be on has crashed."

I wish it was somehow comforting to know that the total and complete lack of compassion knows no geographical boundaries."


I think the person meant that actually being alive when she could've easily not been was a fantastic gift for her family and I agree that it would be. A close shave like that really gives you something to be grateful for.
posted by rancher at 10:18 PM on December 28, 2014 [6 favorites]


Golden Eternity: Huh, interesting. Soon after MH370 there were a lot of questions about tracking, and sources like this WaPo article seemed to imply that the capacity to do this effectively didn't even really exist yet.
posted by divabat at 10:21 PM on December 28, 2014


As an infrequent flyer I wouldn't know the answer to this: is it common that a flight would leave 2 hours before its originally scheduled departure time?

I have had small, commuter flights changed on me in this manner, and I've had at least one international flight changed by an hour. If the weather was bad, maybe that necessitated a change?

Terribly sad and I hope for a swift resolution for all the families involved. :(
posted by offalark at 10:21 PM on December 28, 2014


Thanks divabat. It was just one of those things took me by surprise (read: "meaningless detail to get distracted by while trying to deflect the enormity of loss").
posted by jamaro at 10:22 PM on December 28, 2014


We know that airplanes will still be lost despite modern technology but so many, from one area, in so short a time is grotesquely unlucky.
posted by Thing at 10:23 PM on December 28, 2014 [1 favorite]




The article about the family that missed the plane said that the missed the phone calls and emails saying the flight was leaving two hours early. Why was the plane leaving before it's designated time? Was this to avoid the storms? Or did it push them into the middle of them?
posted by 101cats at 10:24 PM on December 28, 2014




I cannot comprehend this, and even though I read about it this morning and really tried to understand it, my brain's just been a sieve. Those poor people, and all their poor families.
posted by Hermione Granger at 10:28 PM on December 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


As an infrequent flyer I wouldn't know the answer to this: is it common that a flight would leave 2 hours before its originally scheduled departure time?

I've had AirAsia flights shifted around like this before. They will flood your email address with reminders though.
posted by pompomtom at 10:30 PM on December 28, 2014




There are 2 Reddit Live threads currently going on about this:

http://www.reddit.com/live/u5bmnl5imzk4

and

http://www.reddit.com/live/u5bkiqteljl4/
posted by I-baLL at 10:58 PM on December 28, 2014 [1 favorite]




Maybe I'm being a bit naive but I'm hoping that there are going to be survivors.
posted by I-baLL at 11:03 PM on December 28, 2014


My flying mantra, that I repeat to myself in bad turbulence or when the plane goes to land and then pulls up and hits the throttle all the sudden: "you're already dead, you're already dead..."

.
posted by sibboleth at 11:05 PM on December 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


My flying mantra, that I repeat to myself in bad turbulence or when the plane goes to land and then pulls up and hits the throttle all the sudden: "you're already dead, you're already dead..."

You might as well keep telling yourself that every time you're in any moving vehicle or walking outside.
posted by I-baLL at 11:07 PM on December 28, 2014 [5 favorites]


Nah, only in times of irrational fear.
posted by sibboleth at 11:11 PM on December 28, 2014 [10 favorites]


From PPRuNe:
Some new details from AirNav Indonesia:

06:12

- QZ8501 requests left deviation from airway. Deviation approved.
- Pilot then requests climb to FL380
- ATC asks pilot to standby, due to nearby traffic and to coordinate with next sector (Singapore)

06:14

- ATC calls QZ8501 to approve climb to FL340
- No response received after 2 or 3 further attempts to contact
- ATC requests help from nearby aircraft to contact QZ8501

06:16

- ATC still cannot reach QZ8501
- Aircraft still observed on radar screen

06:17

- Radar contact lost
- Last reported altitude: FL290
Also speculation that ice or a previously reported problem with some airbus designs having to do with blockage of pitot tubes could have caused loss of control of the aircraft.
posted by Golden Eternity at 11:13 PM on December 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


I've been pretty pleasantly surprised with how well Tony Abbott, for all his failures with the rest of Australian politics, has dealt with QZ8501 and the Malaysia Airlines flights.
posted by divabat at 11:25 PM on December 28, 2014




Ugh, Fox News, where willful ignorance is a fucking art form. Might as well watch a dog licking itself.

My thoughts are with the families and I hope they can find the site sooner than later.
posted by Klaxon Aoooogah at 11:39 PM on December 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


Can we not with the Bermuda Triangle comments please?

A reply to that tweet says, "that's far too close to one another for both to be a coincidence."

Despite it being approximately 850 miles/1400 km apart.

Which is not out of the realm of Bermuda Triangle comparisons geographically speaking, as it's about 1000 miles/1600 km from Miami to Bermuda.

Not geographically speaking, however, it's probably best to not go there.
posted by Celsius1414 at 11:39 PM on December 28, 2014 [4 favorites]


Oh wow. The Daily Fail wins the Internet for this bit of deadpan:
While the Imperial System may provide a conversion challenge for metric users, it likely was not a problem since the vast majority of the world excluding the U.S. uses the metric system.
The worst part is that it sets the bar for CNN even lower. Lord only knows what kind of hare-brained thing they'll say about this story now.
posted by tonycpsu at 11:41 PM on December 28, 2014


Despite it being approximately 850 miles/1400 km apart.

so barely more than double distance between LA and San Francisco!!!! That might as well be exactly the same place (assuming you're viewing things from the vicinity of Pluto*).

*The bright thing in that image is the sun. You can't actually see the Earth from Pluto most of the time.
posted by philip-random at 11:47 PM on December 28, 2014


The worst part is that it sets the bar for CNN even lower. Lord only knows what kind of hare-brained thing they'll say about this story now.

Oh, they already did pretty well on that front with "Loved ones weep... watch live"
posted by Spatch at 12:04 AM on December 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


When even the Daily Mail makes fun of you for your shoddy speculation, you know you have failed, Fox News.

And I thought you couldn't get worse than Don Lemon's "maybe a black hole swallowed MH370."

American cable news is an utter failure.
posted by dirigibleman at 12:36 AM on December 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


While the Imperial System may provide a conversion challenge for metric users, it likely was not a problem since the vast majority of the world excluding the U.S. uses the metric system

Not to defend the indefensible, but a metric/imperial conversion error did take down a passenger plane at least once: the Gimli Glider.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 12:45 AM on December 29, 2014 [7 favorites]


None of the countries immediately involved - Indonesia, Malaysia, France (the co-pilot), Singapore - would have dealt with Imperial. Not sure what the planes themselves are set to by default.
posted by divabat at 12:49 AM on December 29, 2014


When even the Daily Mail makes fun of you for your shoddy speculation, you know you have failed, Fox News.

Yeah the whole Fox News person asking if the metric vs imperial conversions could have caused this thing is kind of crazy, and it definitely seemed like Fox News in normal xenophobic form was trying to indicate that foreign countries/ideas/peoples are bad/unsafe. However, in fairness to Fox News (I didn't think I'd ever say that), metric to imperial conversion has caused people to lose vehicles "in the sky" in the past, and by people I mean NASA/Lockheed Martin.

Part of me thinks that Fox News wants to say foreign pilots of color are more dangerous than white American pilots and this is the closest thing they could come up with on the spot.

*Edit : Along with my example and justsomeoneyouusedtoknow's Gimli Glider example, It's starting to look like this was an incredibly intelligent question by the Fox News Anchor...j/k
posted by ill3 at 12:52 AM on December 29, 2014


Here is a map of the search area put out by the Malaysian navy.

It's nearly sunset again.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 2:22 AM on December 29, 2014


I'm wondering if this isn't a similar situation to what happened with the Air France flight a few years ago. Airbus aircraft, flying into stormy weather, and then it's just... gone. Someone upthread mentioned the pitot tube issue, and that's what came to mind as soon as I read about the disappearance. The pics posted of weather in the area at the time were full of red and dark red patches.

Whatever has happened, I just hope there's quick answers for the families.
posted by azpenguin at 2:30 AM on December 29, 2014


Yeah. There's already been speculation, based on the apparent air speeds indicated from the radar returns, that the aircraft was not maintaining sufficient speed for its altitude. So a high speed stall a la AF447 is entirely possible. Add to that Airbus planes' recent history of doing alarming things when pitot tubes get blocked and ... yes, a certain scenario does present itself.
posted by Sonny Jim at 2:41 AM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's possible this is exactly like the AF447 accident. The thing to remember is that for AF447 while the initial fault on the flight was loss of the airspeed indicators (pitot tubes) the ultimate cause of the crash was pilot error. There are procedures for recovering from that particular failure and the pilots failed to follow them (among other things they failed to do).

One interesting this about AF447 is that we knew immediately that the autopilot had disengaged and that something went wrong with the instrumentation. The normal engine monitoring systems reported the failures through the satellite relays. The lack of such information from MH370 is what makes people think that disappearance was a deliberate act.

I haven't read anything about ACARS and QZ8501 yet. Not that I blame them. The physical search must come first; the data can wait for analysis later.
posted by sbutler at 2:52 AM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Was in KLIA waiting for a (MAS) flight yesterday when the news broke. Everything remained calm, although the stewardess on our flight was visibly shaking, spilled a drink and dropped a Gerber baby-food bottle on my head. Maybe it was unrelated, who's to say. It's gotta be hard on the flight staff though, man.

Found out this morning a co-worker's husband was the lone Malaysian on the flight.
posted by BinGregory at 2:58 AM on December 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


I think the person meant that actually being alive when she could've easily not been was a fantastic gift for her family and I agree that it would be. A close shave like that really gives you something to be grateful for.

That airline employee had no idea whether the family knew other people on the plane, or whether they were simply human beings reeling at the thought of hundreds of people dying. Other people's suffering isn't really a "gift" to people who avoided it.

Obviously, the airline employee was just dealing with the situation as best he could, but the line is that comedy equals tragedy plus time, and "time" is generally understood to be more than an hour.
posted by Etrigan at 3:45 AM on December 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


although the stewardess on our flight was visibly shaking,

Just so you know, the flight crew you encounter on board airliners are actually highly-trained and vetted safety and emergency professionals. They aren't there to serve your drinks and peanuts. They aren't "stewardesses". Their presence is mandated for safety reasons. They are more properly referred to as flight-attendants. Typically, they are the ones who die first and most often when a tragedy like happens, trying to save or protect their passengers.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 4:02 AM on December 29, 2014 [37 favorites]


Yeah thanks for that. 3 or 4 of my daughters have expressed interest in that line of work over the years and I've told them precisely the same thing. The highly-trained and vetted safety and emergency professional serving my drink was pretty shook up though.
posted by BinGregory at 4:26 AM on December 29, 2014 [10 favorites]


My heart aches for the passengers' families and loved ones.

Back in the 60s I went on my first flight ever, Eastern from LaGuardia to San Juan. An hour into the flight the plane developed engine trouble. Ultimately it dropped to a lower altitude, shut off an engine, jettisoned fuel and returned to New York. The tarmac was lined with emergency vehicles when we landed. I was a kid traveling with a reassuring father who had lots of flying experience so I did not fully grasp the seriousness of the situation until afterward, in the restroom at the airport, where passengers were vomiting, stil speechless and chalk-white from fear.

Now every time I read of something like this I remember the loud banging noises and the sound of passengers praying vividly even though it was 50 years ago.

Thank you, divabat, for the well-crafted post. I know there's little hope for a positive outcome but maybe there is some for swift closure. Waiiting is agony. This must also bring fresh pain for those still awaiting outcome on the Malaysia flight. Prayers for all concerned.
posted by kinnakeet at 4:28 AM on December 29, 2014 [4 favorites]




It's gotta be hard on the [Malaysia Airlines] flight staff though, man.

After the year they've had, it must be close to unbearable.
posted by ambrosen at 5:10 AM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]




Not sure what the planes themselves are set to by default

Aviation is still primarily an Imperial, English-speaking industry. If you fly internationally, you're dealing with pounds (of fuel), feet (of altitude), and knots (of speed). I believe, but do not know for certain, that ICAO mandates this.

Those flight levels mentioned in all the crash reporting (pilot requested FL380, was cleared to FL340 and didn't respond) are in hundreds of feet. Presumably, he was asking for a higher altitude to clear some lower level storms that they would have run into at their assigned altitude.
posted by backseatpilot at 5:34 AM on December 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


I have read that because South East Asia is one of the world's fastest-growing air travel markets, it puts pressure on lower-income countries attempting to find enough qualified pilots, mechanics, air traffic controllers, etc. Indonesia's safety record has been so bad that all its airlines were barred from landing in the EU in 2007-2009; its largest carrier Lion Air still is. AirAsia's safety record is excellent, however. (Also, Indonesia and Malaysia are neighbors with a lot in common, but obviously not the same country and have different air travel safety records.)

Anyway the three recent (Malaysia-related) accidents aren't very much alike -- being shot down over the Ukraine, a plane with two very experienced pilots diverting for no reason and disappearing, and a plane disappearing with less-experienced pilots disappearing near large thunderstorms after talking to ATC -- but the rapidly-growing market may be why we are hearing about more air accidents from this part of the world in general, and the difficulty finding qualified personnel is a possible contributor.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:24 AM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yeah the story here is crappy Indonesian aviation, and has zero to do with either of the MAS disasters, which in turn had nothing to do with each other.

But don't let that stop the fun of voyeurism and speculation and misplaced anxiety. Ratings gold!
posted by spitbull at 6:29 AM on December 29, 2014


Up until recently, I held some sort of possibly misinformed assumption that most plane crashes occur on takeoff or landing.

No, still true. If you screw up when landing or taking off, much less margin for error.
posted by smackfu at 6:30 AM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Other people's suffering isn't really a "gift" to people who avoided it.

In case this was somehow not clear, the gift wasn't the crash; the gift was switching flights.
posted by Jpfed at 6:39 AM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


I thought after the AF crash due to the iced-over pitot tubes, airbus had mandated replacement with a new design not susceptible to the same problem. In fact I seem to recall that they had developed the new design prior to that crash. Is it possible that AirAsia would not have followed a safety bulletin regarding the tubes?

It is indeed quite scary that weather could take down a modern jetliner flying above 30k feet (if that's ultimately what it was).
posted by modernnomad at 6:48 AM on December 29, 2014


After googling in response to my own question re pitot tube issues and airbus advice: http://www.aviationtoday.com/regions/sa/More-Pitot-Tube-Incidents-Revealed_72414.html
posted by modernnomad at 6:51 AM on December 29, 2014


This really does sound like it at least set up like AF447.

The good thing about FBW aircraft is that they generally keep you from doing stupid things. The bad thing is that when something goes wrong, you need to suddenly fly the plane, and this tends to be at a bad time.

In piloting, airspeed indication is critical when you're at cruise in an airliner. Here's a sample of what the primary flight display looks like. Everything you need to fly, in one screen! It's full of info. In the middle is the attitude indicator, which tells you if you're pitch up or down, banked left or right, and yawed left to right. Below is a compass (this one is at 230, the MAG tells you that's 230 magnetic north.) To the right is the altimeter, currently reading 38,000 feet, or FL380. To the very right is the variometer, which measures vertical airspeed, it's currently at 0, so we're cruising steady at FL380. (You can tell we're at FL, Flight Levels, because of the STD pressure flag below.)

To the right is Indicated Airspeed (IAS), and this is the important one here. It's showing 250kts. Below that is the Machometer, it's reading .795 Mach, or .795 times the speed of sound. The plane is almost certainly not traveling at 250kts. However, we show IAS, not Calibrated or True airspeeds, because IAS is how the plane flies, and how various things like stall speed and never exceed speed are measured. So, we fly by KIAS, Knots Indicated Airspeed, because that's what they can measure in flight.

Now, look at the inside edge of that tape meter. Above 260kts, there's a red/black dashed line next to. Below about 212kts, there's a yellow line. This are speed regions, and in this case, you don't want either of them. The red indicates Mmo, Mach Overspeed. Above this you're close to critical mach, where the airflow separates from the wings and you lose lift, and you're going to Mach Tuck. Bad. This speed starts with an M, for Mach, because it's dependant of the speed of sound, which changes dramatically with temperature and somewhat with pressure. Since the air is very cold at FL380, Mach 1 is very different that it would be at sea level.

The yellow one is stall speed, Vss. If IAS drops below stall speed, the wings lose lift and you start falling from the sky. That's bad, but at FL380, you have a lot of time to recover, so it's yellow.

As a plane climbs, the air thins, and this has the effect of increasing the true airspeed (not indicated!) As this increases, you approach Mmo. This is the speed where the air over some part of the aircraft gets too close to the speed of sound, and on jet airliners, this results in the airflow separating from the wings and losing lift. So, as you climb, Mmo, in Indicated airspeed, appears to drop, because true airspeed becomes much faster than indicated. Vss stays the same. In fact, the true stall speed increases, but again, we fly planes based on KIAS, not KTAS.

Note that there's not a lot of room here. Mmo is 262 KIAS, Vss is 212. We're approaching the Q corner, more commonly known as the Coffin Corner. It's called a corner because when you graph these against altitude Vss, which stays mostly steady in terms of KIAS, and Mmo, the KIAS of which drops with altitude, you end up with a corner on the graph.

Now, with close to 50kts between Vss and Mmo, we're not in a bad place, but we need to pay attention. But these numbers are different for every plane, and in general, the higher you fly, the deeper you are into the corner. The U2 spy air fact flew *very* deep into the corner, often with less than 10 knots between Vss and Mmo, and it paid the price in a number of crashes.

Ok, then. What's that got to do with this?

That's a lot of setup, I'll admit, but that's what you need to know before understand what happened to AF447 and what might have happened here.

What happened to AF447 is that one of the pitot tube sets, which measures IAS, failed in some way, probably by freezing over. This gave the flight control systems multiple IAS, and it reverted to what Airbus calls Alternate Law, which is a different set of flight control rules. It also disconnected the autopilot. In Alternate Law, various protections that are in place disappear, because the control systems don't have reliable enough data to make sure that those protections would help. One of the first things that's lost is stall protection, because you have to have a reliable IAS to do that.

And, in the case of AF447, they pitched back a little bit, climbed, lost airspeed, and stalled. At least one of the pilots didn't recognize that they were stalling, and pulled the stick back, which stalled the plane further. It tumbled, hit Vne, broke apart, and fell.

So, what we have is two Airbus aircraft, an A340 and an A320, flying at cruise, in a storm situation, suddenly losing contact with ATC. We know what killed AF447, and if it turns out that QZ8501 failed in a similar way, Airbus is going to really need to look at how it's sensing IAS and how the flight control systems respond to losing that.
posted by eriko at 7:05 AM on December 29, 2014 [69 favorites]


I'm with Etrigan. That "gift" comment by the airline employee sounded callous to me when I first read it online, and I'm glad it was called out. Switching flights is not a gift. Knowing a couple hundred travelers perished on a flight you had a ticket on is not a gift. Surely there's a better word?

Survivor's guilt is a recognized form of PTSD. The family is grateful, I know, to god or the fates or coincidence. And they will be for a lifetime. But they have a tough road ahead and deserved a more compassionate response from the airline, who is in no position to bestow such a "gift."

.
posted by mochapickle at 7:06 AM on December 29, 2014


Switching flights is not a gift. Knowing a couple hundred travelers perished on a flight you had a ticket on is not a gift. Surely there's a better word?

Being non-religious, I think I would see it as complete chaos, and feel goddamn lucky, and guilty as hell.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:10 AM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Me too!
posted by mochapickle at 7:14 AM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


In fact I seem to recall that they had developed the new design prior to that crash. Is it possible that AirAsia would not have followed a safety bulletin regarding the tubes?

It is possible, alas.

Another possibility is they got caught in a massive wind shear situation. If they had a large tailwind, and then they hit wind sheer to a massive headwind, that might have thrown the plane well over Mmo. In the reverse, they'd be flying into a headwind, the engines would be running at lower power to keep the plane below Vne and well above Vss, then a sudden change to a tailwind would drop them well below Vne and they would stall out.

Indeed, when AF447 happened in a storm, wind shear was the guess of a lot of people, and given that they'd explicitly asked for a climb to (apparently) get over a storm, the possibility of wind shear definitely exists.

There are, of course, many other reasons why. Until we find the plane and get the FDR/CVR, we're speculating at best.
posted by eriko at 7:17 AM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Question for aviation experts: this article has a map of several other planes (I'm counting 12) that were in the area when QZ8501 lost contact. Are any of them close enough that there would have been any visual, had they been looking?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:20 AM on December 29, 2014


I doubt it; the scale on that map is quite large, the planes were likely at a variety of altitudes, and there was apparently foul weather in the area.
posted by ChuraChura at 7:32 AM on December 29, 2014


That "gift" comment by the airline employee sounded callous to me when I first read it online, and I'm glad it was called out.

Maybe this was just poorly-phrased comment from an employee in a really unusual and difficult circumstance straining to find something to say? I don't know why people want to dwell on this so much.
posted by spaltavian at 7:39 AM on December 29, 2014 [39 favorites]


Eriko's explanation (well done!) brings me back to the pilots' request to ascend 6,000 feet which was denied by controllers. It seems like such a move would have pushed them further into the "coffin corner;" could that be why it was denied? Could the request itself be an indication of the flight crew's awareness of their situation (or lack thereof)?
posted by underthehat at 7:39 AM on December 29, 2014


That "gift" comment by the airline employee sounded callous to me when I first read it online, and I'm glad it was called out.

I'm so glad there are people online willing to "call out" low-level employees for struggling to find the right words in their second or third language when attempting to explain to a family how narrowly they escaped with their lives given that 150 or so people just died.
posted by modernnomad at 7:57 AM on December 29, 2014 [53 favorites]


roomthreeseventeen: "Question for aviation experts: this article has a map of several other planes (I'm counting 12) that were in the area when QZ8501 lost contact. Are any of them close enough that there would have been any visual, had they been looking?"

You can look at FlightAware or a similar service to see similar live maps near you of commercial aircraft, which will give you a sense of the scale. Even if they're close together for planes, they are really far apart. (Plus sometimes if you get lucky you see a local news copter or life flight on the chart and can hear it going over at the same time.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:59 AM on December 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


There's nothing inherently wrong with flying at high altitude. As long as your instruments are working, anyway. My unfounded suspicion is a sudden shift in wind over top of a thunderstorm caused a stall that then led to upset that caused the engines to flame out, similar to what happened to the CRJ over Missouri some years back. (But caused by a wind shift rather than pilot stupidity)

Pretty sure in an Airbus that will get you alternate law controls, which sadly many Airbus pilots do not deal so well with, being used to having automagic protection from stupidity involving larger than necessary control inputs.

It's also completely possible there was just turbulence so severe it broke the plane. It has happened before, although it is very very rare.

Once they find the FDR we'll know, and chances are very high it will be found in the next week or two. I will probably look like an idiot when that does happen...
posted by wierdo at 8:05 AM on December 29, 2014


> Eriko's explanation (well done!) brings me back to the pilots' request to ascend 6,000 feet which was denied by controllers.

Their request wasn't denied - it was deferred - the air traffic controllers asked them to wait a little because there was a plane currently above them. Four minutes later, they had clearance but by then contact had been lost... (source)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:29 AM on December 29, 2014


The word "Airbus" has been mentioned 10 times in this thread already. For an accident where the wreckage hasn't even yet been found, you all seem overkeen with speculation on this fact. Unless you work for Boeing, you're not being paid to do this, so please don't.
posted by Thing at 8:31 AM on December 29, 2014




I don't think the speculation about the pitot tubes is unreasonable, Thing. There's no evidence yet of any kind of terrorism, and given the weather in the area and the request by the pilots to ascend to avoid it, looking at potential weather-related factors is logical. And since we have evidence in recent years of pitot tubes on airbus planes running into trouble at cruise altitudes in certain weather formations, and this too was an airbus plane, it's not unreasonable for amateur observers to wonder if something similar happened here...
posted by modernnomad at 8:39 AM on December 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


"The word "Airbus" has been mentioned 10 times in this thread already. For an accident where the wreckage hasn't even yet been found, you all seem overkeen with speculation on this fact. "

Wait, what? I'm not sure I understand your point. Ofcourse the flight was an Airbus A320-200. How is this disputed?
posted by I-baLL at 8:51 AM on December 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


It's also completely possible there was just turbulence so severe it broke the plane. It has happened before, although it is very very rare.

Planes nowadays are also much, much stronger, and in general, are inspected much more often to look for signs of structural damage. Here's a destructive test of a 777 wing, it failed at 154% of designed load limit in the early 1990s. They didn't test a complete 787 to failure, but they did test both wings simultaneously to the designed load of 150%, which led to a pretty dramatic shot. They did test just a wing to failure, it failed at 155% DLL.
posted by eriko at 9:02 AM on December 29, 2014 [6 favorites]


The word "Airbus" has been mentioned 10 times in this thread already.

It's known as a solid fact that the plane QZ8501 used was an Airbus A320-216. Currently, that's the only plane that Indonesia AirAsia flies, though they have 60 A320neo on order. There's no speculation on this.

The fact that it is an Airbus with a similar FBW control system, and crashed in similar circumstances as AF477 is very much relevant to the investigation, because it's a sign that there may be a systemic problem with the Airbus FBW systems. If that's the case, that problem needs to be rooted out and solved to prevent other planes from having issues in similar circumstances. This part is speculation at this time. But there's no question that it was an Airbus involved in this incident.
posted by eriko at 9:06 AM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


(y'all, I think it was trolling, or a bad attempt at a joke)
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 9:11 AM on December 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


eriko: If the elevator breaks, you're pretty much fucked, since it is what keeps the ass end of the plane below the front end, being essentially an upside down wing. Recall the AA A320 that lost its elevator on takeoff from JFK back in 2002. As I said, it's very rare, but is certainly a possibility in severe turbulence.

One hopes that inspections will uncover cracks before they become severe enough to risk loss in flight now that it's a known problem, but as the Alaska MD80 whose jackscrew failed some years back shows, even relatively well known airlines here in the US aren't always on top of maintenance.
posted by wierdo at 9:18 AM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


.
posted by stoneweaver at 9:29 AM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Spaltavian and modernnomad, I see your point. I had a fortunate misfortune some years ago, and people referred to it as a blessing and as God's will, and that never sat well with me. I see now how it's colored my view. This was a good reminder of that.

Perhaps those words from the employee were a deep comfort to the family. I retract my comment.

. for the families.
posted by mochapickle at 9:42 AM on December 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


Also - why airlines don't stream black box data.

Which is exactly why governments need to step in and mandate it. Even if governments absorb all the cost, I have to imagine that in a very cold calculus that would be more than offset by the massive cost of SAR operations, to say nothing of not leaving families grieving for weeks/forever.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:15 AM on December 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Weirdo, the AA flight that lost its vertical stabilizer (not elevator) was one of the last A300s used by the airline. You are maybe thinking of the Alaska Airlines crash?
posted by scolbath at 10:24 AM on December 29, 2014


I have to imagine that in a very cold calculus that would be more than offset by the massive cost of SAR operations, to say nothing of not leaving families grieving for weeks/forever.

How many actual cases are there where streaming black box data would matter? MH17, AF447, maybe this one?
posted by smackfu at 10:37 AM on December 29, 2014


Perhaps related, perhaps not, this article on the Air France crash was one of the best articles I read in 2014. It has a lot on Airbus and the issues with computer/pilot interaction.
posted by Mid at 10:54 AM on December 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


> AF447... broke apart

Or was "flown", while stalling, all the way to the water according to one analysis of the cockpit voice recorder.

> it's a sign that there may be a systemic problem with the Airbus FBW systems

This sounds like a definite problem to me:
Unlike the control yokes of a Boeing jetliner, the side sticks on an Airbus are "asynchronous"—that is, they move independently. "If the person in the right seat is pulling back on the joystick, the person in the left seat doesn't feel it," says Dr. David Esser, a professor of aeronautical science at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. "Their stick doesn't move just because the other one does, unlike the old-fashioned mechanical systems like you find in small planes, where if you turn one, the [other] one turns the same way." Robert has no idea that, despite their conversation about descending, Bonin has continued to pull back on the side stick.
posted by morganw at 12:41 PM on December 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


Is there a specific term for the fallacy that MH370, MH17, and QZ8501 all represent some kind of "pattern"? It's not quite gambler's fallacy.
posted by divabat at 1:46 PM on December 29, 2014




I'm with Etrigan. That "gift" comment by the airline employee sounded callous to me when I first read it online, and I'm glad it was called out.

why does an impolitic comment by a person during a disaster need to be publicly "called out"? you people need to be publicly shamed for being imperfect in trying and stressful situations? why are you so comfortable passing judgment on nuances of tact while they're actually grappling with disaster and your're sitting on the sidelines with the internet peanut gallery?
posted by jayder at 1:57 PM on December 29, 2014 [12 favorites]


Is there a specific term for the fallacy that MH370, MH17, and QZ8501 all represent some kind of "pattern"? It's not quite gambler's fallacy.

An instance of Baader-Meinhof, methinks.
posted by progosk at 2:04 PM on December 29, 2014


why are you so comfortable passing judgment on nuances of tact while they're actually grappling with disaster and your're sitting on the sidelines with the internet peanut gallery?

I wasn't calling for that employee to be pilloried. I was responding to someone who was already passing judgment (just apparently passing judgment that you personally agree with).
posted by Etrigan at 2:09 PM on December 29, 2014


Thanks to Eriko and weido for providing information of substance about the planes and flight in general!
posted by fshgrl at 3:38 PM on December 29, 2014


If the elevator breaks, you're pretty much fucked

This actually happened at an air race a few years ago. A souped up Mustang going, oh, 500 mph or so about 200 feet above the deck suddenly lost control, tumbled end over end, and crashed, killing the pilot. The NTSB investigation revealed that the elevator had separated from the plane, but that's not really the interesting part. The cause of the separation was that the mechanics had reused a nut that holds the elevator trim tab to the horizontal stabilizer, the tailplane started experiencing aerodynamic flutter, and the stresses were enough to break that (weakened) nut. (NTSB report)

The moral of the story is that aircraft are extraordinarily complex machines, including some of the advanced technology ever developed by humankind. I guarantee that the cause of this crash will turn out to be the same cause as just about every other crash in this history of air travel - a series of small mistakes and oversights that cascade into a catastrophic event.
posted by backseatpilot at 4:14 PM on December 29, 2014 [2 favorites]




.
posted by PROD_TPSL at 7:50 PM on December 29, 2014


The Guardian is reporting that wreckage might have been sighted. Both AFP and Reuters are saying this.
posted by Thing at 9:54 PM on December 29, 2014


PANGKALUN BUN, Indonesia (AFP) - Items resembling an emergency slide and plane door have been seen in the search for AirAsia flight QZ8501, which lost contact with air controllers on Sunday morning en route to Singapore's Changi Airport, Indonesia has said.

"We spotted about 10 big objects and many more small white-coloured objects which we could not photograph," Indonesian air force official Agus Dwi Putranto told a press conference.

"The position is 10km from the location the plane was last captured by radar," he said.

He displayed 10 photos of objects resembling a plane door, emergency slide, and a square box-like object.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:59 PM on December 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


People and/or bodies spotted
posted by BinGregory at 11:31 PM on December 29, 2014


From reddit regarding the press conference:
key points:

*At 1250 local, Indonesian C-130 spotted a 'plane-like' object underwater

*At just past 1300, same plane spotted what looked like a body.

*At 1350 Indonesian navy ship KRI Bung Tomo, found what is thought to be an emergency door of an airplane
posted by Golden Eternity at 11:52 PM on December 29, 2014


They found the bodies.
posted by divabat at 12:15 AM on December 30, 2014


The coverage of this wreck is among the most obscenely voyeuristic efforts I have ever seen. No one seems to be protecting distraught families from disgusting paparazzi-like media. What the fuck, media? Taking pictures of people the moment they see the first pictures of their loved ones' bodies? This seems worse on the Indonesian side, but US media are very happy showing mothers and fathers exploding with sorrow, close up.

Fucking vampires. It's a run of the mill stupid plane crash. It's not the whole world's holiday week show.

I swear the mere whiff of "terrorism" (TM) turns global and U.S. media into pigs rutting for truffles. Shut the hell up and put your cameras down and let people grieve without being filmed.

Fuckers.
posted by spitbull at 12:36 AM on December 30, 2014 [10 favorites]


Not to mention more Americans have died in car wrecks since this plane went down than were on this flight. But CNN doesn't have breathless 24/7 coverage of a three car pileup in Delaware or a drunk driving wreck in Texas.

Which proves all this speculative fascination by people unaffected by the tragedy is just grief and disaster porn.
posted by spitbull at 12:46 AM on December 30, 2014


Me three! Petes sake, hurling invicitives does not help: et. al.
posted by clavdivs at 1:19 AM on December 30, 2014


.................................................................................................................................................................

May all these families come to peace.
posted by PROD_TPSL at 2:35 AM on December 30, 2014


Which proves all this speculative fascination by people unaffected by the tragedy is just grief and disaster porn.

They're unaffected by it approximately as much as you are. I'm still hurting from the last 2 incidents myself, and I imagine there are a lot like me. The body shots should not, however, be used (in my view).
posted by Wolof at 2:53 AM on December 30, 2014


Why are you hurting from any of them Wolof?
posted by spitbull at 4:23 AM on December 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm not going to talk about that in a public place any more than I have already. I'm sorry if I find your rhetoric overblown and intemperate, doubtless the fault is mine; nonetheless, for me it's not just "grief and disaster porn". I hope this modest response will be modestly satisfactory — really, a C will do for this one, prof.
posted by Wolof at 5:10 AM on December 30, 2014 [7 favorites]


Hello again — arguing from emotion isn't a great place to come from, and I apologise for it, but can we admit it happens? My furry whiskers also detected a certain emotional force behind your own comment. It doesn't come from nowhere. Pax, and this is the last time I ever write two comments on a MeFi thread in a row.
posted by Wolof at 5:39 AM on December 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


Because it's unconscionable.
posted by Wolof at 6:06 AM on December 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm with Wolof. These last few incidents affected me deeply for personal reasons; it's not "disaster porn" on my end.
posted by divabat at 8:50 AM on December 30, 2014 [3 favorites]


And I thought you couldn't get worse than Don Lemon's "maybe a black hole swallowed MH370."

Don Lemon Among the Worst Journalists of 2014: Report
posted by homunculus at 6:39 PM on December 30, 2014


I think it's obscene for the media to be photographing the families' reactions to pictures of the bodies from the crash; I don't think they should be allowed to do that and those pictures should never be released or published.

However, I also think it's important that long-distance views of the crash scene are available for people around the world to see, to study, to speculate over, because those of us who feel linked to people we don't even know by the basic humanity we all share need to see that this plane actually did go down and the passengers and crew were killed - there is the plane, there are bodies and debris, and it is a plane wreck. The plane wasn't shot down and it didn't just disappear into nowhere. It's another probably-weather-related plane crash. They do happen from time to time, but not so often anymore, and when we consider how many plane flights there are a day over this globe, we'd expect it to happen more often.

My kids are just home from a Christmas trip to DisneyWorld and Nassau. They flew home and got in to Seattle last night. I am doubly aware at this moment of the terrible loss these people in Malasia have experienced - but yes, it's important that I know it and acknowledge it.
posted by aryma at 7:54 PM on December 30, 2014 [1 favorite]




because those of us who feel linked to people we don't even know by the basic humanity we all share need to see that this plane actually did go down and the passengers and crew were killed

I simply find this sentiment perplexing if not disingenuous. All over the world thousands of people are facing horrible, tragic deaths right now. You will never hear about most of them, let alone witness their deaths or the aftermath. "Connected by common humanity" is a lovely sentiment, but if your relative's naked, bloated body was floating on the ocean I think you'd feel differently about millions gawking at it on CNN. We are not all victims here.
posted by spitbull at 1:51 PM on January 1, 2015


And also there was never any doubt except among media conspiracy theory types and their followers that this plane actually did go down and everyone was killed. MAS 370 and MAS 17 were highly anomalous events -- neither related to the other or to this one, and one at least an act of human intention, which is far more sinister to comprehend and behold. This one was a run of the mill weather/pilot error/ATC error/mechanical error (usually all of the above)/we're going to find the plane in the morning crash of the kind that happens a few times a year somewhere in the world. If it had been a Russian plane or a Gambian plane, no one would care this much. It was just the coincidence that there was some tiny connection to Malaysia that made this FPP-worthy, and the subject of the media frenzy (learned behavior because CNN hugely boosted its audience while MAS 370 was a big *mystery* story). But almost anyone who actually knew anything about aviation knew how this would end within minutes of hearing the context, and no one doubted the passengers were dead except the relatives who did so as a defense mechanism.

You can almost feel the disappointment in Anderson Cooper's voice.
posted by spitbull at 1:57 PM on January 1, 2015


spitbull: As the person who made the FPP, who has flown AirAsia (and Malaysia Airlines) tons of times, who is Malaysian, who spent two months of my life factchecking and analysing news reports and immersing myself in the news about MH370, who still gets questions about the connection between MH370 and MH17 and QZ8501 as though there has to be an obvious link, who used to get "Is that even a country?" when asked where I'm from and now gets "Missing plane!", who has to deal with people making stupid assumptions about Malaysia and Asian aviation standards and all kinds of Islamophobic xenophobic racist shit because of these three flights specifically despite there having been at least 5 other flights in 2014 that went down without much reaction...

Please do not presume to know what my motives were, thanks.
posted by divabat at 6:32 PM on January 1, 2015 [6 favorites]


Oh, and the idea that QZ8501 was connected to the two Malaysia Airlines flights was EVERYWHERE. Every Fucking Where. You didn't have to be a conspiracy theorist to subscribe to it. Over and over and over again: "why does Malaysia keep losing planes!?" "Why are Asian aviation standards so bad?!" "Why are Muslims so bad at flying!?" "Why can we track a phone but not a plane?!"

Over and over and fucking over.

I just saw a Reddit AMA request for a MAS/AA pilot that asked those exact same questions. The person asking was not a conspiracy theorist.

Conspiracy theorists think it's HAARP or Taliban or pro-Anwar or Israel or US military.
Regular people think Malaysia sucks at flying. Regular people think all three flights have a direct link.
posted by divabat at 6:35 PM on January 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


Regular people think all three flights have a direct link.

Really? That seems like it should be obvious conspiracy theory nonsense to 'regular' people. MH17 was clearly shot down over a conflict zone. This incident looks somewhat similar to AF447: either confusion due to iced up pitot tubes caused the pilots to stall the plane, or there was a flame out or other mechanical failure.

"Why can we track a phone but not a plane?!"

Heh:

@QueenmummPosh: Please stop w/"we can find iPhones but not jets" musings. #QZ8501 has iPhones too, so where are they? Your clothes hamper is not an ocean...

There was a comment on pprune by a pilot saying that all of the equipment needed to track a plane is already there, just not being used. I think improvement is certainly needed and should be mandated, whether it is enabling existing or adding new equipment. Pilots insist that any electronics on a plane must be capable of being disconnected from the main power bus. That is fine: have the transmitter run off of a battery for a few hours when disconnected.

ELT equipment is inadequate as well, it seems. It took an inexcusably long time to find the plane considering it landed 10km away from where contact was lost. Apparently, the ELT didn't even activate for some reason. I don't see why aircraft don't have detachable floating ELT's similar to maritime beacons.

It also seems that recovery from a high altitude stall or flame out needs to be added to a regular regimen of flight simulator training for all airline pilots.
posted by Golden Eternity at 7:48 PM on January 1, 2015


Really? That seems like it should be obvious conspiracy theory nonsense to 'regular' people.

You'd think so, but sadly not :(
posted by divabat at 7:56 PM on January 1, 2015


Given that the weather has been poor, I'm not surprised it took a few days to find debris.
posted by wierdo at 3:07 PM on January 2, 2015


The information slowly coming out is sounding very disturbing to me: the fact that the Indonesian authorities are saying the crashed Air Asia flight was illegal (they didn't have permit to fly the route) and that they've suspended the control tower staff who let them take off. The radio this morning was saying how Air Asia just cancelled their maiden direct flight to Bali over permit issues - giving their passengers a mere 24 hours advance notice. Apparently they're perfectly fine selling plane tickets to destinations they don't even have permission to fly to!

In particular, it seems to me (speculation) that the Air Asia flight might have been flying straight through the worst of the storm because the other (legal) flights on the route were flying in the clearer weather over the "top" of the storm hence their initial request for a higher flight level was denied due to congestion, as mentioned in the reports.

It's not just that Air Asia may have voided their flight insurance (as the flight is illegal, so no claim) but if it can be shown that this led them to flying through a more dangerous route, oh boy...
posted by xdvesper at 3:34 PM on January 5, 2015


The request wasn't denied, it was deferred - once they managed to approve it they couldn't get back in touch with the airline.
posted by divabat at 3:48 PM on January 5, 2015


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