December 31, 2014 – 10:41AM
Rescue workers carry debris recovered from the ocean, presumed to be part of the AirAsia plane. Photo: Reuters
Surabaya: Investigators into the AirAsia flight which crashed into the sea off Indonesia are focusing on the timing of the crew’s request to climb to a higher altitude to avoid bad weather as a possible factor behind the tragedy, a source close to the probe said.
As Indonesian ships and aircraft recovered debris and bodies from AirAsia Flight QZ8501, the investigation into what happened on Sunday, when the aircraft carrying 162 people disappeared from radars, has only just begun.
The recovery of the plane and bodies was due to begin again at first light. Photo: Getty Images
Among the early lines of inquiry is whether the crew could have asked to ascend, or climbed on their own initiative in case of emergency, at an earlier stage, and what role storms in the area might have played.
“We know that the weather was very bad in this area, there was a storm,” said the official, who declined to be named as he was not authorised to speak to the press. “Why did he [the pilot] request to climb at that stage? Should he have climbed earlier? Other aircraft were flying at a higher altitude in that area. How did the two pilots react to the weather? We are asking those questions.”
Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee will lead the investigation into the crash of the Airbus A320, together with representatives from the United States, France and Britain, according to the source.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo addresses the media on Tuesday night. Photo: AFP
He said evidence such as radar data, weather reports, and the communication between the pilots and air traffic control has been gathered and is being studied.
The “black box” flight recorders have yet to be located, however, and the source cautioned that it was too early to draw firm conclusions as to what went wrong.
The plane’s captain, Iriyanto, 53, spent more than 10 years as a pilot trainer before flying with airlines including Merpati Airlines, Adam Air and, for the last three years, AirAsia. The former fighter pilot also flew with the Indonesian Air Force, according to friends and family.
AirAsia boss Tony Fernandes said there were “some very unique weather conditions” in the area at the time. While saying it would be “improper” to speculate on a cause, Mr Fernandes said he had spoken with Indonesian President Joko Widodo “about some of the information that we [AirAsia] have about what could have gone wrong”.
“We cannot make any assumptions about what went wrong,” he said on Tuesday. “All I can say is that the weather in south-east Asia is bad at the moment,” he said.
According to Indonesian authorities, at 6.12am on Sunday, 36 minutes after taking off from Surabaya’s Juanda Airport on a flight to Singapore, the pilot of the doomed aircraft asked for permission from Jakarta air traffic control to climb 6000 feet to 38,000 feet and deviate to the left to avoid bad weather.
Two minutes later, Jakarta responded by asking QZ8501 to go left seven miles and climb to 34000 feet. There was no response from the cockpit. The aircraft was still detected by the ATC’s radar for another three minutes before disappearing at 6.18am.
According to flightradar24.com, a website that uses radar data to track aircraft live, other aircraft in the area were flying between 34,000 and 39,000 feet when QZ8501 disappeared.
Investigators are looking at the crash of Air France flight AF447 in 2009 for possible clues to what happened on Sunday. The investigation into that flight showed the co-pilot lost speed readings due to icing, and his panic reaction put the plane into a stall which the rest of the crew failed to recognise, sending the aircraft plunging into Atlantic.
“No two accidents are the same. But there are similar conditions like the weather, and we must look into it very closely,” said a second source, a former air crash investigator in Indonesia.
Source : The Canberra Times