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AirAsia crash mirrors other recent weather-related accidents

The operational conditions affecting the missing AirAsia Airbus A320 before it crashed into the Java Sea with no emergency call appear to mirror the circumstances surrounding two other recent accidents. The Indonesia-led search of the sea between Sumatra and Borneo continues.

The AirAsia aircraft was cruising at 32,000ft en route Surabaya-Singapore when the crew made a call to air traffic control reporting the need to climb to 38,000ft and change heading to avoid bad weather. After that no more calls were heard by ATC or by aircraft in the vicinity. The aircraft was lost from radar shortly after, and automatic dependent surveillance transmissions from the aircraft stopped.

The first of the apparently similar events took place earlier this year. On 24 July a Swiftair Boeing MD-83, flying from Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso to Algiers, also went missing shortly after the pilots reported changing course to avoid storm clouds. About two days later the wreckage was found in desert terrain in Mali.

On 1 June 2009 an Air France A330, flight AF447, was lost in the inter-tropical convergence zone over the South Atlantic ocean while the pilots were known to be manoeuvring to avoid storm clouds. The aircraft’s flight data and cockpit voice recorders were eventually recovered, revealing that the pilots had been confused by icing-related loss of airspeed information for less than a minute, but quickly lost control of the aircraft.

In another weather-related loss on 16 August 2005, a West Caribbean Airways MD-80 flying from Panama City to Martinique went out of control while the pilots were discussing how to deal with the airframe and engine icing the aircraft seemed to be suffering. The crew were cleared by ATC to descend because they said they could not maintain altitude. The stall warning is known to have operated during the descent, which took 3.5min from cruise at 33,000ft to impact with the ground.

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