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Few Common Factors Between 2014's Airline Disasters


It has been two days and still no sign of the AirAsia jetliner that disappeared over the Java Sea. There's been no confirmation of why the plane went down either. The Airbus A320 had 155 passengers and 7 crew members onboard and was on route from Indonesia to Singapore.


Joining us now is John Cox, an aviation safety consult, accident investigator and a former commercial pilot. He's monitoring the AirAsia story from Tampa, Florida. There's a lot we don't know about the disappearance of this plane. What do we know at this point?

JOHN COX: We know that the airplane was operating in areas where there were large groups of thunderstorms. We know that they requested a deviation around the thunderstorms and they requested a change in altitude. Something occurred after those requests that required the attention of the crew. Air traffic control realized that the airplane was no longer on radar very quickly and notified the appropriate authorities. And right now, that's about all we know.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: As you just mentioned, they were trying to avoid a storm cloud when they lost communication with air traffic control. Is it too soon to speculate that bad weather was the reason for their disappearance?

COX: Professional pilots deal with thunderstorms on a very regular basis, and we go around them. We circumnavigate them. You don't fly through thunderstorms. So the fact that there were thunderstorms in the area does not mean that that is a causal factor. That's going to be one of the questions that the investigators are going to have to look at and answer.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, you talk about these investigators. People have been searching for this plane for two days now. Are you surprised, at this stage, that no sign of it has been found?

COX: Well, the first day after an accident is usually consumed, for the most part, about moving the assets that you need to conduct the search and rescue. So there's very little actual searching that can go on. It's the second day and beyond where you have the assets in place - the crews, the airplanes, all of those things. So it's really day two when the search in full begins to take place.

I was very hopeful that they would find the airplane today. They did not. So at first light in the morning, they will resume the search. I'm pretty confident based on history that we'll find it pretty quickly.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: AirAsia is based in Malaysia, and this is the second time this year that a plane from that country has literally disappeared from the radar. And of course there was that terrible tragedy when one of their planes was shot out of the sky over Ukraine. Is there something that connects these incidents?

COX: Over the last two days, I've been looking extensively, trying to see if there are any common links between these three tragedies, and I cannot find one. The Malaysian Flight 017 over Ukraine was shot down, deliberately, by incompetence, be what it will. But the 777 of Malaysia Airlines that disappeared is unprecedented. We do not know what happened to that airplane yet. AirAsia is a much more typical accident. It was on radar. It was noticed quickly that there was a problem, that it was down. The search and rescue started. And at this point, I cannot find any common factors between these three tragedies.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: John Cox is an aviation safety consultant and former commercial pilot. Thank you so much for joining us.

COX: My pleasure. Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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