Pilot response to equipment malfunction led to Air Asia QZ8501 crash

(CNN) The way pilots responded to a technical malfunction resulted in the crash of Air Asia Flight QZ8501, investigators said Tuesday.

The ill-fated plane was en route to Singapore from the Indonesian city of Surabaya on December 28 last year when it crashed into the Java Sea, killing all 162 people on board.

The plane’s flight control computer had a cracked solder joint that kept malfunctioning. Aircraft maintenance records found it had malfunctioned 23 times in the year before the crash, and the interval of those became shorter in the three months prior to the crash.

“Subsequent flight crew action resulted in inability to control the aircraft… causing the aircraft to depart from the normal flight envelope and enter a prolonged stall condition that was beyond the capability of the flight crew to recover,” Indonesia’s National Transport Safety Committee said in a report.

In other words, “it’s a series of technical failures but it’s the pilot response that leads to the plane crashing,” CNN’s aviation correspondent Richard Quest said.

Pilot training weakness

The investigation, a joint effort involving Australian, French, Singaporean and Malaysian authorities, point to weaknesses in pilot training, which heavily emphasizes take off and landing, Quest said.

Because cruising involves such high speeds, responding without complete precision can often be disastrous, Quest said.

“A huge amount of training is done on take off and landing and traditionally of course is 70-80% (of when accidents take place), only 10% takes part in the cruise phase of flight. But if something does happen in the cruise phase of flight, it does typically end up fatal.”

Plane ascended rapidly before crash

Preliminary findings from the NTSC earlier this year said roughly 35 minutes into the two hour flight, the pilot asked air traffic control for permission to climb to avoid stormy weather.

The plane went from cruising at 32,000 feet, ascending steeply to 37,400 in about 30 seconds — something commercial planes are not designed to do. It may have been climbing at a rate twice as fast as it could and should, one analyst told CNN.

Minutes later, the plane disappeared from radar.

Although the area was experiencing turbulent weather patterns, seven other planes flying nearby landed safely.

Malaysia-based Air Asia did not have the clearance to fly the route on that particular day.

String of disasters in region

Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee issued several recommendations to Air Asia, Airbus as well as Indonesian, US and European aviation regulatory bodies but the statement did not detail what they are.

The crash is one in a string of aviation disasters, including the mysterious disappearance of MH370, to occur in Southeast Asia.

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