Pilots' response to problem in jet caused air catastrophe
Accident investigators have blamed a catastrophic combination of pilot error and a repeatedly malfunctioning plane part for the crash of an AirAsia passenger jet that killed all 162 people on board.
The flight operated by the budget airline of Tony Fernandes, the Malaysian entrepreneur who owns British club Queens Park Rangers, disappeared from radar over the Java Sea en route from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore last December.
The problems for the doomed flight began with a faulty rudder control system that caused repeated warnings to sound in the cockpit of the Airbus A320-200, Indonesia's National Transportation Safety Committee said.
After the fourth such alert, the crew appeared to have pulled the circuit-breakers to try to reset the control system to clear the problem, according to analysis of Flight QZ8501's recovered data recorder.
But in the process, they disengaged the autopilot system and the plane began to roll alarmingly. As they desperately tried to re-establish control, they stalled the plane, causing it to plunge into the sea before any distress signals could be issued.
The investigators said that there was no indication that stormy weather in the area played a part in the crash.
The loss of the AirAsia plane was the third disaster last year for Malaysian-based airlines. Flight MH370 disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing and Flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine.
Two fatal crashes of domestic Indonesian airlines in August and October this year have also raised concerns about flight safety in the region.
In their final report into the loss of QZ8501, the investigators said that soldering on the rudder control system was cracked.
Aircraft maintenance records later revealed the plane suffered problems with the rudder system 23 times in the 12 months prior to the crash, as well as the four times during the final flight.
"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," the investigators said.
After the report was released, Mr Fernandes expressed his "deep sorrow" for all the families affected by the tragedy and promised to learn lessons to make the industry safer.
"There is much to be learned here for AirAsia, the manufacturer and the aviation industry," he said. "We will not leave any stone unturned to make sure the industry learns from this tragic incident.
"These are scars that are left on me forever but I remain committed to make AirAsia the very best.
"We owe it to the families and my crew."
Mr Fernandes bought the heavily-indebted state-owned AirAsia in 2001 when it had just two planes and built it into a the region's first discount "no-frills" airline with franchises in several countries and operating under then slogan: "Now everyone can fly".
He bought the majority shareholding in QPR in 2011 and Forbes estimated his net worth this year at $530m.
A huge search operation involving ships and aircraft from several countries was launched after the plane suddenly lost contact with air traffic controllers on what should have been a short flight.
The disappearance prompted initial comparisons with the MH370 mystery but wreckage was later found after a lengthy hunt hampered by stormy weather and strong seas.
Investigators said that the Remi Plesel, the French co-pilot, was at the controls just before the crash as Capt Iriyanto, the more experienced pilot with 20,000 hours of flying time, had left his seat to try to deal with the control system. (©Daily Telegraph London)