With Indonesian officials announcing on Tuesday that they were 95 percent certain that debris found in the waters off the island of Borneo belonged to AirAsia Flight QZ8501, fears that the missing aircraft would never be found seem to have been laid to rest. The disappearance of the plane, which went missing Sunday, had immediately triggered comparisons with the ill-fated Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which has yet to be found since it went missing in March.
Even before reports of the possible discovery of Flight 8501’s debris started coming in, many aviation experts had pointed out that the search for the AirAsia plane was unlikely to be as daunting as that for Flight MH370, which has triggered one of the most extensive and expensive search operations in aviation history. Reports on Tuesday, just over two days after the plane went missing, said that debris and bodies from the plane had been recovered from the Java Sea, about 100 miles southwest of Pangkalan Bun.
“The area of the Java Sea where the AirAsia plane went missing is typically 40 to 50 meters (130 to 164 feet) deep -- compared with the 4,000 meter-plus depths complicating the MH370 search,” Simon Boxall, a UK-based oceanographer, told NBC News. “It's relatively shallow water and it's close to land so they can use helicopters, rather than spending hours just getting to the search area.”
— Jason Morrell (@CNNJason) December 29, 2014
Moreover, because the area of the Java Sea where AirAsia’s Airbus A320 aircraft is suspected to have crashed is a commonly used shipping channel and sees heavy traffic daily, finding the wreckage was expected to be much easier.
— MarineTraffic (@MarineTraffic) December 30, 2014
Another major difference between the two incidents is that Flight 8501 was in direct radar and radio contact, and the pilot had reportedly been communicating normally only minutes before the disappearance -- thus allowing authorities to narrow down the search area -- unlike MH370, which stopped making radio transmission long before the plane vanished.
“In this case (Flight 8501) you had normal communications with the pilot, a line of weather that appeared to be pretty difficult, severe, and he was asking to climb as high as he could to get out of it,” Peter Goelz, an aviation expert and former National Transportation Safety Board official, told CNN.