Let’s get it out of the way: there is little in common between the apparent loss of AirAsia Flight QZ 8501 and the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 370.
But Flight 8501’s disappearance does have at least some resemblance to the 2007 loss of Adam Air Flight 547. Both Indonesian airliners disappeared shortly after contact was lost in bad weather. Both disappeared in Indonesian airspace — the AirAsia flight over the Java Sea; the Adam Air Flight over the Makassar Strait.
Bad Weather vs. Pilot Inputs
The speculation after the Adam Air crash was that the flight was brought down by severe weather — weather that the crew had been warned about. But that turned out to be wrong. Adam Air Flight 547 went down because the crew fixated on troubleshooting a problem with the aircraft’s navigation system, not because of weather. The crew became so preoccupied withthe navigation system that they allowed the aircraft to slowly roll into a steep bank. They allowed the nose to point down and the aircraft to build too much speed. When the pilot figured out was going on and tried to recover, his control inputs broke the wings.
But the AirAsia Crew Had Requested a Deviation for Bad Weather
Unlike the Adam Air crew, the AirAsia pilots had requested from Air Traffic Control a clearance to climb to a higher altitude but didn’t immediately get it. A short time later, all contact with the airliner was lost. Isn’t that a strong indication that rough weather may have been a factor?
First, while small aircraft are often brought down by rough weather, it’s extremely rare for an airliner to be. Airliners avoid rough weather largely for comfort rather than for safety. Second, although Air Traffic Control delayed in giving the AirAsia flight a clearance to climb, the pilots were free to do so immediately in the unlikely event the weather posed a risk to the aircraft’s safety.
But while it’s rare for an airliner to be brought down by turbulence, it’s quite possible for an airliner to be brought down by a pilot’s reaction to that turbulence.
Airbus Rudder System
That’s exactly what happened to American Airlines Flight 587 in 2001. The aircraft encountered turbulence climbing out of JFK. The co-pilot tried to correct by pushing on the rudder with his foot. He pushed too hard and the aerodynamic forces caused structural failure. The airliner crashed and killed all 260 aboard and 5 on the ground.
American Airlines 587 was an Airbus A300. More then 10 years after that crash, the FAA required all 300 series aircraft to be modified to warn the pilot to "stop rudder inputs" when structural damage becomes a risk, a modification that I felt was inadequate. Flight 8501 was an Airbus A320. That’s the same model which the NTSB called flawed because its rudder system was too sensitive:
The Airbus A320 family is . . .susceptible to potentially hazardous rudder pedal inputs at higher airpeeds.