On December 28, Air Asia Flight QZ8501 suddenly ascended during an extreme thunderstorm, then crashed into the Java Sea with the loss of all 162 people aboard. Now a Germanwings A320 has crashed into the Alps with the loss of all 150 people aboard. In this case, the weather was normal and the plane was at an altitude of 38,000 feet when it went into a vertical dive and disintegrated on impact. During the descent, the pilots did not radio a distress call, indicating either that the situation was such that they could not do so, or that they were not in control of the aircraft. The White House has stated that it has no indication that terrorism might have been involved, but the fact that the flight descended for 8 minutes with no distress call leaves that possibility open.

The lack of a distress call and the loss of radio contact with air traffic control during the rapid descent suggests that some sort of extraordinary emergency was involved. The French aviation authority has announced that one of the plane’s two black box recorders was recovered at the crash site.

The cause of the Air Asia crash is still under investigation, but is thought to involve a combination of an extraordinary updraft in an unusual thunderstorm and either pilot error or loss of control due to the extreme weather event. Weather in the region of the Germanwings crash was normal and there were no storms in the area.

The A320 is thought to be one of the safest planes in the air, but at the Paris Air Show on June 26, 1988, Air France flight 296 crashed during a routine flyover due to the fact that the pilots were unable to apply full go-around power to the engines when the plane flew too low. This was because the plane’s computer system went into a mode designed to prevent a stall, and ceased to respond to commands from the flight deck. 

The pilots were accused of making errors so extreme that they were tried for and convicted of involuntary manslaughter. But a National Geographic documentary contended that the flight recorders had been tampered with to cover up a software design fault. Airbus Industrie offered a rebuttal, but the matter was never completely resolved.

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