Investigators – AirAsia Captain Left Seat Before Jet Lost Control

January 31, 2015 4:18 pm

The captain of the AirAsia jet
that crashed into the sea in December was out of his seat conducting an
unorthodox procedure when his co-pilot apparently lost control, and by
the time he returned it was too late to save the plane. Details emerging of the final moments of Flight QZ8501 are
likely to focus attention partly on maintenance, procedures and
training, though Indonesian officials have stressed publicly that it is
too early to draw any firm conclusions.

The Airbus A320 jet plunged into the Java Sea while en
route from Surabaya, Indonesia, to Singapore on Dec. 28, killing all 162
people on board.
It had been suffering maintenance faults with a key flight control
computer for over a week, and one person familiar with the matter said
the captain had flown on the same plane with the intermittently faulty
device just days before the crash.AirAsia said it
would not comment while the matter was under investigation by the
National Transportation Safety Committee (NTSC) of Indonesia.

The maintenance problems on the
Flight Augmentation Computer (FAC), and the way the pilots reacted to
them, were at the heart of the investigation.

After
trying to reset this device, pilots pulled a circuit-breaker to cut its
power. People
familiar with the matter said it was the Indonesian captain
Iriyanto who took this step, rather than his less experienced French
co-pilot Remy Plesel, who was flying the plane.

The
outage would not directly upset the aircraft but would remove flight
envelope protection, which prevents a pilot from taking a plane beyond
its safety limits, leaving the junior pilot to fly the jet manually in
delicate high altitude conditions.

The decision to
cut off the FAC has surprised people following the investigation because
the usual procedure for resetting it is to press a button on the
overhead panel.

Lawyers for the family of the French co-pilot say they
have filed a lawsuit against AirAsia in Paris for “endangering the lives
of others” by flying the route without official authorisation on that
day. Investigators have said the accident was not related to the permit
issue.
AirAsia did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the lawsuit.
Although more is becoming known about the chain of events,
people familiar with the investigation warned against making
assumptions on the accident’s cause, which needed more analysis.

Safety experts say air crashes are most often caused by a
chain of events, each of which is necessary but not sufficient to
explain the underlying causes of the accident.
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