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Stalling Cited as Possible Cause in AirAsia Crash

Investigators walk near a section of the tail of AirAsia Flight QZ8501 passenger plane in Kumai Port, near Pangkalan Bun, Central Kalimantan, Jan. 11, 2015.

Now that the data and voice recorders from AirAsia flight 8501 have been found, investigators are closer to finding out what caused the plane to crash on December 28. Some are suggesting a high altitude stall in bad weather.

The flight data recorder from AirAsia flight 8501 is drying out before it can be examined. It and the cockpit voice recorder were retrieved from the bottom of the Java Sea. Data recorders can indicate what happened. The two hours of talk between the pilots and air traffic control could tell us why the plane crashed.

Given the circumstances, however, experts have an idea.

Pilots aboard the Airbus A320 asked to climb to a higher altitude to avoid heavy monsoons, but air traffic control denied their request. It’s thought the plane may have been cruising below its normal speed in the thin air at a high attitude and lost lift, causing it to stall. Pilots are taught an easy fix to a stall - they are to point the nose down to gain airspeed and increase lift.

It’s not the first time a stall has caused a crash.

National Transportation Safety Board Acting Chairman Christopher Hart.

“It would come under the topic that we have procedural compliance. We saw, Asiana, Asiana for example, where they almost stalled. We saw in Colgan where it stalled, so it’s an issue in all airplanes with the focus on that issue for general aviation," said Hart.

Hart is talking about the procedures pilots are supposed to follow in a stall.

Asiana Flight 214 came in too low and too slowly to San Francisco in July 2013. Facing an impending stall, pilots tried to abort the landing but were too late and the plane crashed into a seawall. The same with Colgan Flight 3407, when pilots did not react to stall warnings quickly enough, and the plane crashed into a house on approach to Buffalo, New York in February 2009.

The NTSB has not yet been asked by the Indonesian government to assist in the investigation of AirAsia Flight 8501.

The plane was flying from Surabaya, Indonesia to Singapore late last month when it crashed into the Java Sea. One hundred-sixty-two people were killed.

The commander of the Western Fleet of the Indonesian Navy, Rear Admiral Widodo, says the search will not end with recovery of the flight recorders.

He says Indonesian forces will keep looking for the plane's main cabin in search of bodies," Widodo.

More than 100 bodies are thought to still be in the fuselage, which is somewhere on the bottom of the Java Sea.

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    Carolyn Presutti

    Carolyn Presutti is an Emmy, Silver World Medal, AP Broadcaster’s Best of Show, and Clarion award-winning television correspondent who works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters. She has also won numerous TV, Radio, Multimedia, and Digital awards for her TV/Web coverage of Muslim Portraits, The Syrian Medical Crisis, Haiti, The Boston Marathon Bombing, Presidential Politics, The Southern Economy, Google Glass & Other Wearables, and the 9/11 Anniversary.  Presutti was VOA’s Nathanson Scholar to the Aspen Institute and VOA’s delegate to the U.S. government’s Executive Leadership Program (ELP).

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