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Did Nari storm microburst cause Lao Airlines crash?

October 21, 2013 Aviation, Headline News No Comments Email Email

egtmedia59Tropical storm Nari, which began as a typhoon, is thought to have been behind last week’s tragic and fatal Lao Airlines crash which took the lives of 49 people from 11 countries, including six Australians.

Investigators are focusing on a severe microburst associated with the storm as the probable cause. A microburst is a sudden downdraft of wind so strong it can flatten fully grown trees.

Nari, a typhoon which tore through Vietnam’s central region last week, killed at least 19 people in that country and led to the evacuation of 122,000 others. It also did major damage in the Philippines and was battering the southern and central provinces of Laos at the time of the crash.Microburst

The new Lao Airlines ATR72-600 twin-engine turboprop plunged into the Mekong River while operating a domestic sector between Vientiane to Pakse airport. The accident killed all aboard. It happened in poor visibility caused by tropical storm Nari and aviation analysts speculate that it could have been caused by a microburst associated with the storm.

A witness told a Lao newspaper that the plane “lost its balance” when about to land after being hit by very strong winds. The pilots tried to bring the plane back up, the paper added, but it plunged into the river.

Geoffrey Thomas, founder of Perth-based airlineratings.com, told Melbourne’s Age newspaper that he rated Lao Airlines as a “four out of seven star airline” before the crash because it had not participated in an audit conducted by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

Of the 41 main passenger airlines operating in South East Asia, only 13 airlines have been IOSA (IATA Operational Safety Audit) certified, airlineratings.com notes.

Registering for IOSA certification and audit is not mandatory. An airline without IOSA certification may have either failed the audit or chosen not to participate in it.

Statistics show that airlines that have passed the IOSA audit are 4.3 times safer, on average, than airlines that have not received their certification.

Airlines in South East Asia that have completed IOSA are:

  • Vietnam Airlines
  • Bangkok Air
  • Thai Airways
  • Thai Smile
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Silk Air
  • Orient Thai Airlines
  • Philippine Airlines
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • MASwings (subsidiary of Malaysian Airlines)
  • Garuda Indonesia
  • Royal Brunei
  • Myanmar International

Lao Airlines is one of the 28 South East Asian airlines that has not participated in IOSA.

Crash investigators consider a severe microburst is likely to have been behind the crash.

A microburst is a sudden downdraft of air which can travel at up to 270km/h and affect an area as wide as 4km in diameter. When it slams into the ground, the air is pushed out in all directions at high speed, rather like water from a gushing tap hitting a hard surface.

A microburst can hit an aircraft first with a headwind, then a downdraft and finally a tailwind.

The Lao Airlines plane involved in the crash was new, having been delivered from the French manufacturers in March this year, but it may have been no match for a microburst.

Written by Peter Needham

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