Why the Search for Missing AirAsia Flight Is Different From MH 370

PHOTO: An official from Indonesias national search and rescue agency in Medan, North Sumatra points at his computer screen to the position where AirAsia flight QZ8501 went missing off the waters of Indonesia, Dec. 28, 2014. PlaySUTANTA ADITYA/AFP/Getty Images
WATCH Search Efforts Continue for Missing AirAsia Flight 8501

The disappearance of an AirAsia jetliner off the coast of Indonesia immediately brought comparisons to the missing Malaysian Flight MH370, which disappeared during a flight between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing last march.

Neither flight issued a distress call and both were run by Malaysia-based airlines. But there are key differences that could help authorities find the AirAsia plane as opposed to MH370, which remains missing.

Early Sunday morning, AirAsia Flight QZ8501 went missing from radar at 6:17 a.m. local time on a flight from Surabaya, Indonesia to Singapore. There were 162 people onboard. The plane remains missing after a day of searching by Indonesian authorities.

One major difference between the two flights is that the presumed location of the AirAsia Airbus A320-200 is in the relatively shallow waters of the Java Sea, as opposed to the deep waters of the Indian Ocean, where MH370 disappeared.

AirAsia Airbus A320-200 Map flight path with timesABC News
AirAsia Airbus A320-200 Map flight path with times

John Nance, an aviation expert and former pilot in the Air Force, said the Java Sea will be far easier to search because the waters are much shallower and better known.

"It'll be easier because it's very well mapped," said Nance.

Nance also pointed out that the pilot had reported severe weather and asked to change altitude immediately before the plane vanished from radar.

"Since there was no emergency call from the crew, whatever happened, happened suddenly," he said.

Flight control last spoke to the Air Asia pilot at 6:13 and it was seen on radar until 6:16. One minute later it went missing.

PHOTO: This photograph from April 2014 shows Indonesia AirAsia’s Airbus A320-200 PK-AXC in the air near Jakarta Soekarno–Hatta International Airport.Achdiyatma Reza
This photograph from April 2014 shows Indonesia AirAsia’s Airbus A320-200 PK-AXC in the air near Jakarta Soekarno–Hatta International Airport.

When MH370 disappeared from Malaysian radar, it took 17 minutes for air traffic control in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, to realize the plane was missing and contact Malaysian controllers to ask about the location of the plane.

The pilots of MH370 did not report bad weather or any distress before losing contact with air traffic controllers.

It is also believed that MH 370 kept flying long after it dropped contact with air traffic control and its transponder was turned off, adding to the mystery of what could have happened on board.

Nance said it is unlikely the AirAsia flight could have kept flying after disappearing from radar because it would have likely shown up on either military or civilian radar centers surrounding the Java Sea.

While the missing flight MH 370 was flown on a much larger Boeing 777, compared to Air Asia's Airbus A320-200, Nance said any debris from the planes would be similarly visible by search planes.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.