The Lion Air Boeing 737 MAX jet that crashed in Indonesia is feared to have killed almost 200 people. The reason for the crash is so far unknown, but the incident has reignited concerns about safe flying.
Indonesian authorities are sifting through the debris of a crashed Lion Air plane that plunged into the Java Sea with 189 people on board. Their task will involve identifying body parts and picking through bits of fuselage trying to pinpoint the smashed jet's location. They will also be looking for flight data recorders expected to be crucial to the crash investigation.
The road ahead is tricky and grim but this is not the first time that investigators have been in this position. Plane crashes, although rare and clouded with drama have the most basic reasons behind them.
Here is a quick primer on aviation disasters and what comes after them.
1. There is no one reason why planes crash
There are many, pilot error being one of them — although crashes that occur due to such an error have declined over the last few decades. In the 1950s, pilot error was responsible for 58 percent of crashes but this fell to 46 percent in the early 2000s.
Mechanical failures are also likely to be a culprit in aviation disasters.
They accounted for 21 percent of crashes in the 1950s but this went up to 28 percent in the 2000s.
And while weather plays a major factor in such accidents, the fate of the aircraft can come down to how the pilot and crew operate the plane. This is ultimately also dependant on where the plane crashes. Is it an area that has a rescue team available? How badly was the aircraft damaged? Did they crash on land or on a water body?
Planes are also more likely to crash either when taking off or when landing; almost half of major accidents occur during this period.
2. Black boxes are usually the key
Aeroplanes, commercial or business, are always fitted with the colloquially named black box.
It is actually a bright orange box — which makes it easier to spot — and it contains the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder that prove crucial in determining the cause or location of a crash.
This is what investigators are keen to find to begin to piece together the sequence of events that led to a plane crash.
These orange boxes are serious stuff, engineered and built to withstand brutal blows, sea water, and fire.
They can work at great altitudes as well as the bottom of the sea and are also fitted with an underwater beacon that emits a pulse every 30 seconds after it touches water. These boxes can transmit up to 20,000 feet under water.
Black boxes are easier to recover in shallow water than deepwater crashes like AirAsia Indonesia flight QZ8501 in 2014 and Air France flight 447 in 2009.
3. Planes do disappear but there is a solution
The technology that makes it easier to find disappeared planes is out there but it involves forking out quite a bit of cash — something airlines are not yet willing to do.
But twin legislation still in the pipes in the US is hoping to change that.
These bills require attaching two floatable ejectable black boxes to the outside of the plane making them easier to spot from the air. These floating devices will be tracked by GPS, potentially speeding up the time it takes to find a missing aircraft.
Although the Safe Aviation and Flight Enhancement Act have been in the works since 2003, strong opposition from the carrier industry as well as aeroplane manufacturers has intermittently stalled progress into making the bill a reality.
But if the legislation were to be passed despite its domestic net, airline carriers will be forced to oblige to these standards to carry on operating in the US. In other words, this bill, if passed could have wide-reaching effects on the aviation industry.
4. Victims' families can receive compensation
Under the Montreal Convention, families of deceased passengers are allowed to seek compensation via a court case but this must be done within two years of when the flight arrived or was supposed to arrive.
The carrier will either have to prove that it was not responsible or that a third party was responsible for the aviation disaster. Otherwise, they will be court-bound to dole out money to grieving families of aviation disaster victims.
According to the Convention, an airline will be responsible for the death or injury of a passenger, given the “accident which caused the death or injury took place on board the aircraft or in the course of any of the operations of embarking or disembarking.”
After Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 disappeared, families were given the option of receiving $50,000 regardless of whether they later decided to take the case to court or not. While some of them did, it did not stop many from seeking compensation through court.
In Lion Air's case, it is too soon to set compensation in motion. However, Indonesia's transport ministry removed the technical director of Lion Air and staff who approved the flight of the jet that crashed.
Transport Minister Budi Karya Sumadi has said the airline will be subjected to a ministry inspection and operations of all low-cost airlines in Indonesia will be reviewed.
5. Fret not, flying is getting safer
2017 was the safest year on record for commercial air travel, according to a Dutch consulting firm and an aviation safety group that tracks crashes. Airlines recorded zero accident deaths in commercial passenger jets last year.
Dutch aviation consulting firm To70 estimated that the fatal accident rate for large commercial passenger flights is 0.06 per million flights or one fatal accident for every 16 million flights.
Airlines are also heavily regulated. The United Nations’ International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) determines whether aeroplane carriers meet the criteria necessary for a “safe, efficient, secure, economically sustainable and environmentally responsible civil aviation sector.”
Indonesia though, has an overall "checkered past" in terms of air safety, including hull losses like those experienced by Lion Air. There is room for improvement, said Shukor Yusof, the head of aviation consultancy Endau Analytics.