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The Missing AirAsia Flight Looks Like the Latest in a Long String of Strange Southeast Asian Air Disasters

The disappearance of AirAsia Flight QZ8501 and its 155 passengers is the seventh incident involving Malaysia-based aircraft dating back to 1976.
Photo via Achdiyatma Reza/Flickr

When a plane owned by Malaysia-based AirAsia disappeared Sunday on the way from Indonesia to Singapore, it immediately drew comparisons to other high-profile incidents involving Southeast Asian jetliners earlier this year.

Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared in March on the way to Beijing after taking off from Kuala Lumpur. The plane — and all 279 passengers and crewmembers on board — still has not been located.


In July, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was downed over eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board. While the cause of the crash remains unconfirmed, pro-Russia separatists in the region allegedly fired a surface-to-air missile at the civilian aircraft.

But the disappearance of AirAsia Flight QZ8501 and its 155 passengers is not the third incident involving Malaysia-based aircraft —it's actually the seventh.

The most notable Malaysian air tragedy before 2014 was back in 1977, when a commercial flight from Penang to Singapore was hijacked with 93 passengers on board. Thirty minutes after the plane departed Malaysia, the crew notified air traffic control about the hijackers. Gunshots were audible on the radio before the plane lost contact with ground control. The wreckage was later found in a swamp.

AirAsia Flight QZ8501 goes missing on the way from Indonesia to Singapore. Read more here.

The hijacking was linked to "terrorists" with the Japanese Red Army, a communist militant group founded in Lebanon, though the group did not claim responsibility.

A prominent Sri Lankan businessman, Philip Upali Weijewardene, was killed in a Malaysia wreck in 1983 when his private Learjet took off from Kuala Lumpur and then disappeared over the Strait of Malacca. The plane was never found.

One of Malaysia's earliest airplane disasters was in 1976, when a plane carrying eight high-ranking government officials from the Malaysian state of Sabah were killed along with the pilot and crew when their plane crashed.


Malaysians have long speculated that the plane was brought down intentionally for political reasons — a lopsided oil agreement signed a mere eight days after the crash led to a 95 percent loss in oil revenue for Sabah.

Sabah was the site of another deadly crash in 1995 when a Malaysian Airlines passenger flight crashed into a shantytown near Tawau Airport, killing 32 of the 49 passengers. According to a subsequent investigation report, the accident was likely the result of "poor in-flight decision-making" by the pilot, and a "failure to follow standard operating procedures."

Flight MH17 broke apart when hit by high-energy objects, report on Ukraine crash finds. Read more here.

Though Malaysia's touchy air safety record isn't reflective of just one airline, Malaysia Airlines, which is owned mostly by the country's federal government and is one of the more recognizable airlines flying in the country, has taken a steep financial hit after recent events.

The airline posted a $97 million loss in the second quarter of this year, following the disappearance of Flight 370, according to AFP. It was the sixth straight quarterly loss for the company, which was having financial problems before its two disasters in 2014. The company said it expected even worse financial fallout for the rest of 2014.

AirAsia, which is a low-budget operator in the same market, had been a significant competitor to Malaysia Airlines. Whether its sales will also be affected due to Sunday's disappearance remains to be seen.

Follow Colleen Curry on Twitter: @currycolleen

Photo via Flickr