The Thai jetliner that crashed on Phuket island could have been hit by a microburst, a vicious form of wind shear that deceives pilots into slowing the plane perilously close to the ground and forcing it to drop like a stone, experts say.
Thai officials have said that the pilot of the One-Two-Go budget aircraft was warned of wind shear at Phuket airport as he was coming in to land on Sunday in a thunderstorm. The McDonnell Douglas MD-82 hit the runway, skidded into an embankment and burst into flames, killing 89 of the 130 people on board.
But it is not clear if the pilot was told about a possible microburst, or whether the airport had a system to detect the phenomenon, which is among the most dangerous of all weather-related threats to flying.
"In fatal crashes it has been one of the worst causes," G. Brant Foote, director of the US Research Applications Laboratory, which runs a program to develop weather technologies for aviation industry, said late Monday. The RAL is part of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.