Newspaper headlines: AirAsia flight QZ8501 'mystery' on front pages

Not for the first time this year, the press is left pondering the "mystery" of a missing airliner.

The disappearance of AirAsia flight QZ8501 leads some papers to draw parallels with the fate of Malaysia Airways flight MH370, which was never found after disappearing en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing in March. Analysts pore over data relating to Saturday's Singapore-bound flight, which dropped off radar about half way through its trip from Indonesia.

"Initial reports from aviation data sites yesterday showed that the Airbus A320 had slowed down to a speed that could have taken it close to a stall," writes Charles Bremner, in the Times. "There was speculation this could have resulted from false speed readings due to external freezing." He also notes that the craft had climbed to 38,000ft from its cruising altitude of 32,000ft, adding: "Flying at high altitude close to the aircraft's service ceiling renders an airliner vulnerable to stall."

Gwyn Topham writes in the Guardian that satellite images indicated heavy storms in the vicinity. "Although the request to go higher to avoid bad weather is not an unusual one, pilots are aware that flying over a thunderstorm will not necessarily mean clearing it. The disappearance of the plane without a distress call leaves little clues but makes a mid-air explosion or some other catastrophic failure a theoretical possibility."

However, Simon Calder, in the Independent calls for passengers' relatives to be spared "hurtful speculation", saying: "Most theories should be briskly dismissed." He adds: "While the three worst disasters of 2014 befell airliners based in Malaysia, that alignment is nothing more than awful coincidence."


'Hoping'

Tabloids focus on the Briton who was on the flight, Chi-Man Choi, who was travelling with his two-year-old daughter. The Daily Star reports that he was believed to be heading to Singapore to reunite with the child's mother, who had taken another flight with her son.

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The Sun describes Mr Choi as a power firm boss whose parents came to Britain from Hong Kong. The paper quotes his Cheshire-based brother saying he was comforting his elderly parents and hoping for positive news. "I'm preparing them for the worst. It doesn't look good at the moment," he's quoted as saying.

Other papers profile the Malaysian-born and UK-educated AirAsia boss, Tony Fernandes. The Daily Telegraph says he has the motto "dream the impossible", noting that as well as transforming the fortunes of the low-cost carrier, he founded the Caterham F1 motor racing team and bought Queens Park Rangers football club. "The tycoon is a flamboyant spirit in Asia's staid business world who favours blue jeans and caps over power suits," it adds.

The Daily Mirror's editorial notes that flight QZ8501's loss "confirms 2014's unenviable record as the worst 12 months for air accidents for 15 years". It says: "It seems inconceivable that in a world of satellite surveillance and hi-tech radar another flight could disappear without rescuers knowing immediately where its journey ended." However, the paper tries to strike a positive note, saying: "Flying remains safe compared with other forms of transport but it is understandable if some passengers feel more nervous today."


Delay reaction

The chaos caused by overrunning engineering works on Britain's railways continues to provoke comment. Hitting out at the "extraordinary display of mindless incompetence" which resulted in thousands of passengers who should have travelled through King's Cross being sent to suburban Finsbury Park station, the Independent says infrastructure firm Network Rail should "hang its head in shame". It adds: "The rail companies ought to be fined heavily for causing such disruption and for wrecking people's holidays."

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The Times quotes Conservative MP Sir Nicholas Soames demanding rail bosses be sacked over the delays. Its editorial calls for bonuses to be withheld, saying it was "beyond credibility" that no-one realised the work would not be completed on time. "The remedy would have been for the contractors to provide more machinery and labour, and for Network Rail to require it. Instead there has either been an impeachable lack of planning or a cynical judgement that a financial penalty would be less costly than doing the job properly and on time."

Despite the controversy, headlines suggest more than one Network Rail manager is pocketing a hefty bonus. The Mail says chief executive Mark Carne is "on track for a £135,000 bonus".

"What incentive is there for real change?" complains the Mail. "Network Rail's directors receive lavish salaries and handsome bonuses despite lamentable performances. While the regulator can impose huge fines, it's taxpayers who pay them because they finance Network Rail." The Telegraph argues it would be "utterly unconscionable" for directors to walk away with performance bonuses. "The only way lessons will be learnt is if there is accountability for failure," it says.


'Old rumour'

Several papers follow up reports that former Cavalry officer James Hewitt has backed a West End play which, as the Daily Express puts it, "regurgitates an old rumour that he is the father of Prince Harry".

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Describing it as a "new low", the paper wonders whether the "love rat" will ever let his former lover Princess Diana rest in peace. "The princess naturally expected a dignified silence from Hewitt, whom she still regarded as being an officer and a gentleman," the paper says.

Likewise, the Mail feels it's the "cheapest shot yet". Editor at large Richard Kay writes: "We have been here before. Whenever his personal fortunes have flagged, the ex-Guards captain has demonstrated an extraordinary knack of coming up with more money-making revelations. Year-in, year-out, he has greedily cashed in on the details, rarely missing an opportunity to milk his notoriety."

"He must be worried people are forgetting about him," reckons the Sun. "This Diana play will appeal to fans of conspiracy theories. It is a shame this one has victims: poor old Harry and his real dad Charles."

The Mirror says: "The one incontrovertible fact in this whole affair is that attention-seeking Hewitt is a deeply unpleasant cad."


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