For Malaysian aviation, 2014 has been an unimaginably horrible year.
Should no survivors be found among the 162 passengers and crew members aboard Indonesia AirAsia Flight 8501, which disappeared Sunday morning en route to Singapore from Surabaya, Indonesia, carriers from Malaysia or their subsidiaries will have been involved in the world’s three deadliest aviation disasters this year, according to statistics compiled by the Flight Safety Foundation, in Alexandria, Va.
First came the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. The Boeing 777, bound for Beijing from Kuala Lumpur, abruptly turned off course in the early hours of March 8 and was last detected on radar west of the Malay Peninsula, heading over the Indian Ocean. Based on information from satellites, investigators believe the plane, with 239 people onboard, crashed somewhere in the remote southern Indian Ocean west of Australia. No trace of wreckage from the plane has been found in what is arguably the greatest aviation mystery in history. To date, investigators do not know why the plane veered off its flight path.
On July 17, another Malaysia Airlines 777 crashed, this time in Ukraine, over rebel-held territory. All 298 people on board were killed. United States and Ukrainian officials say the aircraft was shot down by a Russian-made surface-to-air missile fired by pro-Russian rebels. Russia denied any involvement and charged that Ukrainian forces were responsible.
No other aviation disasters this year come close to the Malaysian tragedies as measured by lives lost. The next deadliest crash of 2014 involved an Algerian jetliner that crashed into the desert in Mali in July, killing all 116 people onboard, according to the foundation’s Aviation Safety Network.
The Airbus A320 aircraft that disappeared on Sunday is operated by an Indonesian subsidiary of AirAsia, a company based in Malaysia. The parent company, run by a Malaysian, Tony Fernandes, owns 49 percent, according to its website.
AirAsia, a budget airline, has never had a fatal crash. “This is my worse nightmare,” Mr. Fernandes said on Twitter.
“I can’t see any parallels,” said John Cox, an aviation safety expert and former captain for US Airways who is the chief executive of Safety Operating Systems, an industry consultancy in Washington.
Mr. Cox said the circumstances of the three disasters were completely different, falling on companies with good safety records. For all the events to involve the aviation industry of one country in Southeast Asia is unprecedented, he said.
“It is unbelievably bad luck and bad fortune that has struck them,” he added.
Mr. Cox said he had flown the A320 for six years, calling it a mainstay of the global industry, well regarded with a long record of safety.
The Malaysian connection to the three accidents is even more remarkable given that neither airline is among the world’s biggest 25 in terms of passengers carried, according to 2013 figures compiled by Flightglobal, a British company that compiles information on the industry.
“Can’t believe it,” Hishammuddin Hussein, the Malaysian defense minister, who was the country’s public face during the search for Flight 370 in March, said on his Twitter page.
Misery in Malaysia has not been confined to the skies. The disappearance of the AirAsia flight occurred as the country was dealing with heavy monsoon rains, the worst in many years, that have forced the evacuation of more than 160,000 people. At least 10 people have been killed in flooding that has inundated many areas of the country.
The confluence of the floods and the missing aircraft led many Malaysians to speculate on social media sites that they were being tested by God. “It is high time that we all unite, pause, ponder and pray,” said one person using the name Adibah Noor on Twitter. “God has sent us so many warning signs.”