The disappearance of AirAsia’s flight QZ8501 caps a bad year for aviation.
In March Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing went missing over the Indian Ocean and has never been found.
The fate of that plane and its 239 passengers is a tragic mystery.
In a fresh horror for Malaysia Airlines, it lost another passenger jet in July, also travelling from Kuala Lumpur, that was felled (possibly by pro-Russian forces) en route to Amsterdam.
The summer also saw an Air Algerie plane crash in in Mali, leaving all 116 people on board dead.
The fate of the AirAsia flight was unknown last night, but the outlook for its 162 passengers and crew is not promising.
The earlier air crashes alone have left high hundreds of people dead and caused grief to their loved ones, who must number in the thousands.
In an age in which air, rail and road safety is steadily improving, 2014 has been a setback for aviation safety (in the same way that this year has been a setback for road safety in Northern Ireland, with a sharp rise in fatalities after many years of decline).
But air travel on passenger planes (as opposed to on private planes or on helicopters) is exceptionally safe. Someone travelling on a commercial flight is many times less likely to be killed per-mile-travelled than someone making almost any journey by road.
Air travel has been one of the great advances in human history, and the opportunities that it brings are being enjoyed by a growing proportion of the world’s seven billion people.
Plane wrecks if they are found (such as in the 2009 Air France 447 crash over the Atlantic killing 228 on board) are exhaustively examined. The information gleaned typically helps make air travel safer still.
That is no consolation to the loved ones of the AirAsia flight, who are in the thoughts of people around the world.