Very little is known about what happened to AirAsia Flight 8501, which disappeared en route from Indonesia to Singapore. The search for the plan has been temporarily suspended as investigators work quickly narrow down the search area for the plane.
CBS News Aviation and Safety Expert Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, said it's too early to tell whether there is a rescue or recovery operation underway.
"What we do know is that the airplane by this time of course would have exhausted its fuel supply and would have reached the surface of the Earth. We don't know exactly where or in what shape," he said on CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday.
Sullenberger said investigators will use recordings, air traffic control, radar information and communications with the flight to try to narrow the search area. They will be looking to recover the cockpit voice recorder and digital flight data recorder to determine what happened. Investigators will also contact everyone connected to the flight, from the people who trained the pilots to those who flew with them recently and maintained the airplane.
He said it is not unusual that the pilot requested a deviation to avoid severe weather, and it's too early to tell what role that played.
"The investigators will be looking at many factors about the flight including the weather, the training that the pilots got, the maintenance status of the airplane and other areas," he said.
There is also nothing about the plane's model, the widely-used Airbus A320, that stands out as a possible contributor to the plane's disappearance, he said.
Although this is the third commercial incident this year involving Malaysia - AirAsia's parent company is based there - there appears to be no link between this disappearance and two earlier accidents. In March, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared and has not yet been recovered, and in July Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board.
"At this point there seem to be just coincidence. There's no indication that anything particularly out of the ordinary was the case in this flight. We'll see when we get more information," Sullenberger said.