Like everyone else, I have been following the Malaysia Flight 370 story. I’m looking at the story through the prism of my work on TWA 841. I see many similarities, from accusations of crew involvement, to the repercussions to Boeing if something mechanical caused the plane to crash, to the mystery of what really happened. Everyone likes a good mystery.
I certainly do not proclaim to know what happened to Flight 370. I speculated on the mystery of Air France Flight 447, claiming that weather brought the plane down. While weather played a role, it was just one of many links in the error chain that led to the crash. As I listen to the many wild hypotheses being discussed concerning a hijacking, or terrorist act, none of those makes sense. If you’re going to do something that spectacular, you would want people to know about it. You wouldn’t keep it a secret. I know from experience that 80% of what is reported in the media concerning aviation accidents is mostly wrong. So I am skeptical about reports about radar and satellite pings showing the plane flying on for hours after lost contact. If that were true, what was the purpose and where is the aircraft?
When TWA 841 rolled over and began its spiral dive from 39,000 feet, the radar showed a rapid altitude loss and a change of heading from the west to the southwest. What you need to know about radar is that the radar sweeps and does not give a continuous readout. So an aircraft diving towards the surface is going to show big gaps in the altitude readout. Over water, radar is even less reliable due to line of sight issues. The change of heading in TWA 841 was the result of the roll-over, dive, and recovery. It had nothing to do with any nefarious intentions of anyone on board.
So lets assume that all this talk about the transponder being turned off and someone going down to the avionics compartment to disconnect the ACARS is a bunch of bull. For one, if I want turn off the ACARS, all I have to do is pull the circuit breakers. And if a plane crashes in the ocean, guess what, the transponder is going to stop working.
Since no debris was found, the only explanation is that the plane went into the water intact. Had the plane spiraled down like TWA 841 and impacted the water, there would have been debris. So let’s say, like TWA 841, the pilots were able to recover from whatever catastrophic event occurred, but were still having difficulty controlling the plane, just like Hoot had controlling his 727. Now suppose they’re just a few hundred feet above the water, at night, having control difficulties, and the plane comes in contact with the water in a fairly level attitude. There’s little opportunity for anyone to get out, especially at night. The plane sinks within minutes. No debris. Even in the Air France accident there was very little debris found.
This does not explain the lack of a ping from the data recorders. But my best guess is that the plane is in the Gulf of Thailand. Remember the two oil slicks reported early on? I think those were from the plane.
The World’s oceans are littered with lost planes. In 1990 a 727 operated by Air Faucet Peru ran out of fuel and ditched in the Atlantic. The plane was being ferried and had only a few airline employees on board. The plane and those on board were never found. The DC-9 involved in my book 35 Miles From Shore, still sits at the bottom of the Caribbean Sea. It hasn’t been seen since it ditched some 34 years ago. Then there are the hundreds of pilots who went out on missions over the Pacific during WWII who never returned.
Just like in the case of Air France Flight 447, I think that the truth will come out about Malaysia Flight 370 and it won’t be nearly as mysterious as it now appears.
So now the investigators are certain that the plane ended up in the Indian Ocean. Since they have access to information and data that I don’t, I’ll go with that theory. So where does that leave us? Hijacking? Not likely. Pilot suicide? Even more absurd. That leaves some type of mechanical problem as the most likely scenario. Since we haven’t heard any communications from the cockpit, you have to assume crew incapacitation. Was there a fire that led to the transponder going out followed by a loss of cabin pressure? That would account for the heading change and loss of altitude. In an emergency descent over water, it is acceptable procedure to turn away from your track as you descend so as not to descend into the path of another flight. That accounts for the heading change, the altitude loss, crew incapacitation, and loss of transponder.
But even if you accept some of the above, there are still many problems. If the plane was at 12,000 feet, it would have half the range as it would at 35,000 feet. If there was a loss of cabin pressure, once the plane got to 12,000 feet it’s likely that some if not most of the passengers would have regained consciousness.
One of the more frightening accidents in recent history involved a 737 that lost cabin pressure. Everyone on board, including the pilots, passed out except one lone male flight attendant who was smart enough to grab a portable oxygen bottle and mask. They know this because the flight attendant was seen in the cockpit by two F16 pilots who were scrambled to intercept the flight. Had the flight attendant placed an oxygen mask on one of the pilots, there is a possibility that the pilot could have been revived. Had the flight attendant simply dialed in a lower altitude and pushed the altitude knob to start a descent, the plane would have descended to a safe altitude. Had the flight attendant known enough to pick up the microphone and radio for help, he might have saved everyone on board. Unfortunately, he didn’t do any of those things and the plane eventually ran out of fuel and crashed, killing everyone on board.
Did a similar scenario play out on Malaysia Flight 370? It’s a scary thought.