The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 (B777-2H6 – 9M-MRO – cn28420) is the kind of mystery that’s not supposed to happen. In the age of control, surveillance, electronic interconnectedness, cloud computing, GPS, the loss of an aircraft transmitting ACARS data, ADS-B signals and squawk codes should be unheard of.
However even with this tracking technology Flight MH370 disappeared so suddenly and without a trace so suddenly and without a trace that it might as well have flown into the Twilight Zone.
Sattelites, search aircraft and ships from many nations have searched on both sides of the Malay Peninsula, in the Gulf of Thailand and the Straits of Malacca. However satellite coverage of the planet isn’t as complete as security agencies and the media would have people believe.
The pilots of Flight MH370 never communicated a distress call. There was no SOS sent, and no distress squawk codes activated. No sign of the aircraft has been found, no debris or fuel slick. The signal from the aircraft’s CVR/FDR has not been picked up.
Conspiracy theories abound:
- Did the plane disintegrate at 35,000 feet from a catastrophic hull failure, mechanical failure or sudden decompression? This is possible but unlikely. The aircraft was only 11 years old and with an impeccable safety record. Introduced in June 1995, out of 1544 aircraft produced by Boeing, there have only been 3 hull-loss incidents.
- Did the pilot commit suicide by flying it straight down into the sea? While this is not unheard of, this scenario too is unlikely. The PIC was a senior and well-respected member of the MAS flight team with more than 18,000 flight hours. The FO had nearly 3000 hours.
- Did terrorists blow it up? This is possible but also appears unlikely. The prescence of passengers travelling on false passports leans more toward illegal entry to the EU than terrorist plot
- Did a passenger plant a bomb so that his family would collect life insurance? This is certainly not likely. An everyday person is unlikely to have access to bomb-making materials, the technical ability to create a device, and then get the device onto an aircraft without detection
- Was the plane shot down by the military? Unlikely but again this is not unheard of. Korean Airlines Flight 902 was shot down over Murmansk in Soviet airspace on 20/04/1978, and then Korean Airlines Flight 007 was shot down near Sakhalin Island in Soviet airspace on 1/09/1983 with the loss of all 269 passengers on board. In both these incidents, Soviet authorities admitted to the action, if not immediately. If this is a possibility, which country would be responsible?
- Did the aircraft fly to North Korea? I would put this suggestion in the realm of pure fantasy. How would the aircraft fly from near Ca Mau in Vietnam to Pyongyang with all it’s ID equipment turned off without being tracked on civilian and military radar and without attracting the attention of a country’s military as it flew over?
- Could it have crash-landed in a jungle somewhere, where the passengers are now fighting to survive? This is possible but again unlikely. A crash on land would be associated with fire and smoke. Somebody would have seen it and reported it. Furthermore, the signal from the CVR/FDR would have been activated and picked up by searching aircraft.
There are a number of possibilities from the unlikely to the extremely far-fetched, however what actually happened to Flight MH370 will emerge eventually.
There are only four likely and credible explanations:
- Catastrophic hull failure or explosive depressurisation. This will include door failure, hold door failure or bulkhead failure.
- Gross mechanical failure of engines and/or flight surfaces.
- Pilot error.
- Terrorism, incuding bomb detonation, cockpit intrusion, forced diversion or piracy after manipulation of on-board tracking systems.
What ever the cause was, it happened with such impact and urgency that the flight crew were unable to trnasmit a distress call or SOS, which leads me to believe that option 1 and 2 above are the most likely causes of the loss of MH370.
There were media reports quoting Malaysia’s air force chief, General Rodzali Daud, saying that military radar picked up the aircraft Saturday flying far off-course, to the west, far from its flight path. That would suggest foul play such as cockpit intrusion and forced diversion. But these reports still do not reveal where the plane is, whether it crashed on land or at sea, or is intact somewhere. Later General Daud retracted this statement stating that he had been misquoted by the media.
This flight is similar to that of Air France Flight 447, which crashed into the Atlantic in 2009 killing all 228 people aboard. In this case, when air-speed measurements failed and led pilots to put the plane into an aerodynamic stall to which the flight crew failed to respond correctly. However, data was being received showing inflight errors at the Airbus operations centre in France before the plane disappeared. Wreckage was spotted shortly after the crash, and most of the passengers bodies were recovered, although it took two years for the FDR to be retrieved from the sea floor.
The missing aircraft remains a mystery, but it will be found. The aircraft is out there somewhere.