March 10, 2014

"The passenger jet was in what is considered the safest part of a flight, the cruise portion, when it disappeared."

"The weather conditions were reported to be good. Aviation experts say it's particularly puzzling that the pilots didn't report any kind of problems before contact was lost."

I don't know, but doesn't that suggest that the pilots deliberately shut off communication? Who were the pilots?
All the crew members on board the plane were Malaysian. The pilot of the missing plane is Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah, a 53-year-old with 18,365 flying hours. He joined Malaysia Airlines in 1981. The first officer, Fariq Ab Hamid, has 2,763 flying hours. Hamid, 27, started at the airline in 2007. He had been flying another jet and was transitioning to the Boeing 777-200 after having completed training in a flight simulator.
I see that Drudge — with the teaser "Unprecedented Mystery — is linking to this Reuters article quoting Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, the head of Malaysia's Civil Aviation Authority, using that phrase. But my first link, which goes to CNN, says "it's not unprecedented" and:

In June 2009, Air France Flight 447 was en route from Rio De Janeiro to Paris when communications ended suddenly from the Airbus A330, another state-of-the-art aircraft, with 228 people on board. It took four searches over the course of nearly two years to locate the bulk of Flight 447's wreckage and the majority of the bodies in a mountain range deep under the Atlantic Ocean. It took even longer to establish the cause of the disaster.
But that incident wasn't the same when it comes to the utter lack of communication. When Air France Flight 447 went down, the pilot was in communication and was saying "Damn it, we’re going to crash… This can’t be happening!"

IN THE COMMENTS:  Larry J said:
No, it doesn't suggest the pilots deliberately shut down communications. There's this widespread myth that the first things pilots do when there's an emergency is to reach for the radio. Nope, the rule is fly the plane, work the problem, navigate and then communicate.

There are several possibilities for why they didn't communicate. One, some sort of catestrophic failure occurred so quickly that they didn't have the time or opportunity to communicate. Possible causes of that include (but are not limited to) a bomb going off in the plane or an extremely rare mechanical malfunction that tore the plane apart. An example of that was the Air Lauda 767 accident back in 1991 where a thrust reverser deployed in flight. Total electrical failure (also extremely rare) could prevent them from communicating but that's unlikely to cause the plane to crash. 
He also observes that the Air France Flight 447 recording is probably "from the cockpit voice recorder, not an external radio communication."

54 comments:

Hagar said...

It is just possible that this is some form of a highjack.

F said...

The Air France jet was downed by a powerful thunderstorm and the pilot's inability to fly without instruments. He insisted in giving exactly the wrong control inputs (pulling the stick back) when the plane was stalling. If he or any of the other pilots on board had pushed the stick forward, the plane would have started flying again.

There was no report of storms in the area of the Malaysian flight. But it is interesting to posit pilot action of inaction as the cause -- no one else is thinking that apparently.

cubanbob said...

No doubt this is very suspicious the truth won't be known until the wreckage and flight recorders are recovered.

Big Mike said...

don't know, but doesn't that suggest that the pilots deliberately shut off communication?

No. A bomb could have knocked out electonics before the pilots could key their mikes. Consider Air India Flight 182.

Larry J said...

No, it doesn't suggest the pilots deliberately shut down communications. There's this widespread myth that the first things pilots do when there's an emergency is to reach for the radio. Nope, the rule is fly the plane, work the problem, navigate and then communicate.

There are several possibilities for why they didn't communicate. One, some sort of catestrophic failure occurred so quickly that they didn't have the time or opportunity to communicate. Possible causes of that include (but are not limited to) a bomb going off in the plane or an extremely rare mechanical malfunction that tore the plane apart. An example of that was the Air Lauda 767 accident back in 1991 where a thrust reverser deployed in flight. Total electrical failure (also extremely rare) could prevent them from communicating but that's unlikely to cause the plane to crash.

rhhardin said...

The disintegration portion of a flight is considered one of the most dangerous.

Even the word sounds bad. Think of it as the multicultural portion of the flight.

furious_a said...

they didn't have the time or opportunity to communicate

A catastrophic de-pressurization of the cockpit, like what happened with Payne Stewart's plane? Absent a bomb, is that even possible on a 777 airframe?

lemondog said...

Don't commercial planes have GPS devices that cannot be turned off from within the plane?

Surely the NSA which can monitor each breathe one takes can track a plane.

The Drill SGT said...


I don't know, but doesn't that suggest that the pilots deliberately shut off communication? Who were the pilots?


Muslims

Though I don't think the same thing happened Althouse, rather than the Air France model, what this fits is the Air Egypt one. Terrorist suicide by Pilot. Allah Akbar

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EgyptAir_Flight_990

MayBee said...

One thing I am unclear about is whether a plane can have its radar system turned off by the plane.

Larry J said...

But that incident wasn't the same when it comes to the utter lack of communication. When Air France Flight 447 went down, the pilot was in communication and was saying "Damn it, we’re going to crash… This can’t be happening!"

IIRC, that was from the cockpit voice recorder, not an external radio communication.

furious_a said...
they didn't have the time or opportunity to communicate

A catastrophic de-pressurization of the cockpit, like what happened with Payne Stewart's plane? Absent a bomb, is that even possible on a 777 airframe?


Given the volume of a 777 airframe, it would take a pretty big hole to cause it to depressurize quickly. Steward was riding on a Learjet. Pilots have oxygen masks in the cockpit and can put them on in seconds. A hole big enought to depressurize a 777 so fast that the pilots couldn't don their masks would likely be big enough to bring the plane down.

The Drill SGT said...

Lemondog,

They carry GPS, but I don't think it is part of airspace tracking. Nor do civil agencies use skin painting radar. What makes those blips on the radar screens is radar transponders, each squawking a unique code. Military radars are shorter ranged and depend on bouncing powerful signals off the plane.

A catastrophic de-pressurization of the cockpit, like what happened with Payne Stewart's plane? Absent a bomb, is that even possible on a 777 airframe?

It is possible on Comet's and 737's to have metal fatigue in long service birds that rip the skin, etc, etc.

777? not so much

MayBee said...

Drill SGT-
Radar transponders from the plane? Can they be turned off or deactivated?

The Drill SGT said...

MayBee said...
One thing I am unclear about is whether a plane can have its radar system turned off by the plane.


its transponder, yes

its weather or collision avoidance radras?, yes

The Drill SGT said...

Maybee, they can be reset to a different coder and I think turned off, if not, you can pull the breaker bar

gerry said...

He insisted in giving exactly the wrong control inputs (pulling the stick back) when the plane was stalling.

And, isn't the Airbus controlled by joysticks that have no mechanical linkage to the surfaces controlling the plane? The 777 uses mechanical linkage that provide pilots with a lot more physical feedback, right?

MayBee said...

Thanks.

So someone taking over the plane (for example) could turn it off and continue to fly undetected?

Tibore said...

Larry J beat me and everyone else to it. It has to be emphasized that pilots are trained to worry about flying their aircraft first.

@lemondog: No, on the contrary, transponders can and have in the past been shut off in flight. That's one of the reasons the 9/11 hijackings back in 2001 managed to evade ATC notice for as long as they did. Now, secondary radar - what we think of as "radar" i.e. an antenna using an active radio signal to bounce off of aircraft - can of course track an aircraft with no transponder working, but that has to be in an area that's serviced by that system. Whether MH370 was in such an area is something I don't know.

Tibore said...

"gerry said...
The 777 uses mechanical linkage that provide pilots with a lot more physical feedback, right?"


According to Boeing's "777 Facts" page, it is a fly-by-wire aircraft:

"The flight-control system for the 777 airplane is different from those on other Boeing airplane designs. Rather than have the airplane rely on cables to move the ailerons, elevator, and rudder, Boeing designed the 777 with fly-by-wire technology. As a result, the 777 uses wires to carry electrical signals from the pilot control wheel, column, and pedals to a primary flight computer."

www.boeing.com/boeing/commercial/777family/pf/pf_facts.page (let's hope Blogger doesn't eat my post because of this link...)

Larry J said...

It is possible on Comet's and 737's to have metal fatigue in long service birds that rip the skin, etc, etc.
777? not so much


The old De Havilland Comets (the first jet airliner back in the 1950s) had metal fatigue issues due to improper design. The first model had square windows that didn't handle pressurization/depressurization stresses well. The 737 incident that you're mentioning was probably Aloha Airlines Flight 243. That plane was flying very short trips in Hawaii (lots of pressurization/depressurization cycles).

I know of at least two depressurization incidents on Boeing 747s. The first was United Airlines Flight 811 which suffered a failure that caused depressurization back in 1989 but the pilots were able to land the plane. Another 747 (Qantas Flight 30) had a hole open up in the plane back in 2008 that caused it to depressurize but again, the pilots landed the plane.

I know of no depressurization incidents on a 777 but there's always the possibility.

MayBee said...

Stewart's plane kept flying long after those aboard had perished.

Hagar said...

And none of the comments above address the reports about the plane turning around, or at least off course, before it disappeared.

wildswan said...

Maybe this was supposed to be Peking's 911 but there was a "jihadi work accident." A hijacking or something was intended but the bomb suddenly blew up early. This explains why the plane suddenly and pointlessly explodes but not why there is no ocean debris. Or this is going to be Peking's 911 as the mystery plane suddenly re-appears and smashes into Tienamen Square.

Tom Clancy, where are you when we need you?

MayBee said...

Hagar-

Isn't that weird? I'd like to know more about the turning around. Did it look like an out of control loop by a plane on its way down? The transponders being blown away from the rest of the debris? Or did it look like the way a plane would turn if under control?

Edmund said...

Stewart's plane kept flying long after those aboard had perished.

It was on autopilot, so absent major turbulence it would continue on until it ran out of fuel. This plane was also probably on autopilot.

Every sign points to something very, very sudden and very, very big.

Edmund said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Larry J said...

Hagar said...
And none of the comments above address the reports about the plane turning around, or at least off course, before it disappeared.


In the early days following a major accident, all sorts of things get reported. Ultimately, many errors get out in the Press. What was the source of the information about the plane turning around? Was it a militay radar, a civilian air traffic control radar, or some transmission from the plane? If it happened and if it was a tracked by a radar, was the plane flying normally or was it perhaps plunging out of control?

I'm not disputing that there was a report of the plane turning or turning around. I want to know if the report was accurate and if so, what was the nature of the source of the information.

From this article:

Malaysia's air force chief, Rodzali Daud, said radar indicated that before it disappeared, the plane may have turned back, but there were no further details on which direction it went or how far it veered off course.

"The military radar indicated that the aircraft may have made a turn back, and in some parts this was corroborated by civilian radar," Daud said at a news conference.


This doesn't sound very conclusive. If the plane did turn, it may not have been under control at the time.

Jim Howard said...

Maybee has a good question.

There are some superficial similarities to AF447, but some big differences.

At this stage of the flight of MH370 Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah (18,500 hours) would still be in the left seat.

In AF447 the Captain was in crew rest, and the airplane was flown by an inexperienced third officer. Why the AF447 first officer sat there and let the junior guy crash the plane is a mystery we'll never understand.

This incident on the surface seems more like TWA 800, which was destroyed by a center fuel tank explosion.

The possibility of a catastrophic breakup due to some rare systems problem has to be seriously considered.

Another possible cause would be a mid-air collision with another aircraft. That wouldn't be the first time.

Whatever the cause, the conspiracy nuts are certainly going in to overdrive.

Fred Drinkwater said...

As Larry and Tibore mentioned, talking to ATC is not the priority in an emergency (or any other phase of flight, actually). The mnemonic is:
Aviate, Navigate, Communicate

A truly astonishing percentage of accident reports end with "and the aircraft contacted terrain while in cruise configuration", because the flight crew was busy doing something other than flying.

heyboom said...

The depressurization in Stewart's Learjet wasn't "catastrophic" in the sense of an explosive decompression, it was caused by a faulty outflow valve that slowly leaked cabin pressure. That's why the pilot's didn't notice it until they had succumbed to hypoxia.

Most modern pressurized aircraft have annunciator warnings and in some cases an aural one as well when cabin pressure is lost.

Jim Howard said...

One more thought.
Aloha Airlines Flight 243, a B737 back in 1988, lost most of the roof of the cabin due to metal fatigue.

United Airlines Flight 811 in 1989 experienced explosive decompression due to the blowout of a cargo door. Several passengers were ejected from the aircraft.

In both these cases it was nothing short of a miracle that both airliners were able to land safely.

American Airlines Flight 587 wasn't so lucky back in 2001. AA587 Airbus encountered wake turbulence after takeoff from a B747, resulting in the loss of the vertical stabilizer, rendering the airplane uncontrollable.

This accident was probably caused by over controlling the rudder.

Catastrophic failures of these kinds are very rare, but they do happen.

Hagar said...

The bottom line is that until they find either the plane, its wreckage, or at least the flight recorders, nobody knows anything.

Cedarford said...

I remember the Aloha incident, just commissioned in the AF, where it was discussed like crazy.
Definitely newsworthy. Cabin ripped up, female co=pilot at the controls, and the safe landing and no one dying but the old stewardess that got sucked out. Then piles of conversation about stress-fatigue and which AF planes had more cycles.
But I and many others kept going back to the poor stew, Clarabelle Lansing.

She unfortunately missed being struck by the tail assembly after being sucked out, which would likely mercifully killed her instantly.
Instead, one moment she was pushing a refreshment cart in a cozy warm and safe plane, next moment she is freezing in thin air hard to breath in...perhaps looking at the plane zooming away and the ocean, 3.7 miles down, which she was falling down to meet.
What a way to go.
They never did find her body, or the impact remnants of it..

Tibore said...

This is what's currently known:

•Transponder response ceased after 17:21 UTC (01:21 LT), about 40 minutes into the flight
•There was no verified communication with the aircraft after this time
•Last reported position, altitude, speed and heading as reported by FR24 correct ("Flight Radar 24" is a public website flight tracker using data reported by aircraft transponders.)
•There was no significant weather in the area of last contact
•No unusual ACARS messages received (ACARS: "Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) is a digital datalink system for transmission of short, relatively simple messages between aircraft and ground stations via radio or satellite." It's usually used for mundane things like weather, updating gate departure times, "wheels up" time, touchdown time, etc.)
•At last known position aircraft had a remaining endurance of approximately 6.5 hours, equating to a range of about 5000 kilometres
•Subsequently aircraft did not enter any area with civilian primary radar coverage
•There were two passengers with confirmed false identities on board, further two suspect.
•Same airframe suffered substantial wingtip damage in a ground accident in Shanghai in August 2012 which was repaired
•Till now no part of the aircraft had been located. Debris reported has not been found and examined.
•Oil "slick" was ship oil and determined to not have been from a jetliner.

(Partly copied from "Professional Pilots Rumor Network" - www.pprune.org - and added to with info from Wikipedia and common news sites).

Big Mike said...

Here's the thing that's mystifying about Flight 370. There seems to be no wreckage. Large subsystems such as the tailfin and stabilizers and control surfaces are made of carbon fiber and they should float, along with various cabin components and the corpses of the passengers themselves. Planes that blew up over the ocean, like Air India 182 and TWA 800, left lots of wreckage behind. Experts agree that Air France 447 impacted the water pretty much in level flight configuration, in the middle of a ferocious storm, yet there was a lot of recoverable wreckage.

Even in the case that the plane was deliberately nose-dived into the sea, like EgyptAir 990, there was wreckage left behind.

Where is the wreckage?

madAsHell said...

Clarabelle Lansing

Our Blessed Saint of Seat Belts. I think about her every time I board an airplane, and buckle up.

I always hoped that she was unconscious.

downed by a powerful thunderstorm

The pitot tube froze over, and the auto-pilot passed control back to the pilots. Unfortunately, the chief pilot could not be immediately mustered. He was busy knocking a piece off a stewardess.

aahhhh....to be French.

Tibore said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tibore said...

It's more correct to say that the wreckage is not yet found than to say that there is no wreckage. By necessity, the search area is large.

Let's also remember that when Air France 447 went down in 2009, it took 2 years to locate that jetliner. I know that's not what anyone wants to hear, and I'm pained to think about it myself. But the unfortunate truth is that a jetliner missing at sea can be difficult to locate, especially if it sank more or less intact.

Paul Zrimsek said...

There was never a distress call from TWA 800 either.

Mary Beth said...

If it were a result of terrorism, wouldn't someone have claimed responsibility? Isn't that the point - not to make people afraid to fly, to make them afraid of the terrorists?

The Drill SGT said...

slightly different, but related topic. The clearest indicator of 'pilot error' is country independent. Listen to the tape recording of the cockpit or radio calls, if there is:

ah shit!, Scheisse!, or Merde!, then the pilot F'd up...

Larry J said...

Mary Beth said...
If it were a result of terrorism, wouldn't someone have claimed responsibility? Isn't that the point - not to make people afraid to fly, to make them afraid of the terrorists?


Claims of credit by terrorist groups are unreliable. IIRC, a terrorist group tried to claim credit for that Air Lauda accident back in 1991 that I mentioned early in this thread. That crash was caused by an extermely rare case of a thrust reverser deploying in flight. It's so rare that I don't know of a single other airliner accident caused by an inflight thrust reverser deployment.

Conversely, I don't think any group claimed credit for blowing up Air India Flight 182 back in 1985. Some terrorist groups tried to claim credit for downing Pan Am 103. It wasn't until 2003 that Khaddafi admitted it was done by the Libyan government.

Smilin' Jack said...

The Drill SGT said...
slightly different, but related topic. The clearest indicator of 'pilot error' is country independent. Listen to the tape recording of the cockpit or radio calls, if there is:

ah shit!, Scheisse!, or Merde!, then the pilot F'd up...


No, English is the universal language of flight communication, so I'm sure all pilots are trained to use "Oh, fuck no!" in these situations.

Hagar said...

Nei, uff da!

Marshal said...

But my first link, which goes to CNN, says "it's not unprecedented" and:

It's clearly not unprecedented:

Oceanic Flight 815

http://lostpedia.wikia.com/wiki/Oceanic_Flight_815

Big Mike said...

Let's also remember that when Air France 447 went down in 2009, it took 2 years to locate that jetliner.

To locate the airliner on the bottom of the ocean, yes. To locate debris, no. Bodies were found a day or so after the crash. I recollect a picture of the Air France tail fin which not only floated but supported the weight of 3 or 4 divers. I agree that they need to expand the search area.

Epiphyte - said...

Egyptian Air Flight 990, Flight data recorder:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EgyptAir_Flight_990

Douglas said...

The truly astonishing thing is that anyone would choose to fly Malay Airlines.

The Drill SGT said...

No, English is the universal language of flight communication
Commercial aviation yes. Not intra-national general aviation or military.

When the Red Baron went down, it was Scheisse!!!

Kirk Parker said...

Larry J,

"Total electrical failure (also extremely rare) could prevent them from communicating but that's unlikely to cause the plane to crash."

Isn't the 777 fly-by-wire?


All,

The way a transponder works is to generate an automatic reply when a signal is received. It's not broadcasting continuously.

Larry J, help us out: most of what the transponder does is to help identify a particular 'blip' on the screen with identifying information. ATC radar (where there is such) still has to be radar-radar to generate the distance and heading information for that blip. (Amiright?)

Kirk Parker said...

Never mind, I got un-lazy and Answered my own question.

Rusty said...

It now seems, according to some friends of the two men traveling on stolen passports, that they were merely escaping from Iran to the west to live with relatives.

Rusty said...

If it did indeed crash shouldn't the black boxes be transmitting?

Larry J said...

Kirk Parker said...

Isn't the 777 fly-by-wire?


Yes, it is. Boeing implemented fly-by-wire technology in a different manner from Airbus. I don't have the specifics at hand. Both companies went to great lengths to ensure that no conceivable electrical failure would take out the fly-by-wire system. Airliners commonly have a ram air turbine that can be deployed quickly to generate electricity if all else fails. According to what I've read, the fly-by-wire system on the 777 is supplemented by a mechanical backup.

If it did indeed crash shouldn't the black boxes be transmitting?

The "black boxes" (which are actually orange) don't transmit data. They do have ultrasonic beacons that broadcast sound energy for up to 30 days to help locate them under water. From news accounts, you have to be within 5-10 miles to detect those beacons and there's a large area to search.