Putting the MH370 search in perspective–literally

The search area for Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 now encompasses an area the size of Oregon. So we pulled it up on Google Earth and marked the Portland International Airport. You can’t see the airport let alone a Boeing 777. This illustrates the task at hand.

Oregon

Then we zoomed in on PDX Airport, though we don’t know what “altitude” this represents; we’re not smart enough to take a measurement of the airplanes (a known size) and extrapolate to compute the altitude–we’re sure some of our readers are.

Read the Comment from Andrew about the altitude (and our response).

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MH370 wreckage, probable cause may never be found, says ex-NTSB investigator

During the three weeks since Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared, “talking heads” (including our own) have become a staple on the news and cable

Source: Aviation Week

shows. The trouble with talking heads is that short sound bites don’t really allow us to take a deep dive into the issues.

We arranged to have an extended interview with Greg Feith, a former investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board and today a consultant for private industry and another of the talking heads. Feith investigated two accidents that may have particular relevance to MH370: the pilot-suicide crashes of Egyptair 990 and a Silk Air 737 in Indonesia. He’s familiar with the national cultures involved and events leading to conclusions of these two previous incidents. Feith early in the MH370 events concluded this incident has its roots in the cockpit of the Boeing 777.

He’s appeared throughout the MH370 search on CNN and NBC, among other places. Here is our interview with Feith.

A former lead crash investigator for the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) doesn’t believe the wreckage of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 will ever be found—and with it, the data recorded on the black boxes will be lost to the investigation.

“I hope I am wrong but I personally don’t believe we will ever find the wreckage. I think we will find pieces that drifted,” Greg Feith, the investigator, said in an exclusive interview with Leeham News and Comment.

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Sequence of Events of MH370 and the probabilities

The mystery of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 continues, as the search area today shifted nearly 700 miles to the northeast following continued analysis of known data of the flight.

Investigative focus also is on the pilot of the flight, while others continue to support mechanical, fire or depressurization theories.

We felt from the second day this was a criminal act of some kind, not some issue with the airplane. The information, we felt, clearly pointed to movements of the airplane as a result of someone in command control of the Boeing 777.

We put together this sequence of events that, to us and apparently also to investigators, that we believe points to no other explanation but human intervention.

 

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Odds and Ends: MH370 tracking; Garuda rules out A380, 747-8; last 747-400 flight; E-Jet vs Turbo-props

MH370 tracking: With Britain’s Immarsat and the Air Accident Investigation Board key to determining the general location of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370, The London Telegraph has one of the best narratives of of the behind-the-scenes story of how this came about. The London Independent also has a good story. And here is a story that explains the difficulties of searching in remote oceans.

  • Update, 10:30am PDT: Aviation analyst and former pilot John Nance is profiled in this Puget Sound Business Journal account that includes’ Nance’s theory of MH370. It’s an intriguing theory. He believes this was a deliberate act–either terrorism or murder-suicide–and that once the flight settled out southbound from Malaysia, it was set on auto-pilot and all aboard, including the pilot, were killed by asphyxiation. The airplane flew until it ran out of fuel and crashed into the Indian Ocean; he even gives a speed and angle-of-attack estimate.

Garuda rules out A380, 747-8: The Australian reports that after planning to order either the Airbus A380 or Boeing 747-8 last year, officials have ruled this out.

Last 747-400 flight: Japan’s All Nippon Airlines plans to complete its last Boeing 747-400 flight this month, ending an iconic era in the country where 747s once ruled the skies.

E-Jet vs Turbo-Props: At the ISTAT conference last week, we reported that Embraer says its E-175 E2 is more efficient than similarly sized turbo props on missions of more than 250 miles. This story in The Economic Times of India follows through on this theme.

Caution on recovering data from MH370 FDR, CVR

With the news that the Malaysian authorities announced that Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 ended in the Southern Indian Ocean, and the US Navy  is sending a “pinger locator” there to look for the black boxes, we need to raise some caution about assumptions that these will reveal all there is to know about what happened on the flight.

 

The flight data recorder (FDR) and cockpit voice recorder (CVR) are located in the rear of the airplane, inaccessible to the cockpit or cabin, a Boeing 777 instructor tells us. Unlike the Boeing 737 in which a rogue pilot turned off these devices before plunging the airplane in a suicide dive, the 777′s FDR and CVR power controls are only accessible in the electronics bay and the access is through a floor panel outside the cockpit, in the cabin of the aircraft.

 

Assuming the FDR and CVR, therefore, were operational right up until the time of the crash of the airplane, there should be data recoverable if these units are eventually found. The FDR, being digital, has a 24 hour capacity and should provide a wealth of information. The CVR has only a two hour capacity and may yield much less, however. Clearly, it won’t reveal anything that happened over the Gulf of Thailand—this will have been overwritten by the end of MH370. But whether there is anything to be revealed on the last two hours for the flight is going to be uncertain.

 

In the US, by law the cockpit conversations recordings are only in 30 minute increments-the most recent 30 minutes. If this practice is true for other countries, including Malaysia, anything said in the cockpit as to what transpired when the plane originally was “lost” while still over the Gulf of Thailand will be lost to history. But the final 30 minutes of cockpit conversation, and any noise from the cabin within “earshot” of the cockpit microphones, should be retained on the CVR. But also in the US, pilots have the ability to erase the CVR once at the gate—and it’s certainly possible this occurred before MH370 went into the ocean.

 

Given the success, albeit two years after the crash, investigators had in recovering the FDR and CVR of Air France Flight 447 (the one that crashed into the South Atlantic in 2009, with main wreck recovered from around 12,000 ft), we feel reasonably confident MH370 will eventually be found and the recorders recovered. But manage your expectations about what might be found on the recorders.

MH370 search off Australia: exercise caution; images could be “sea junk”

The search for Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 has shifted to about 1,500 miles west of Australia following the discovery of something in the waters there by satellite images.

One of the objects is about 80 feet long. As with the images released by China of objects in the Gulf of Thailand of roughly the same size, the idea that something 80 feet long seems to us to be too heavy to float. Except in this case, we think if could be possible. Here’s why.

In the Gulf of Thailand, this would have been with an hour or so after take off–a plane still laden with fuel. In Australia, the plane would have been at the point of having used up all its fuel. Therefore, we think it possible a wing separated from the airplane upon impact with the water might remain afloat.

See this video of the impact of the Ethiopian Boeing 767. This was in shallow water, but there is a split second midway through the video where it appears one wing is floating on the water (this is different from the image at the end, where it seems a wing is resting on the bottom).

Having said all that, we urge caution in leaping to conclusions that whatever the Australian images saw, this area of the ocean is, by news accounts, replete with “sea junk.”

MH370, Day 12: 10 theories, courtesy of BBC

To no surprise, we’re still wondering where Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 is.

The BBC has an excellent review of 10 theories about the flight’s mysterious disappearance, which beat us to it; we had planned to take this approach now that we’re done with the ISTAT conference.

One theory that recently surfaced is the fire-in-the-cargo-hold, destroying all communications. We point out once more that there are five radios on the plane plus two transponders. The last cargo hold fire we can remember was the ValuJet DC-9 accident on May 11, 1996. But these pilots had time to radio before being overcome by smoke. Despite plunging nose first into the Miami Everglades, there was still some debris–small though it was. We discount this theory.

The more telling bizarre twist is the revelation that Thailand military had detected an unidentified blip but waited 10 days to present the information–because it hadn’t been asked.

One would have thought that someone might have taken the initiative to volunteer this information before being asked.

The Thai and Malaysian militaries need to hold joint maneuvers in incompetence.

Odds and Ends: MH370 ACARS and landing areas

There continues to be mystery shrouding the disappearance of MAS flight MH370 and with it, loads of theories.

There is also continuing puzzlement over how the ACARS health monitoring system could have been turned off. We reported last week that simply flipping a switch could do so while other suggest it is far more complicated.

We once more turned to a Boeing 777 pilot/instructor to revisit this. His reply:

There’s a lot of misinformation out there. The ACARS can be turned off several ways. The easiest way is to simply take the Center VHF radio out of DATA mode and put it into VOICE – a simple switch movement. Another way is to go to the Manager Master and deselect all of the options for ACARS. In that case (if one of the radios is in DATA mode) you can still receive uplink messages but the airplane will not send downlink messages.
On to the now-famed “there are more than 600 fields where a 777 could be landed.” This image was collected from Twitter; we don’t know the original source.

It’s all well and good to put this together, and to suggest the plane landed at some field–but then what? How do you hide a Boeing 777 from satellites photography? If the airplane is to be refueled for future use, how do you service it (i.e., get enough fuel to a remote, undisclosed location to refuel it)? If you landed on a short strip, you likely need a lot of skill to take off again (see the Boeing Dreamlifter that landed a the wrong airport in Kansas), which suggests this would be beyond a “mere” hijacker.

We continue to believe the airplane crashed, or was crashed, into the ocean.

MH370, Day 7: Malaysian authorities’ latest statement

We’ve been provided the latest statement from the Malaysian authorities, from which news reports have been written. We find the information in the statement to be more than a little interesting, so we’re reprinting it verbatim.

Official statement:

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MH370 Day 6: tracking the missing flight

We don’t have anything to add today to the self-explanatory news in the last 24 hours that electronic signals tracked Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 and this is increasingly being viewed as a criminal act.

This graphic is worth reproducing here, based on a Reuters article and published on Twitter, depicting the route of the airplane.