Investigative focus on MAS MH370

The following will be areas of focus for the investigation of the Malaysian Airlines MH370 crash, involving a Boeing 777-200ER equipped with Rolls-Royce engines. These are standard areas of investigation and at this point, listing them here doesn’t imply or suggest any one area is more prevalent than another.

  • Catastrophic structural failure of the airframe and/or engines. We consider this highly unlikely, given the sterling history of the 777, but investigators will look at this possibility.
  • Dual engine flame out and immediate loss of control. The RR engines have had a history of icing that cut fuel flow. This was the cause of the British Airways 777-200ER crash landing at London Heathrow. A fix was undertaken, but this possibility will undoubtedly be considered. Even if this happened, unless there was an immediate loss of control,  there would have been glide time and the ability of the crew to radio an emergency. The Ram Air Turbine (RAT) would have supplied basic power and instrumentation.
  • Control upset caused by clear air turbulence. Apparently weather was good but CAT is not unusual in the Pacific. CAT would have to be awfully extreme to cause an upset of such magnitude as to permit the airplane to dive into the ocean in so short a period of time as to preclude a radio call. But remember that Air France 447 descended from cruising altitude to impact without a radio call in a very short period of time.
  • Cockpit penetration and incapacitation of the crew, followed by deliberate destruction of the airplane.
  • A bomb.
  • Any prospect of an accidental shoot-down by a military missile.
  • Pilot suicide. As inflammatory as this possibility is, this has been the cause of at least two crashes into water. The history of the pilots will be studied and any information from the black boxes will help on this point,

51 Comments on “Investigative focus on MAS MH370

  1. HEARD your comments on Megan Kelley — well done. One minor item missed. Black Box has a locator beacon which should last for a ?? hours. reports are that beacon signal was later heard, and a few minutes ago 10 30 pm PST announcement that viet authorities claim plane had crashed in water off coast

  2. I also think that a structural failure is unlikely. If I recall correctly, all other similar accidents (loss of aircraft at cruise altitude without prior distress signal) in the last 30 years involved bombs. Except AF447, which was stalled at high altitude and entered an unrecoverable attitude. Unlikely that happened in this case.

    • “Except AF447, which was stalled at high altitude and entered an unrecoverable attitude”

      AF447 IMO is the result of an experienced well trained crew and a perfectly functional aircraft misscommunicating. If the pilot had simply fainted the aircraft would have recovered..

      Anyway sad to see another accident and enormous loss of live and a few hundred family tragedies.. Probably the result of human and technical problems strenghtening each other again. Most crashes are around airports, mid air crews often have time to correct and communicate..

    • Wasn’t the crash due to a poorly repaired pressure bulkhead also a high altitude event?

  3. What kind of information do 777’s send to the Boeing maintenance centre during flight?

    • Does anyone know more about this? as I recall the problems of Qantas and AF were quickly “known” because of the relayed data.

      • Well ACARS. But that information won’t be available until the investigators release it.

  4. Well the ELT, flight recorders and wreck will no doubt be found within a few days. I feel something abrupt might have happened. It seems no disstress signals.

  5. Hopefully the wreckage will be found quickly, and at a water depth that is (relatively) easily recoverable, like TW-800 was. If the wreckage is in very deep water, like AF-447 was, it will be that much more difficult.

    RIP to all the passengers and crew, may God bless your souls.

  6. The B777 had an issue with its ADIRU causing some rather strange reactions by the aircraft. Scary stuff when that happens at night. Happened 2005, B777-200ER of Maylasian Airlines (9M-MRG, LN0140). 9M-MRO was LN0405.
    I don’t know whether the investigation has found any recommendations. However, given that it happened in the same company there is a chance that experience gained with that situation was shared between pilots.

  7. Umm.. I think terrorism has just become a much stronger hypothesis:

    “Nella lista risultava anche un italiano, Luigi Maraldi, del ‘77: ma l’uomo ha telefonato ai genitori rassicurandoli di star bene e di essere in Thailandia. Maraldi nei mesi scorsi aveva denunciato il furto del suo passaporto, avvenuto il 1° agosto scorso, mentre si trovava nel Paese asiatico. Tornato in Italia, ha ottenuto un nuovo documento a Ravenna, dove nel frattempo ha preso la residenza, poi è tornato in Thailandia.”

    From – that’s a very respected Italian daily.

    I translate:

    “On the passenger list was also an Italian, Luigi Maraldi, born 1977. But the man has phoned his parents to reassure them he is fine in Thailand. Some months ago Maraldi had reported the theft of his passport, on 1 August last year, when he was in the Asian country. Returning to Italy, he got a new passport in Ravenna, where he has taken up residence, and then returned to Thailand.”

    His parents apparently confirmed this to the police when they came to visit. Somebody was on board with a fake passport if this is correct.

    • Use of stolen passports in no way strengthens the case of terrorism. It is fairly widespread in those parts of the world, and done for various illicit activities, terrorism being very, very low down in the list. But I agree that it does need to be investigated.

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  9. Is a disturbing moment for the aviation community and all my sympathy is for all these people affected and these who will respectfully try to learn and discuss as much as possible what happen in this flight. Also in the case of Lauda and Af447 the severity of the events did not leave a chance to the crew to comunicate. we have to wait the painful readings from the FDR.It looks another mystery as it was the AF447 in the aftermath of its disappearance.

  10. Now turns out the Austrian passenger also wasn’t on the plane, and had his passport stolen in Thailand 2 years ago…

    “Österreicher nicht unter Passagieren

    Entwarnung gab es hingegen aus dem Außenministerium in Wien bezüglich eines Österreichers, dessen Name auf der Passagierliste aufgeschienen war. „Er ist wohlauf, gesund und in Österreich“, sagte Sprecher Martin Weiss der APA. Dem Mann war vor rund zwei Jahren in Thailand der Reisepass gestohlen worden.”

  11. Nobody mentioned the possibility of an in flight fire yet. One Lithium Ion battery in the baggage compartment could be enough to start a fire.

    • But there should have been time to issue a distress call in the case of a cargo hold fire as suggested here.

    • I doubt a Li-ion battery fire would cause such a sudden loss of contact. The two recent most crashes suspected of Li-ion fire were the cargo flights UPS flight 6 and Asiana Flight 991. Even in those instances, the pilots did have sufficient time to report a fire and attempt a diversion. I doubt you’ll find any bigger consignment of batteries in passenger planes.

    • In the Asiana flight, btw, it took 18 minutes for the aircraft to lose contact after initial reports of fire by the crew.

  12. In all cases, the first follow up information out the purports to be as fact is WRONG! (the first its missing is true of course). Mindless speculation and ranting contributes nothing.

    The possibilities were presented and other than mid-air collision of some kind it covers the situation.

    It will be many days and weeks before there is any clarity other than the basic facts (missing/crashed and location) Even transmitted maint data if any will take time to find and assess as its not intended as a crash reporting tool.

    The next information should be a rough location and then some idea of water depth and how difficult the depth and area will be in recovery (if any, no attempt was made to recover the 747-400F off Korea when it went down though passenger deaths may force all parties to resolve).

    I will say I admired the tenacity of Airbus in the efforts to recover AF447. It painted a poor picture of both their automation (in that case, but not exclusive) as well as AF pilots deficiency (also not exclusive as we have seen over and over again)

      • We don’t know much about how many Pax travel by way of a “borrowed” passport on any given flight. Low chance of exposure on a regular flight.

  13. First of all RIP to all passengers and crew onboard. A few observations:

    1. On AF447 the crew thought the plane was in control, it stalled and flat spinned into the Atlantic. One indicator kept showing it was exceeding MMO. I can certainly understand why that crew never made a distress call. They never new what hit them, quite literally.

    2. Yes, there have been fuel filter issues on RR engines but we must remember that the LHR accident aircraft flew through unseasonal extremely cold temperatures before initiating its landing sequence. This airplane was flying in much warmer weather before it disappeared, I seriously doubt the same issue would crop up here.

    3. When is the commercial aviation community gonna quit living with 1950’s technology when it comes trying to figure out what happens in accidents. For decades now we’ve had the technology to make sure all FDR and CVR readings can be transmitted via satellite to a secure ground location, every day, every flight. Instead, we have to spend millions of $$$’s looking for these devices in the worst possible situations (ie. AF 447 and TW 800). As a matter of fact, why do we still have just CVR’s recording flight deck activity. There should be TV cameras everywhere recording what’s happening there, again, with all data being transmitted real time. Lastly, many of us own a $100 device which can access the GPS for a pretty accurate determination of our location at any given time. You can’t tell me we could not have GPS devices on these very expensive machines which could again transmit accurate location real time. If these very common place current day technologies were in place on MH 370, we would at the very least know where to pinpoint a search area for this accident and likely already have an initial probable cause.

      • NOT REALLY – for several years most aircraft in U.S and others have been using an automated reporting system re plane operation almost worldwide with flight parameters, and certain engine and system data.

        Suggest you look up ACRS and similar ..

        • Mistyped ACRS S/B ACARS from wiki 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. The protocol, which was designed by Aeronautical Radio, Incorporated (ARINC) to replace their very high frequency (VHF) voice service and deployed in 1978,[1] uses telex formats. The IT company SITA later augmented their worldwide ground data network by adding radio stations to provide ACARS service. Over the next 20 years, ACARS will be superseded by the Aeronautical Telecommunications Network (ATN) protocol for Air Traffic Control communications and by the Internet Protocol for airline communications.

          • YES REALLY – Agreed on GPS location, ACARS does supposedly provide that info assuming ACARS is active on the plane. However, if it were that accurate, would you not think they would have a good idea where that plane is by now ??? The water is not that deep in that are. To my knowledge ACARS primarily provides system failure notices and in such a manner intended to alert the upcoming destination there is a potential maintenance requirement upon arrival. This provides for better dispatch reliability. ACARS originally started as an automated basic TOD, TOA, block time, flight time system and has grown into the failure reporting system over time. It has NEVER been geared towards providing the huge number of flight parameters and voice recordings contained on modern day FDR’s and CVR’s. After all, AF 447 transmitted several failure notices via ACARS before it plunged into the Atlantic. Nevertheless, that info provided little if any clue what happened to the plane. The French Navy spent TWO YEARS hunting for the FDR and CVR of that plane. Can’t even fathom the cost of that exercise. Interestingly, straight from the same Wikipedia entry you quoted for ACARS is this interesting line:

            “In the wake of the crash of Air France Flight 447, there has been discussion about making ACARS an “online-black-box.”[4] If such a system were in place, it would avoid the loss of data due to: (1) black-box destruction, and (2) inability to locate the black-box following loss of the aircraft. However, due to high bandwidth requirements, the cost would be excessive and there have in fact been very few incidents where the black boxes were not recoverable.”

            Given the continuing increase in twin engine over water flights all over world and many in non radar monitored areas, it seems to me that after TW 800, AF 447 and MH 370, and in a day and age when long haul international WiFi capability is becoming reality the time has come that the cost effectiveness side of the equation dictates a making all FDR data as well as flight deck VIDEO and audio transmission real time for all flights, day in day out, period.

            All I can say is that if I was one of the family members of AF 447 or MH 370 having to wait day upon day for any news of even locating something from the plane knowing full well that what I’m suggesting is technically feasible and should have already been implemented across the board, I would be even more beside myself given the unnecessary grief and stress the lack of knowledge would impart upon me.

    • Hello Bruce!
      re 1: The persons in the AF 447 cockpit never meshed as a crew.
      As Crew, they never managed to understand the situation.
      re 2: The BA 777 incident was linked to significant time spent with
      engines at low thrust and fuel “overcooled” clogging the fuel/oil
      heat exchanger due to not enough energy available.
      IMU no similarity to the MH flight profile.
      ( Don’t judge stratospheric temps, humidity, .. on the conditions
      found at ground level. It is not tightly linked and climate change
      has widened the gap )
      re 3: Having the FDR/VDR combo know its place in space and time
      is moot as long as it can’t tell about it.
      If you can “hear” the FDR/VDR beacon you can determine where
      it is. no GPS neccessary ( usually ). IMU the AF447 search was still
      much cheaper than potential infrastructure investment like your vision
      Sat data radio is of limited bandwidth, not yet reliable and has high demand on
      infrastructure. finally it is expensive.
      Nonetheless I expect this to open a second storage path in the near future.

      • Hi Uwe: Thanks for your valuable commentary.

        Re 1: I should clarify. You are absolutely right that the crew did not mesh, no question about that. I was strictly commenting regarding the lack of a mayday call from that crew and all I think is they thought they were flying the airplane despite the instrument discrepancies without realizing they in fact stalled the plane in a flat spin heading straight for the Atlantic Ocean in a horizontal attitude.

        Re 2: I suppose if MH 370 was in level flight, thrust settings would not be in idle for an extended period of time. Like you agree fuel filter clogging should not be an issue here. Even if it could have been, the plane would likely glide loosing about 2500 ft. / min. which would give the crew a good 10+ minutes to radio an obvious mayday situation (ie. double engine flameout).

        Re 3: OK, I’ll buy the concept that maybe bandwidth is not there for transmission of real time video of the flight deck but I beg to differ regarding the required bandwidth to transmit FDR parameters (simple data points) and even flight deck conversations. In this day and age of International WiFi available for passengers on international flights (and it has technically been available from Boeing since the mid to late 1990’s), we surely can find a way to transmit FDR and CVR data real time for every flight. And even if that capability were still some ways in the future, why don’t we have video recordings of flight deck activity rather than just audio ??? That’s just flat out ridiculous. There have been several flights were investigators to this day can’t say exactly what happened on a flight deck (Egyptair B767 and Swissair 111 come to mind). Video (assuming it worked all the way to impact) would have made a difference even if it only were recorded in a black box and still had to be found after the accident.

        • Some clues to what may have happened may already be known.
          1. The recent terrorist attack at a Chinese train station where some 33 people were stabbed to death.
          2. Some reports claim a US Military radar site in Thailand may have tracked MH-370 making a turn to return to KUL (or some other place).
          If that is true, then the crew, or someone else initiated that turn without contacting ATC. If someone else turned the airplane, that could indicate the flight crew was/may have already been incapacitated.
          3. A bomb, or structural break-up at FL-350 would scatter the wreckage over tens of miles/km, if not more. The lighter weight pieces (that would normally float) may be scattered much further apart, and would break into many pieces upon impact with the water. Heavier pieces (landing gear, engines, large surviving structural pieces, etc.) would also be scattered over a large area. Assuming the airplane was at normal cruse airspeed, that is about 7 miles per minute across the ground, depending on winds aloft.

        • OK,
          WiFi is short distance wireless comms linking persoal equipment to a hub or p2p in an adhoc setup. ( i.e. your iPad’s link to the ships infrastructure in lieu of a cable )

          What you have in mind is linked to Inmarsat BGAN ( ) or similar services.
          All information from _all_ sources has to go through a limited number of satellites and on a limited number of channels with limited capacity. i.e. core Keyword is limited 😉
          Your plane has to actively keep the link up to be able to send data.
          the connection has to be reliable. ( Note that internet access for Pax has no such requirement. you might raise hackles but not risk 😉
          The conditions that provoke an incident also regularly limit or prohibit communications. IMHO all the “duh easy” propositions lack in KISS quality.

          Think about it: What percentage of incidents could not be resolved for lack of
          FDR/VDR information or any debris at all?
          Is giving 2..400 families ( over decades ) slightly earlier information worth spending billions?
          Travel today is so save that we appear to be completely unprepared for ( and also unwilling to endure ) the side effects. compare: there are still people around that have no clear information over POW or “missing” status of relatives.

          Finally compare to NSA ( and brethren ) snooping who really leave no bit unarchived. For the declared purpose obviously useless. Though effective for retrieving information to pressure dissenters into submission.

      • Google for Rolls Royce “Engine Health Monitoring” system and for Boeing “Aircraft Health Management” system. Both of them offered to ailrlines as an optional service reporting malfunctions in flight via satelite to improve maintenance.

    • Correction. It is not issues with the fuel filter but the fuel/oil heat exchanger.

  14. I am amazingly surprised! Airlines sped big bucks to provide Internet to passenger and apparently nothing to establish a continue contact and monitor with their airliners?
    Is anyone considers the implication of an in flight upset due to ADIRS failure? this incident also happened at night in absence of visual references.
    How possible is that 24 hours passed without detecting the position of its ELT?


    This piece stems from PPRuNe six minutes ago .. it is timed ten minutes before, Moscow time … it would imply that some Chinese passanger was reached on his mobile phone briefly, called from China by Relatives … but the contact was interrupted quasi instantly ?? Does this mean MH370 has landed somewhere and those passengers who still have mobiles are now reacheable ?

  16. Since it was picked up by military radar, could it have been shot down by a fighter aircraft and they are trying to hide this?

  17. NEWS FLASH! ! ! ! : For the first time in the history of the internet the ‘Comments’ section of an article contains only thoughtful, intelligent responses. Reporting news agencies have stated that there is no known precedent for such a phenomenon. Scientific speculation is pointing toward a possible evolutionary shift in the species. However, several neuro-scientists have encouraged caution, stating that the situation is, most likely, a biological aberration or the result of a group genetic mutation and not likely to again occur in the next several generations — if ever.


    Dated: November 5, 2013.
    Rex A. Barnes,
    Associate Administrator, Agricultural
    Marketing Service.
    [FR Doc. 2013–27533 Filed 11–15–13; 8:45 am]
    BILLING CODE 3410–02–P

    Federal Register /Vol. 78, No. 222 /Monday, November 18, 2013 /Rules and Regulations 68985

    Federal Aviation Administration
    14 CFR Part 25
    [Docket No. FAA–2013–0958; Special
    Conditions No. 25–503–SC]
    Special Conditions: Boeing Model 777–
    200, –300, and –300ER Series
    Airplanes; Aircraft Electronic System
    Security Protection From Unauthorized
    Internal Access
    AGENCY: Federal Aviation
    Administration (FAA), DOT.
    ACTION: Final special conditions.
    SUMMARY: These special conditions are
    issued for the Boeing Model 777–200,
    –300, and –300ER series airplanes.
    These airplanes, as modified by the
    Boeing Company, will have novel or
    unusual design features associated with
    the architecture and connectivity of the
    passenger service computer network
    systems to the airplane critical systems
    and data networks. This onboard
    network system will be composed of a
    network file server, a network extension
    device, and additional interfaces
    configured by customer option. The
    applicable airworthiness regulations do
    not contain adequate or appropriate
    safety standards for this design feature.
    These special conditions contain the
    additional safety standards that the
    Administrator considers necessary to
    establish a level of safety equivalent to
    that established by the existing
    airworthiness standards.
    DATES: Effective Date: The effective date
    of these special conditions is November
    18, 2013.
    Varun Khanna, FAA, Airplane and
    Flight Crew Interface Branch, ANM–
    111, Transport Airplane Directorate,
    Aircraft Certification Service, 1601 Lind
    Avenue SW., Renton, Washington
    98057–3356; telephone 425–227–1298;
    facsimile 425–227–1149.

    • I read about this yesterday Don. But I have not seen anything that says this particular airplane was modified with the new software or not. Has anyone heard anything about this?

      • Well- the point is – most computer software types with an ounce of brains would go ballistic if one did the same thing with a drone or self driving car. To even allow the possibility of interplay between flight software and public accessible electronics has got to be the height of stupidity. No doubt it was done to save a few bucks on software and or servers. IMHO the only thing in common between the two systems should be a radio- interface wireless with the cockpit PA and perhaps a well filtered power system tie-in to a NON critical flight power system. Consider its already been proven that hackers can get into commercial power systems, etc. IMHO BAS should fire the power point rangers who came up with that concept, AND the miss- management who approved it!. All to save a few feet of wire and a cheap server ????

        • The spoofs community incl drone operations are notoriously below par in IT things beyond sticking it to others ( which seems to work motr on chuzpe and not on savvy anyway ).
          Snowdon and a virus infestation on drone operator stations is proof enough.

      • Well- even though the probability would be VERY small ( especially in the current case ) by allowing any kind of a hard wire connection to the FBW system – the public perception and the tin foil hat crowd would in the future be negative PR under the best of cases. EVERY crash in the future would have that front and center.

        IOW – IMHO – its pure stupidity and lack of common sense given the daily proof of virus and similar attacks on then internet. Especially for NO apparent reason to tie the two together. Given the current mismanagement and lack of end to end testing to even propose such a tie is insane . . . trust is hard won – and easily lost . .

        • You need very good virtual separation and firewalling.
          You do not need physical separation. ( It does nothing for your security, though it may appear that way “duh obvious” on the surface.)
          You need to get rid of anything that ever got in intellectual contact with Microsoft, though.
          Finally stuff like Flame or Stuxnet introduced by “State Sponsored Terrorists” but targeting forex FBW or other systems (like the 787 lithium charger ;-?) for some cheap and nefarious objective could introduce real deep problems in the uprorar of late blowback .

  19. I think you should look into possibility of hijacking the plane going bad. The plane may have crashed somewhere during the process. Hijackers have noting to claim so they may hit it again!

    • What type of terrorist hijack would turn completely worthless without a ransom demand phase?

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