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.

43 Comments on “Odds and Ends: MH370 ACARS and landing areas

  1. So far this comment makes much more logical sense than most that have been recently posted!!!!! except those I posted of course.

    • It has been more than 24 hours since all the posts about luggage in the water and actually seeing parts of the fusalage floating just under the water. How did that all work out?

      The BBC has a good article on 10 plausable theories. http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-26609687

      • I can only go on the same info previously posted on this same threadline that you have. It was reported by two independent sources that debris and suitcases had been recovered from the Straits of Malacca by transiting vessels.
        I have not seen any follow up which could be explained by the vessels being still in transit, or possibly it was a phoney report which is something no-one can control.
        Or perhaps the dreaded hand of the Censor has now entered the picture?
        Your choice!

  2. I guess that at many of these places mobile reception is available. With other 300 people on board someone would make contact. So just the view airfields with no mobile reception are a weak possibility.

    • I think that regardless of where the airplane went, all the passengers and crew have to be presumed either i) dead or ii) accomplices. Neither of the two groups is likely to pick up their phone.

      • Not necessarily. Cellphones are arguably ‘personal tracking devices with phone conveniences attached’.

        I’ll run with your theory for a minute. At a weird extreme, let’s say all were suicidal accomplices, but all still retained their personal cellphones at the level of cellphone ownership for typical WMKK-ZBAA passengers. In this case, likely 200+ ‘personal tracking devices’ would be onboard the flight. They all go out of range over the Gulf, but when they get back into range of a system tower that tracks these devices, updates automatically happen (to collect/receive undelivered texts and calls). These accomplices do not have to pick up their phones, right? But, to be stealth, they have to ensure every damned one is fully turned off. What are the odds? I am guessing cellphone discipline for Asian airline passengers may be not much better than for U.S. audiences?

        More realistically, there werre no more than one (or three) ‘accomplices’. IMHO, this likely was a suicidal incident, instigated by one flightdeck occupant … but aviation interests will try to manipulate the details and spin the story so that it becomes just some freakish act of God (random cargo hold fire, random failure with decompression, etc.). Critically, the goal is to preserve public interest in flying, and to minimize fiscal liability for the incident, so aviation interests have a strong incentive to manage the information and the final story.

      • What about Hanimaadhoo/Hanimadu?
        1.2 km long runway. Maybe just one cell tower. Island seized by Somali pirates.
        Still very low probability.

  3. The currently known facts are consistent only with some catastrophic failure causing loss of control and severing power to the transmitters. In 1985 crash of JAL 747 between Osaka and Tokyo the rear bulkhead failed and escaping pressurized air damaged tailfin stabilizers. Nevertheless the pilots managed to stay airborne for over half hour before crashing into a mountain. The rapid descent reported earlier could have been pilot’s reaction to the decompression. Decompression could have been caused by structural failure or a bomb. The ‘fire in the sky’ reported by an oil rig worker could have been a meteorite before impacting the plane. Cargo or cockpit fire could also explain the sequence of events much better than any of the criminal act scenarios being discussed at length in the media. Flying very low looking for a place to attempt crash-landing could explain lack of radar detection during the rest of the flight.

    • That theory doesn’t explain the comm situation, voice and data. No ACARS (before the last voice transmission), and no VHF or HF communications.
      Although a fire that was not controlled by automatic systems would explain the comm losses and loss of control of the airplane. But the airplane would have crashed near the last waypoint.

      • Here’s an attempt to explain, taking the EEB for a hide-out … let’s dub this :

        The BlindPax Scenario ?

        Assume that some blindpax accessed the EEB pre-flight, would they not then be in a position to listen in to VHF radiocom FD/ATC ? Could they somehow have witnessed the signoff call to Malaysian ATC near the borderllne to Vietnam (was this at 01h.07 LT ?) ? If yes, this could explain the perfect timing of ACARS disconnect, followed or preceded closely by Transponder INOP (at 01h21 ?), including also (yet, we do not know this ?) VHF/HF radiocom INOP ? + whatnotelse also INOP (ad hoc list of items TBD) ?, all of which are assumed to be completed in close sequence by experts in avionics, tampering with the relevant ‘boxes’ down in the EEB ?

        But therefrom my Blind Pax scenario blurs into a haze : where exactly would the hit-man(-men) irrupt when moving out of cover, and what would have been the modus operandi to successfully surprise/control 239 opponents ? Here I need inputs ?

        If (IF ?) all of the 239 actually WERE ‘opponents’ ? … Or alternatively e.g. (this is the ‘Mission Impossible Addendum’ ??) could the FMS have been be hacked into from the EEB with some plug-in override device, so the aircraft is flown from FL350 to FL410 or higher against PIC/FO’s will, this to deal with ‘opponents’ by voluntary decompression, the Blind Pax themselves being duly equipped with O2 etc ?

        Insanely wild, merely far-fetched or plausible ? Nota Bene : posted early this morning @ PPRuNe, my scenario was deleted shortly/reported ? Sensitive stuff ?

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

    So do I, and I never thought otherwise. It’s almost impossible to hide a big aircraft like the 777 for such a long period of time. The only plausible explanation for not finding this aircraft is that it probably sits deep at the bottom of the ocean. Most likely the Indian ocean. We may never find this aircraft but I remain optimistic that we will. It might take a few years though, like it did in the case of Flight 447.

    However the motivations to find it are strong and numerous. I just hope the authorities will be able to gather enough informations to narrow down the search area, like they were able to do in the case of AF447.

    They most likely know more than what has been released so far and they probably have a good idea by now of what might have happened. They just don’t know in what part of the world exactly this long-range aircraft fell out of the sky.

    Personally I don’t think this airplane crashed by itself. The 777 is an extremely reliable aircraft. It was most likely a deliberate act. This story has a better chance to be resolved by a psychiatrist than an aircraft engineer.

    • Once again I have yet to see any cogent argument telling me my theory of a possible Decompression event at altitude is completely wrong. This event I am still convinced probably caused enough damage in the lower lobe area which contains the electrical system wiring and electrical components, to cause the in-capacitance and unhappily the probable death of all onboard, the aircraft, still under partial control of the auto-pilot, and being inherently stable, simply wandered off to the South until such times as the fuel was exhausted.
      The 777 literally gliding down and then stalling into the waters of the Malaccan Strait. Any further speculation by the so-called experts (like me) is completely useless as well as time consuming, not until the Flight recorders are recovered will we learn the truth about this unhappy event!

      • still under partial control of the auto-pilot, and being inherently stable, simply wandered off to the South until such times as the fuel was exhausted.

        What do you mean by “partial control of the auto-pilot”?
        The plane was picked up by radar definitely turning West. Auto-pilot would keep it on its planned route headed for the last programmed waypoint, and then would enter a holding pattern there, until such time as fuel is exhausted. See the Helios accident, where just that happened.
        Here, we have a plane that went wildly off its planned course and drastically changed altitude a few times. That is not consistent with any sort of auto-pilot manoeuvring. It is consistent with pilot action trying to avoid radar detection.

    • How does diving from 45,000ft to 25,000ft help to extinguish a fire inside the aircraft??

      • ‘diving’ is standard procedure in case of catastrophic decompression (which could have been associated with damage to plane electric systems and ability to navigate and control the airplane). The only thing that doesn’t fit is the timing of the sign-off call. But they changed the timeline before..

    • The fact that tells against this theory, and indeed any major plane malfunction, is the copilot’s “goodnight” message AFTER the transponders had been switched off.

      The only sensible explanation is that someone on the plane with the copilot’s co-operation, or the copilot on his own initiative, was deliberating trying to avoid detection. As part of that effort he also switched off the ACAR communication system.

      • In addition to that a new route was programmed into the FMS twelve minutes before the last call. So we have a total of three unwarranted actions around the time of the last call:

        1- FMS reprogrammed.
        2- ACARS deactivated.
        3- Transponders put in standby mode.

        Since the co-pilot was handling the communications it means the captain was flying the aircraft and was probably the one doing those actions, with or without the co-pilot’s involvement.

      • The information from the Malaysian Transport Department changed on Monday and it was clarified the “goodnight” message occurred two minutes BEFORE the transponders were switched off. So, suspicious, but not absolutely conclusive.

        • This was not new information. Many of us had been aware for a long time that the last radio call was made BEFORE the transponders were put on stand-by mode. That is precisely what makes this operation so suspicious and relevant. For it shows the intent behind the move. Indeed one would only do this in order to profit from the temporary break in communication when the flight handling was passed over from Malaysia to Vietnam ATC.

          In addition to this, the fact that the FMS was reprogrammed 12 minutes before the last radio call only ads credence to a highjack scenario. We have to understand that the FMS was reprogrammed at that time for an action that was to take place shortly after the last radio call. So there is an intentional and highly significant time delay between the reprogramming and the actual turn it commanded to the aircraft. In other words the FMS turn was programmed to happen after the last radio call.

  5. I agree Scott. Sadly, it’d appear flight MH370 crashed (due to a botched hijacking) or was crashed (suicide) somewhere in the Indian Ocean. It may take years to find the parts. As I said in a previous post, all one can say with a degree of certainty at this stage, is that this tragic event will have profound repercussions on how flying aircraft are tracked and monitored in future. Particularly in light that many now know that disabling an aircraft’s transponder and ACARS is possible. There will be changes: http://www.aviationweek.com/Article.aspx?id=/article-xml/awx_03_14_2014_p0-672545.xml

    • I think there is a good chance Malaysian Airlines will be bankrupted by this event. Chinese passengers in particular will be reluctant to travel with the airline, which isn’t in the best of financial health anyway. Unfortunately the profit motive is often more powerful in getting change than people’s lives

    • I must say to their defense that up until now CBC News had excellent coverage of this story. I cannot explain this laps in journalistic ethos.

    • The article has since been rewritten and phrased differently. What was presented earlier as theories now come under the title “Vivid speculation”. And what was originally presented as five theories is now presented as three theories, including a new one. Three of the original theories were dropped to the “vivid speculation” status.

      So the above link does not conform to the original article I complained about. They have modified the article but the link remains the same. It is the first time I quote an article that no longer exists but is still available under a new disguise!

      • Unlikely but possible meteorite strike seems much more likely than most of the devious hijacking contemplated and reported at length..

  6. Maldives Islanders claim to have spotted “low flying jet”:

    This is interesting news in itself, but it becomes even more interesting when we consider the fact that the captain, who is possibly the prime suspect in this affair, had Malé International Airport as one of five airports in the region where he had practiced landing a 777 in is home flight simulator.

    • The Maldives are on the route to Somalia from Malaysia. It would fit a plausible hijacking objective. I am not sure they square with the satellite readings though.

  7. These paid clown at media Cirrus of CNN should read The commenta in this blog and spare to the families additional pain.

  8. “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”

    I do not know why it should be necessary that someone would want to take-off again. Maybe the motives reside in the cargo and/or one or more of the passengers – no need to take off again. Camouflaging a plane has been done before – the landing area should be sufficiently remote. My personal guess would be Myanmar

  9. And what do we do with all the pax. who by now would be more than upset? How do we unload the cargo which will no doubt be palletized? I don’t think the average fuel truck on a jungle strip will carry enough fuel to take a 777 very far?
    Enough already with these silly flights of fancy (no Pun intended) let us just support the authorities as they hopefully continue the search!
    Assuming that is someone will take charge and settle on a plan! I know its easy for me to say, but so far one cannot be too impressed with the lack of co-operation amongst those supposedly in charge!

    • Unhappily my msg of March 18 appears to have been close to the mark, looking at the photographs and reading the info put out by the Blokes down South, it would seem the 777 had flown South until the fuel was exhausted and then finally ditched!
      I understand that there is a natural current drift in a Southerly direction in that area which would further move the wreckage to the South.
      If only we had learned days earlier that track of the 777 to the South had been seen and emphasized more then perhaps we would be further along in our search?

  10. Scott: On 18 Mar above you say: “We continue to believe the airplane crashed, or was crashed, into the ocean.”

    Today(23 Mar) you say on a CTV news interview that you now think it was due to criminal acts. Are you now considering that it might have been “The Great Plane Robbery” or a hijacking of some sort?

    Good interview by the way.

    • I’ve thought it a criminal act since the second day. The nature of the “criminal act” is broad and unknown and I couch my language accordingly: it could be pilot action, it could be pilots under duress, it could be hijacking, it could be terrorism. “The airplane crashed” could be something like the Ethiopian hijacking, crashing when it ran out of fuel (albeit that was a crash landing); or “it was crashed” could be a deliberate act of crashing it.


      • Scott, I do not believe this is a terrorist act. There have been no demands to release arrested prisoners, money, or troops to be pulled back from somewhere. Terrorists love headlines in as many newspapers and media as possible. This case has none of these.
        A hijacking is still a possibility if the cargo was valuable. The pilots could be involved if they uploaded additional fuel before departure. The pilots did not demand anything of a political nature. Pilot suicide would make sense if there were some kind of benefit to them, or their families (in terms of survivor benefits, if any, from MH). But both pilots would have to be in on it, unless one killed the other before the turn and maneuvers that took them off course.
        To me the most likely group involvement in the case of MH-370 is the Malaysian Government, the Captain of MH-370 was a member of the political opposition. The RMAF painted the aircraft on radar and did not respond to an unknown aircraft overflying Butterworth AFB, one of their most important air bases. The B-777 could still navigate across Malaysia using VORs, INS, and GPS (I doubt if it was equipped with TACAN). Butterworth AFB has a VOR combined with TACAN, called a VORTAC. Because the RMAF did not attempt to intercept the B-777 tells me they either knew what the targeted unknown was, specifically MH-370, or they were ordered to not intercept it.
        We now have several reports of satellites finding large pieces of debris in various places of the Indian Ocean. But if the jet descended rapidly into the ocean it would have broken up into lots of small pieces, not large ones, just like MS-990 did.
        No one has ditched a B-777 so only Boeing’s computer models would give an idea of how it would break apart. OZ-214 might give us some idea of how a B-777 might break up, but it also ‘cart wheeled’ across the SFO airfield.

        • Note we continue to say “criminal act,” without honing in on any one possibility. But if this were a terrorist act, our theory is this is a dry run to test procedures and responses, in anticipation of something bigger; and the terrorists would not broadcast their involvement or success.

  11. Analysed as a “Deliberate Act” by some third party (ie, not involving PIC or FO participation ?), given the superior skills displayed in the obfuscation of the aircraft, the whereabouts of which are +/- totally unknown to the world per 24th March (at least, according to ‘official’ sources), the following suspicions seem legitimate :
    (1) the events have the fingerprints of some (first-rate) state agency of influence ;
    (2) if yes, the events were closely monitored from high above (observation sat) ;
    (3) if yes, there are people who perfectly well know the point of impact of MH-370 ;
    (4) if yes, the same people would be ‘helpful’ misdirecting searches to elsewhere ;
    (5) alternatively, the same people would remain totally silent, their eyes watchful ;
    (6) the same people would be interested in first locating/dispose of CVR/FDR ;
    NB : btw, a controlled sea-ditching + sub-marine pick-up @ some rdv is a possibility

    If we accept the “Deliberate Act Theory” (?) the cances are that if/when the aircraft eventually is located one day, NTSB/BEA experts will find CVR/FDR were removed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *