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.

“I don’t believe the information that’s available right now, as I know it and has been publicized, will be enough to come up with a single cause or probable cause,” he said in an interview March 31.

Feith believes there will be several plausible theories that all will point to a deliberate act by someone with intimate knowledge of flying the Boeing 777, most likely one of the pilots. Too many deliberate actions maneuvering the airplane and turning off communications systems occurred to have any plausible mechanical failure explanation. He completely discounts theories that a fire, either in the electronics bay or involving lithium-ion batteries being transported in a cargo bay, disabled the airplane. He also discounts a theory that there was a depressurization that incapacitated the pilots and allowed the 777 to meander over the skies of the Gulf of Thailand, Malaysia and the Strait of Malacca before turning south 3,000 miles over the Indian Ocean before running out of fuel.

“When you look at the way the systems shut down just prior to the last communications—the transponder, then ACARS…” and the fact that ACARS had “pinging” communication with satellites after the transmission of data stopped, tells this veteran investigator that human intervention was responsible.

Some hypothesized that the airplane flew on auto pilot on its diverse flight path after pilots were disabled by fire. Feith discounted this as well.

“The transponder is turned off with a switch of a switch. ACARS goes off line with a few key strokes,” Feith told us. “If there was a fire, the auto pilot would have gone off line.”

Fire could not have disabled the transponder, he said. There are different wire bundles for the five radios, the two transponders and the ACARS precisely to avoid a single-source fire capable of disrupting these eight communications devices.

“There is no centralized area where a fire could take all these out at the same time,” he said.

As for the related theory that the auto pilot took over after the crew was disabled by hypoxia, the series of left and right hand turns belies this, he said. If the crew were overcome, the airplane would have continued on its original course to Beijing. Instead, it made a “shallow” left turn after its last radio communication with Malaysian Air Traffic Control to a new course almost behind its original course. Then, over the Strait of Malacca, it made a right turn, a left turn and another left turn going south over the Indian Ocean.

Citing his sources familiar with the investigation, Feith said these were shallow banks of perhaps 20 degrees, normal turns that would not have alerted passengers that anything was out of the ordinary.

“The auto pilot isn’t smart enough [on its own] to make the maneuvers the airplane did,” Feith said.

All the altitude changes that have been reported in the media are incorrect, he said, citing his sources. The airplane never left its cruising altitude of 35,000 ft.

Feith believes that all the turns were part of a deception plan by whoever was in control of the airplane. He doubts this person was a hijacker, who wouldn’t have the knowledge or the skill level of all the systems of the 777, nor a hijacker holding a gun to the head of the pilots.

If a hijacker intruded into the cockpit and commanded the pilots to shut down communications, a savvy pilot would have surreptitiously found a way to alert authorities, Feith said. When switching off the transponder, the pilot could have easily switched to 7700 (an Emergency code) or 7500 (hijacking), or easily depressed the radio button on the control wheel to transmit in the blind. “None of this happened.”

A fire of any kind in the electronics bay or the cargo hold where the lithium-ion batteries were stored is improbable, he said. The 777 has ample smoke and fire detectors to alert the crew, which then would have radioed an emergency and a return to Kuala Lumpur, where fire equipment is prepared for these emergencies. “None of this happened.”

The batteries were properly packaged and placed in a Class D, air-tight cargo compartment that also has smoke vents. Aside from the warning devices in the event of smoke or fire, there is a standard procedure for an airborne 777 to deal with such an emergency to further rob the compartment of any oxygen, should any develop. This is similar to the system we all read so much about that Boeing design to snuff a battery smoke or fire event in the 787 following the highly publicized lithium-ion battery fire and smoke event on two 787s early last year.

Should MH370’s wreckage be found and along with it the Flight Data Recorder and Cockpit Voice Recorder, the question remains of what useful data will be retrieved. We noted previously that the FDR has 25 hours of recording capability but the CVR has only two before its data is overwritten. There has also been concern that these were disabled before or shortly after the event began.

Two 777 pilots we talked to believe it’s not possible to disable the recorders from the cockpit, unlike earlier Boeing airplanes (Boeing declined comment). Feith said that disabling the FDR would require a pilot to go into the electronics bay, with access only through a hatch in the passenger cabin near the cockpit. It is possible to pull the circuit breaker on the CVR in the cockpit, he said.

Since access to the electronics bay is via the passenger cabin where anyone could see this, we asked Feith how this could be accomplished. Noting that he doesn’t normally engage in speculation, Feith provided this hypothesis:

“The pilot could have ‘dumped the cabin’ and induced hypoxia, and could have gone into the bay to disable” the recorder while on his walk-around oxygen, Feith said. Nonetheless, all data retained up to any disabling would be available for analysis and this could yield useful information from which to draw certain conclusions.


59 Comments on “MH370 wreckage, probable cause may never be found, says ex-NTSB investigator

  1. Interesting that we are prepared for “no solution” here by a US source of some repute.

    If it was a conscious act initiated from inside the plane one has to show an objective linked to select individuals.
    Then you have to show an action list “The Plan” that has some chance of reaching that objective.
    This plan has to be reasonably simple to be executable. The “Clancy Scenarios” presented by some fit in a book but they would stumble in reality.

    • He has some repute and probably still has some contacts at the NTSB but I think you are reading too much into this. Personally I see it as a case of not getting your hopes up too much, which was most likely said with the relatives and friends of the passengers and crew in mind.

      • I agree with Aero’s comments regarding what Mr. Feith had to say. We all have our opinions however, that doesn’t make them fact. Frankly, nobody knows what happened so nothing can be ruled out. Accidents in general terms, result from a string of random events that in-and-of themselves are not a problem but when combined they result in a negative consequence. Just because there is redundancy in systems that doesn’t mean a bad outcome is not possible – it may reduce the likelihood of it happening but it doesn’t mean that it won’t.

        • There is another problem around with (but not limited to) US based experts of any kind.
          Namely the introduction of tenditious, wrong or damaging information by way of reputable entities that have been “turned around” by NSA/CIA/*** to the perceived advantage of the US. A range of conciously introduced bugs in security software
          ( and various activities that have come to light in recent times) show that these entities
          know no limit in placing their interests above any other concideration.
          ( Nice to see this backfire on the RC church recently. )
          Already this backstory significantly taints Mr. Feith pronouncement.

    • If the Malaysian Government really wants a true and “believeable” answer they would spend whatever it cost to find the jet. If it means sending the ROV’s into underwater canyons “where the most likely area(s)” which can camouflage large objects then thats how it must be done! LEAVE NO CANYON UNEXPOLERED

  2. Is there someobody who could please answer why the transponder, the CVR and the FDR can all be shut down while the aircraft is in flight? It would seem that being able to do this defeats the whole purpose of these devices!

    I would assume that most would agree that real live, uninterruptable tracking of aircraft will be called for in the future. Not to mention a CVR that would be capable of recording throughout the entire duration of the flight. I would think those would be the minimum requirements for the future.

    I know many would also prefer to see continuously broadcasting FDR parameters and CVR content as well. I see them as nice to haves but for the cost required, real time live tracking would be sufficient, then there wouldn’t be the need to search for the aircraft location for 3 plus weeks.

    • Speaking for the CVR at least, if there’s some kind of electrical problem with any component of the plane, it’s useful to be able to disconnect the power supply to contain a fire or disable the component so it doesn’t interfere with other parts of the electrical system. Better for the pilots to be able to disable these (non-critical) systems than require them to be on and cause real problems. Don’t know why it’s so hard to turn off the FDR however. It seems to me like there should be a breaker for this in the cockpit too.

      I also agree with you about the CVR limitations. With today’s technology, I can buy a 1TB hard drive for less than $100. Again I guess it’s a retrofit cost issue. I think the argument for continuous broadcasting of FDR/CVR data is getting stronger every day as costs continue to come down.

  3. Is it actually known that the plane was carrying a cargo of lithium batteries?

  4. Am I wrong or is it true that in the past, when a serious incident involved a Boeing aircraft but all other elements were non-U.S., that NTSB was quickly there and speaking up … to at least acknowledge their on-scene presence? I can vaguely recall TV news clips where the NTSB was briefing the public with some relevant details, while also routinely noting they were there in support of the actual investigating authority … and they would always add the obligatory explanation that they were there primarily because the incident involved a Boeing aircraft.

    If my recollection is correct, where is NTSB this time? I mean, Mr. Feith has just provided some very detailed analytical points, such as we might have been provided weeks ago by actual, still-working NTSB authorities. The red flag here seems to be that, whatever happened, it was serious enough that actual working investigators and government speak-pieces are all being officially muted. Which, of course, fuels lots of wild speculation….

    I remember just a couple days into the ‘disappearance’ thinking, man, this is so wrong. Thinking… hundreds have likely died but their plight is already out of the news, being replaced by a larger news story about ‘lack of trust’. Thinking… to respect these casualties, the focus of the story needed to be on establishing facts to explain the (likely) quick tragedy of a catastrophic failure or a not-so-quick evil-action initiated by a terrorist and/or pilot. Thinking… instead, the focus of the story was itself being ‘hijacked’ by an increasingly evident reality: that we have no basis for trusting others … be they regulators, elected officials, military leaders, or even the pilot of our commercial flight.

    • When an aircraft accident involving a Boeing airplane takes place outside the USA the NTSB would routinely be invited to assist the investigation. But this always remains the prerogative of the country where the accident took place and their level of expertise. If that accident had involved an Airbus aircraft the French BEA would certainly have been invited as well. In most cases the NTSB or the BEA would be there to assist and provide the necessary expertise.

      When an aircraft accident occurs on the American soil the NTSB always takes charge of the investigation regardless if the aircraft involved is a Boeing, an Airbus, a Bombardier or an Embraer. It is the same for most countries. What is different is the level of expertise and the technical capabilities of each country.

      • The international standards and guidelines for conducting aircraft accident investigations are found in Annex 13 to the Convention on International Civil Aviation. It sets out responsibilities for conducting international aircraft accident investigations and who may participate in them.

        • Section 1.3 of Annex 13 specifies the following:

          The State has established an independent accident and incident investigation process, the sole objective of which is the prevention of accidents and incidents, and not the apportioning of blame or liability. Such investigations are in support of the management of safety in the State. In the operation of the SSP, the State maintains the independence of the accident and incident investigation organization from other State aviation organizations.

  5. Interesting new information about the stable altitude. But it does not change anything to the scenario of a deliberate act from the pilot. And there are plenty of accurate details in the article that actually reinforce that theory.

    I also liked the comment about the design of the aircraft that does not allow for a single point fire to take out at once all the systems that we know to have been deactivated.

    Thanks for this interview Scott. We could not ask for a better source. Many of us know him for his cool headed analysis of previous crashes.

    One final note about the possibility of never finding MH370 and its black boxes. It is a realistic statement, but we could have said the same thing about Flight 447. But Flight 370 is even more desperate because after almost a month we have not yet found a single piece of debris. And the area for a possible crash is considerably larger than it was for AF447.

    I consider the actual finding of AF447 to have been a small miracle and I would view the possible finding of MH370 as an even bigger miracle.

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  8. Excellent interview !- and way past due. would that some of the mainstream media would cut out the ALL MH370 24/7 and many less pics of grieving family . .

    • “pics of grieving family . .”

      All they’ve got, and cheaply at that .-(

  9. At this point, Feith and Leehamnews have provided far more than the Malaysian or U.S. officials (I add, as I shake my head…).

  10. I think I saw a video in Youtube from inside the cabin of MRO. There were IFE screens on every seat and airshow showing flight path among other information. Is it possible for the pilots to disable IFE from the cockpit or is it done by cabin crew inside the cabin?

  11. I enjoyed the article however, it’s important to stress that it’s only speculation – no cold hard facts. And even though pundit theories may sound plausible at first, history demonstrates that they’re consistently wrong. Investigators know only to well the dangers associated with theorizing/speculating in the absence of facts.

  12. “Investigators know only to well the dangers associated with theorizing/speculating in the absence of facts.”

    Greg Feith happens to be a former NTSB investigator, so I imagine he must understand this basic principle better than most of us. I also imagine that he has access to a level of information that we can only dream of. This would make him better qualified to speculate on this issue than the vast majority of commentators, including professional pilots and engineers.

    It is a rare privilege to host someone of this caliber for any forum like this one. It is also a testimony to the excellent reputation of Leeham News and Comments.

    • I know Greg Feith well as I’m also an ASI. We both share the same Alma Mater & have played tag-team teaching accident investigation to industry from around the world.

      You’re right, he is better “qualified to speculate,” but that doesn’t make what is said correct or fact. Greg’s opinions in the article may well be born out as part of the investigation process however, we’re a long way from that right now

      Keeping an open mind is important in our business, especially in the absence of facts or being an ‘insider’ to the investigation.

  13. Interesting ….,

    My thoughts and prayers are with all those who have lost their loved ones.

    I question Boeing in their design why pilots or anybody can potentially have access to such vital tracking devices to manually turn them off or to be tampered with?

    Is this not a security danger to potential terrorism or any other security breach?

    Should not these tracking devices such as transponder button / satellite devices be only activated by turn on or off of CPU / engines of aircraft-only ?
    These vital devices should have a separate activation queue that can’t be tampered with by pilots or anybody – as in black box (that is structural) which is paramount to the safety of crew and passengers.

    Should not now from this sad experience of MH370 that all aircraft have this changed ?

    What guarantee or confidence does any flyer have of a situation like this happening again on any so called state of the art Boeing commercial aircraft ?

    • Airplanes have been flying with this technical configuration for several decades now and as far as I know we have never experienced a problem like this one before. But the MH370 tragedy might bring some changes. It will certainly impact future designs, but maybe not existing ones for cost and practical reasons.

      On the other hand If we were to experience just one more case similar to this one it would make the authorities less reluctant to implement drastic changes. I believe that is what is going to happen with data streaming. Because we had two high profile cases in a relatively short period of time we can expect to see more and more of this technology, not only in future designs, but in existing aircraft as well.

    • The transponder and other equipment all have circuit-breakers in flight-deck… If they are not working then the equipment is not working. However, these must be accessible so they can be fixed or replaced… That makes it easy for a crew member to trip the circuit-breaker to disable the transponder or even flight recorders. Maintenance may inadvertently disable equipment and aircraft may be airborne without anybody even knowing about the equipment being disabled unless the pre-flight check prevents them from leaving the bay before everything is known to be operating. That’s what pre-flight checks are all about – knowing that every piece of equipment is as it should be for take-off.
      Once airborne, the Captain has command of the flight, apart from ATC’s role…

    • The major drawback regarding access to switches, circuit breakers and so on is to verify that the equipment is operating and not a blown fuse or faulty warning light (which is a potential danger itself). Checks and rechecks are an essential part of the pilots’ workload. These checks are to keep every switch and dial in the right position for that part of the flight (taxi, take-off, climb, cruise and so on to landing). If a fire breaks out due to overheating electrical systems it may trip a number of circuit breakers and add to the pilots’ workload and possibly shut down certain equipment. That equipment may include flt recorders depending on where the fire is and what itt damages or destroys in its path. Ground crew maintain the necessary equipment and pilots report errors they find during the time at the controls… Other things could go wrong but fire during a flt is the most feared danger.
      I do hope I given you a heads up on the issue… Happy New Year.

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  15. While respecting the opinions of Mr Feith, I have difficulty agreeing that there is virtually no possibility of equipment failure in some shape or form. Forty plus years working in various industries taught me one inescapable thing; no matter how much diversity and back-up capability provided for a system there is always a possibility that a single fault or a combination of faults can result in failure of a system or systems. In many cases the fault is exacerbated by human intervention in an unexpected way, or intervention in an expected way giving an unpredicted result.
    Just a few examples; high temperatures above maximum design operating temperature can cause equipment to fail, but some may continue to fully or partially operate because the components are more resilient than the specification required. (My inexpensive laptop systematically shuts down processors when it becomes too hot).
    Wiring errors can lay dormant for years until a unique set of circumstances invokes their use and reveals the error. Abnormal loads on power supplies and/or batteries & regulators, or normal loads on failing power supplies/batteries can drop voltage levels leaving some equipment operating and not others.
    Breakers can weld themselves together, or semiconductor breakers fail and not trip when required. etc etc
    Regarding the flight path, is the radar evidence based on tracking the correct aircraft, Malacca straight is a very busy area. Height deviations have been dismmissed as anomolies or incorrect information, could the same apply to directional deviations?
    Was the aircraft equipped with an uninterruptable auto pilot, if it was does it have an autonomous power supply and physical location?
    Probably too many unknowns to dismiss or emphasise any cause at this time I guess.

    • My question to you John is the following: Do you have an alternate scenario to offer that would include, without internal contradictions, all the elements that we have gathered so far?

      Put another way, do you have a plausible alternate scenario to offer where the mechanical failures that your are proposing would match coherently and completely with the publicly known data?

      • Let’s face it, for the most part, any so-called facts relating to MH370 so far, are speculation at best and rumor at worst. Especially if you’re relying on the news media and it’s addiction to anonymous sources for information.

        To understand possible mechanical system failures you have to understand the aircraft and it’s fly-by-wire technology. Pilots don’t fly this aircraft – it’s computers do the flying from within a flight envelope designed and engineered to keep the plane safe and efficient. That’s the fundamental difference between this type of aircraft and the “wire & pulley” technology and control systems that came before.

        John, your points are valid when it comes to identifying and analyzing possible failure modes that may have contributed to an accident. As investigators, one of the biggest problems we face today, is understanding component failures within a complex system – especially when it comes to unintended consequences.

  16. Cant really offer an alternative scenario as too much missing and contradictory information so keeping an open mind. Can split the flight into three phases, take off climb to altitude all seems ok, reverse direction – logical if a problem arose, head out into ocean, not logical.
    Conclusions drawn from monitoring don’t seem completely logical to me e.g. original early statement that the transponder and ACARS were ‘switched off’. If you were monitoring my TV and radio with a camera and microphone; suddenly the radio is silent, and a few minutes later the tv screen goes blank but the lights are still on – what evidence is there that I or someone else switched the TV and radio off? I could be in the kitchen cooking, problem arises so dealing with that, and breakers are tripping. If action/conclusions are based on the switched off assumption they could be wrong.
    If a pilot sees an ACARS alarm, would he/she immediately make a call about the failure, or as it is a non critical system think – look at that in a short while then call in with the problem when clarified (base can see it has failed anyway).
    Other thing dont know answer to – the pilots mantra often said to be aviate, navigate, communicate – is the same applied to aircraft design. Within a limited budget, is the aircraft designed so that more money is spent on resilience for aviating systems than communication systems. If an unpredicted problem arises, which systems should/would fail first and which last?
    Sorry this is probably not helpful, but received many calls from customers over the years about system problems and thought ‘thats completely impossible’ until visit their site and find it is possible.

    • The problem with that kind of mechanical failure is that they are so severe from the point of view of airplane design that it would imply partial destruction or catastrophic failure. In which case it would not be possible to fly for another seven hours like it did.

      In addition to that the airplane would have to remain fully and perfectly controllable because we know that it changed course several times just like it would normally do if it was navigating accurately. Again, something a crippled 777 would not be able to do.

      So we have to make a choice, either the aircraft was crippled or it flew for an extended period of time. Since we have hard data that tell us the airplane flew another seven hours after the initial turn and we have no indication whatsoever of mechanical problems, it is an easy choice to make.

      We are forced to conclude that the aircraft must have been relatively intact because a scenario of multiple failures like you describe is not compatible with a trouble free extended flight.

      • Agree it seems unlikely, but catestrophic failue could take an extended period of time to develop.If the management system is steadily failing (forgetting for a moment the cause, software, hardware, power) the design is very resilient and distributed architecture; as hardware (or communication between the hardware) fails selected applications can still run on the remaining hardware until processing power and memory runs out. Like a laptop steadily overheating, shutting down processors, and reducing clock speed until it shuts down completely.
        Taking that a step further, how do the control surfaces and engines react when they are no longer receiving instructions, do they shut down or do they carry on doing what they were last told to do until new instructions are received. If no management system they wont receive any new instructions.

        • The engines would continue to run until they starve. But the control surfaces need continuous input from the pilot or the autopilot. But like Greg Feith has already mentioned the autopilot would not be able to operate under the conditions you describe. And I would add that the airplane itself would not be able to operate either. Not for an extended period of time anyway. For the multiple failures you describe would imply partial destruction of the aircraft or a catastrophic failure.

  17. It’s interesting that the US is the only country not going all out. Australia has been in the news, chinese satellites have spotted debris, Thailand satellites, the french, even a Hollywood director has his plane out looking. Nothing from the United States with their most sophisticated technology in the world: ships, subs, satellites, NSA, CIA, etc. Not a sound. Silence. And only today do they send a ping locator. Why the delay? It all smells. Planes don’t just disappear in the year 2014. My long shot favorite is the pilot crashed it into Antarctica (or landed it on…) Why not? Everyone else has their theory! I also like Diego Garcia. Why it landed there I don’t know, but it sure fits as an explanation given the silence.

    • “My long shot favorite is the pilot crashed it into Antarctica (or landed it on…)”

      Not enough fuel to get there. But as long as we’re throwing stuff like this out, we suggest Area 51.

  18. considering the source . .

    Could this be it? Possible Malaysia Airlines clue reported
    By Tom Watkins and Laura Smith-Spark CNN
    updated 10:30 AM EDT, Sat April 5, 2014

    (CNN) — In what may turn out to be a major breakthrough in the monthlong search for Malaysia Airlines flight 370, a Chinese patrol ship searching the southern Indian Ocean discovered Saturday the pulse signal used by so-called black boxes, state news agency Xinhua reported.
    But the pulse signal has not been confirmed, China’s Maritime Search and Rescue Center reported, according to China Communications News, which is the Ministry of Transport’s official newspaper.
    The signal reported — 37.5 kHz — “is the standard beacon frequency” for the plane’s cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder, said Anish Patel, president of pinger manufacturer Dukane Seacom.
    “They’re identical.”…

    area 51 ground crews are still waiting . .. .

    • The signal was apparently piked up at 25 degrees south latitude and 101 degrees east longitude, which is in the zone where it was expected. I hope it comes from MH370 because the window is about to close. Theoretically there are only a few more days left in the locator batteries. Plus a couple more weeks if we are lucky.

      After that period it will still be possible to find the boxes but it would be much more difficult. But it was done for AF447, so it gives us hope that the feat could be repeated for MH370.

      • It looks like this was more than a spurious signal, for on Friday it was detected intermittently for about 15 minutes, and on Saturday it was again detected every second for 90 seconds.

        It all this is confirmed it could possibly mean that the mystery of Flight 370 is about to be solved.

  19. This airplane is gone forever. Lost for the ages. As a airline pilot (767’s), former career carrier pilot (FA-18’s) and accident investigator – I can say with both sadness and confidence that this jet will NEVER be found.

    It hard to imagine the immensity of the ocean until you have lived on it for a while. It is beyond huge. To put the problem of finding this aircraft into proper context and scale – here is an analogy:

    Imagine the entire Los Angeles Basis. Those who have driven it understand its size. From San Bernadino to Santa Monica and from Santa Clarita down to Irving. By far the largest metropolitan area in the US and maybe even the world. If all that area were the Indian Ocean – the aircraft we are looking for is about the size of a dime. Think about that for a second – let that soak in. A dime size object that could be on any street, any house, any gutter, any backyard, any freeway, any canal – anywhere. Now lets start looking for it. Worse – fill this whole area up with water so you cant even see the ground where the dime lays. Now instead of you being the searching party – reduce your size to that of an ant (about the scaled size of an underwater locator). Put two ants in the water – and begin the search. The ants can “see” about 2ft in all directions. You are hoping to hear pings from the dime – but the pings radiate out to an area the size of a basketball. The ants (with their (2ft of vision) have about 3 days to find the basketball size pings that could be anywhere in all of the LA basin. Worse still, the ants can only move at about 2 feet per hour (the scaled speed) and have a and again there are 2 of them. After 24 hours – each and has traveled about 50ft. After 2 days they have to be taken out and recharged so after 3 days your 2 ant searchers have covered a path 2ft wide and 200ft long – out of the entire LA county. Now the “pingers stop” and your ants must find the dime – not the basketball. If the ants went non stop – 24/7 they could eventually do the job – but that job would take …. 558 million years. Even if we could vastly reduce the size of the search area to say Santa Monica – we are still talking an impossible task. Just think – we knew were Titanic was within a few miles and it still took 75 years to find it and it was a SHIP – 200 times more massive than this comparatively tiny airliner.

    I remember looking for wreckage of 2 FA-18’s that collided off the coast of California a few years back. We knew their position within a half a mile of where they went down. The emergency locator in FA-18’s floats so we had the FDR. We had floating wreckage including one of the helmets from the crew. We had the resources of the entire Navy at our disposal – and STILL we could not find the aircraft after 1 month of searching – so we discontinued the search. The deep oceans rarely gives up her secrets.

    As far as what and why happened – I can only speculate like everyone else. Like many have said – I think the most likely scenario was a pilot who went off the rails. Why not just shove the nose forward like Egypt Air? Perhaps the pilot wanted to spare his family the shame of having done such an evil deed – to forever be the “Lee Harvey Oswald” of his country. Or perhaps – it was the ultimate narcissist move….you not only take out yourself and 230 passengers – but screw with the heads of the entire world who go looking for you. If he deliberately wanted to not be found – I would imagine he would have changed course a few hours after going south – just in case the picked up a track and could interpolate where he would run out of fuel. Maybe hang a right to the most remote part of the IO. He may have even tried to ditch the airplane to keep it together as much so it would sink whole and minimize floating debris. Just speculation. But – it does not seem like mechanical failure or a Ghost ship to me. It seems much more likely to be an unhinged pilot.

    What will change out of this? Probably not a whole lot – but one thing that will certainly change is the uploaded data from ACARS. ICAO and FAA will probably mandate that carriers subscribe to the complete ACARS data service – and ultimately Boeing and Airbus will start manufacturing FDR that uplink at least location, direction, altitude and speed information on a second by second basis. That makes some sense.

    It is time to move on from this tragedy. The next page will turn when debris washes ashore some months from now that will confirm to these grieved families that their loved ones are finally gone and the healing and closure can begin. As far as searching for the “dime” – I think our scarce budget and resources could be better spent upgrading the airplanes that are still flying than trying to find one that can never be found on the bottom of the ocean.

    • Yet there are precedents for similarly sized area and with the same degree of difficulty.

      – There was Flight 295, in which case the wreck was found and the CVR was retrieved from a depth of 16,000 feet. But the FDR was never found.

      – More recently we had Flight 447. It took two years but the debris field was found at the bottom of the ocean, 13,000 feet below the surface. They were also able to retrieve both the CVR and the FDR. They even found bodies still trapped in the remains of the fuselage. But they were lucky because the debris field was relatively compact and the terrain was flat in that area.

      You say we will never find MH370, but today it is reported that a Chinese vessel heard several pings that could come from a CVR or an FDR. And this finding was made within the boundaries of the suspected zone.

      It has only been one month since the disappearance of MH370, so even if the challenge is huge like you have clearly demonstrated we can remain confident that the impossible is still possible.

      • In both Flights 295 and 447 – the approximate area of the accident was known, both by debris found within hours of the crash, mayday calls with position referenced by the flight crew and a known flight path that was predictable. Even with all of that known information it still took over a year in 295’s case and 2 years in 447 case to find the wreckage. We have nothing in this case – not even a reasonable guess. This aircraft could literally be anywhere within the Indian Ocean – 28 million square miles.

        • Please reread about the guesswork concerning where to find the wreck published across news outlets in the weeks after AF447’s disappearance.
          You are be caught by the hindsight is 20/20 trap.
          At the time nothing was so brilliantly clear drawn out as you postulate.
          I expect a similar development here. When the wreckage including the FDR/CVR combo has been found and analysed everything probably will loose a lot of opaqueness.

          Though I find the lack of direct US/NTSB involvement except for some sybilinic statements absolutely noteworthy. Same goes for a range of individuals coming up with
          “don’t look any further, we’ll never find it”. This smells a bit of meme insertion.

        • “We have nothing in this case.”

          I am not ready to say that. Especially since you wrote your initial post, because that is the day the first reports came out that maybe we are hearing one of the emergency locator that belongs to MH370. Of course we still need a confirmation and a validation of this information, but it is very encouraging “to hear that” at this stage.

          Two things match perfectly: the area where the pulse signals were heard and the timeframe, which makes it still possible to hear a signal at this stage. Otherwise it will soon be too late to hear anything anymore.

          Even if we don’t hear any more signals it might be enough to justify that we concentrate our efforts in that area and below.

    • I could interpret your narrative as exposing the limitations of the military mindset.
      ( We see this also exposed in corporate and political activities that employ former military people. Thinking in competitive friend / foe terms aka “war” reduces the solution space by magnitudes.)

      • Not a military or corporate mindset. Just a realist. If it were you’re own money funding this fruitless endeavor – you would quickly become a realist also. BTW – even if we find it – do you think a pilot smart enough to disable the xpndr ACARS, and to fly on a path deliberatley so he would not be found – do you think that such an individual would not have thought to pull the CVR circuit breaker and to disable the FDR as well? It’s gone. And if you want to wager $1000 on them finding it in a year – I will take you on – I’ll even give you 10 to 1 odds!

        • The guy who did the research and computations for finding the Helderberg crash site wrote a very interesting report. You can find it on the net. Military Mindset vocabulary limits your solution scope. Read up about the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis.

  20. Angus Houston reports pinger sound found by U.S ( array ? ) held for 2 hours- two pingers ( CVD and FDR ? ) – at apparently NORTH end of search area – unsure what area in discussion. . . .

    Haven’t yet got a good link . . . to post

    • partial from WSJ

      SYDNEY—An Australian navy vessel picked up two extended signals from deep underwater in the past 24 hours, in what authorities said was the best lead yet in a monthlong search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

      The naval ship Ocean Shield—fitted with U.S. Navy black-box detector equipment that is able to pick up signals far beneath the ocean surface—has been searching an area of the southern Indian Ocean off the coast of Western Australia that investigators believe is the most likely spot where the plane could have crashed into the ocean when it ran out of fuel after disappearing from civilian radar on March 8.

      The first of two signals, consistent with the pings emitted by an aircraft’s “black box” flight recorders, was held for more than two hours, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, who is leading the multinational search, said Monday. A second signal was picked up on a return trip along the same path of ocean and held for around 13 minutes, he said. . . .

      The Aussie ship was/is about 300 miles north of Chinese ship

      just maybe . . .

  21. What I find strange is the distance between the signals that were heard by the Chinese and those that were heard by the Australians. Normally the CVR and FDR would be located close to each other. Unless they floated for a while and drifted apart until they sank.

    • On impact an emergency locator can detach itself from the recorder and float. That would explain the 300 miles separation. But it could also mean that it will be extremely difficult to retrieve the boxes. It would actually broaden the search area, which is already huge.

      • The other thing I find strange is that if plot a flight path following the known track (from malaysian radar plots using nearest waypoints) then down to Cocos Islands and from there to Perth, it passes over the black box search location (within 30 or so nm). And assuming reserve fuel for 1 hours flight, the aircraft would have dropped into the sea pretty much where the search area is now.
        Possibly coincidence. Think the actual aircraft (from registration number) used to fly the KUL-PER route some years back.

  22. IMO – if or when they find the ‘ black box- pinger ‘, it may well be on the empenage ( tail section ) which **probably** broke during ditching/plunging and floated for a week – 200 to 300 miles to its current position. That is because it is mostly composite, relative hollow, and likely to float. However-if and when identified as part of 370- then it settles for once and all what happened- and cvr/fdr data **m ay** reveal why/how. Just have to wait.

  23. Pingback: Odds and Ends: Boeing earnings; Shandong is a new 737 order; MH370; Boeing SkyInterior; Azul and Airbus; 186-seat A320 | Leeham News and Comment

  24. Anything said about the disappearance of MH370 is just speculation and hearsay until the wreckage is found – especially the FDR and CVR. Bits and pieces being washed up on beaches around the Indian ocean only confirm reports that it went down in the Indian Ocean… somewhere???
    However, backtracking ocean currents may narrow down search area for renewed search that – hopefully – will be much more promising than the original. The new search area is now more to the North-East of where original search was and also much smaller, at least for the time being…
    Lets hope the new search results in success… and closure for the families involved.

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