Book Review: The Crash Detectives


Crash DetectivesJuly 5, 2016, © Leeham Co.: The Crash Detectives, by Christine Negroni, © 2016. Penguin Books. Available on

As an avid follower of The Smithsonian Channel’s “Air Disaster” series and The Weather Channel’s “Why Planes Crash,” as well as knowing Christine Negroni, I was anxious to read her new book, The Crash Detectives. (Negroni is also the author of Deadly Departure, about TWA Flight 800.)

Negroni is no wanna-be aviation disaster geek. Her resume qualifies her to understand aviation accidents and speak and write with knowledge about them.

Negroni writes about dozens of aviation accidents and mysteries. Some of these are well known (the de Havilland Comet I accidents, for example). Some were miraculous outcomes (United Airlines 232, US Airways 1549, Qantas Airways 32). Some are ancient history (pre-World War II, including the disappearance of Amelia Earhart.)

Among the most interesting are the accidents in which hypoxia of the pilots are involved. These make fascinating reading. And it is hypoxia that is the leading cause of Negroni’s theory of one of commercial aviation’s most infamous mystery.

christine negroni2

Christine Negroni

I truly got to know Negroni when Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared. By the second day, I felt the flight maneuvers indicated the disappearance were the result of a criminal act. I carefully avoided pointing the finger at the pilots, however, noting that there could have been a cockpit intrusion leading to the subsequent flight maneuvers. Nothing I’ve learned since changed my conclusion.

Negroni, whom I hold in high regard, came to a different conclusion within a week. She believed then and believes now that a massive electronics failure caused the two transponders and five radios to fail and an explosive decompression of some kind left the pilots victims of hypoxia. The resulting effects caused the co-pilot to make erratic decisions, while believing he was making the correct ones.

We’ve disagreed ever since. We still do. Negroni spends the first chapters of her book advancing her theory and what she “envisions” happened. Negroni criticizes those who point an accusing finger at the pilot of the flight, who suggest he was criminally responsible for the disappearance. She points out there isn’t solid evidence to support this theory.

Negroni doesn’t really have solid evidence, either, to support her theory. She raises solid questions that have to be answered, but in the end her hypothesis is just as iffy as any other. I’ve talked with a former investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board, a current safety expert who is a former airline pilot, another retired airline pilot and two former Boeing 777 test pilots who worked for Boeing (one of whom also flew as a captain on 777s for Asian airlines and now trains pilots to fly the 777). All believe MH370’s maneuvers were the result of cognizant human inputs into the Flight Management System, not the result of hypoxic-induced errors. I circled back with the former test pilot who now trains others and went down Negroni’s theories one-by-one. He had solid reasons why these were unlikely scenarios.

No doubt Negroni would line up her experts with mine to support her theory. Only if and when the flight data recorders of MH370 are found, and assuming readable, will we ever know which theory is correct.

Boeing 787

Since I was familiar with many of the accidents examined by Negroni, for me the most interesting part of the book—even more so than MH370—was her story about the Boeing 787 and its battery issues. I was quite familiar with this story as well, having covered the story for LNC as well as being a resource for scores of media. Still, Negroni details some technical information and Boeing testing/development mentality that doesn’t shine well on the company. This no doubt is why Boeing refused to cooperate with Negroni or answer any questions.

The Federal Aviation Administration and the Japanese companies and authorities don’t come off very well in Negroni’s account.

Other probes

Perhaps most eyebrow-raising are the accidents in which Negroni details either investigative cover-ups or just plain incompetence. Global aviation safety depends on honest, full investigations. (These also need to be without recriminations, factors all-too common in France, Asia and other parts of the world. Negroni doesn’t go into these, but the comment is relevant in this context.)

My continued disagreement with Negroni aside over MH370, for which she nevertheless presents theories that are well worth discussing, this is a must-read for those caught up in the whys and hows of aviation accidents.

12 Comments on “Book Review: The Crash Detectives

  1. Quote: “These also need to be without recriminations, factors all-too common in France”.

    What do you mean ? Habsheim ?

    • Continental Airlines in the Air France Concorde crash, for example–there was criminal prosecution in that. France and other countries often open criminal investigations, which inhibit true safety advances.

      • Greece and Helios is an much better example. Other than a good living for lawyers, criminal case achieved nothing. Even though it wasn’t really the fault of the engineer’s, they’ll think twice before telling the truth if something similar ever happens again.

        • @Grubbie: Let’s remember Brazil also pursuing criminal charges against the US pilots in the mid-air between a corporate jet and GOL.

      • I sort of understood that any accident killing French people nearly automatically triggers a criminal investigation? Can you expand on that or am I barking up the wrong tree?

        • It is the case in France that judicial/criminal investigators can take possession of the flight and cockpit voice recorder. As I wrote on my blog, Flying Lessons after the GermanWings case, “unlike in the United States and other countries, the French judicial authorities are in charge of CVR/FDR which makes them available to the air safety agency the Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses. There’s a reason for this. In the crash of an Airbus A-320 in 1988 BEA was suspected of tampering with FDR data. As a consequence, air accidents in France are seen through the prism of criminality rather than as in other countries where seasoned air safety investigators understand there is a multitude of factors that contribute to a disaster and will wait to have evidence before drawing conclusions.” Read the full post here.

          • Thanks for the history, I always wondered if this was cultural or something else.

            Sort of complicates things some MH370 parts ending up in French territory then. I have noticed that they deal with them like parts of a criminal investigation, and not an air accident investigation.

  2. Having done a course early in my flying career in a decompression chamber to reckognize my personal symptoms of hypoxia I believe prolonged reduced oxygen intake could have been a factor without it being caused by any “massive” decompression. I have no idea if a modern airliner indicates reduced oxygen in its warning systems.
    My own symptoms were enhanced indifference not unlike an alcohol induced behaviour.
    When ATP flight simulator first became available a few years ago, I would set up a 737 on a flight and head off to lunch which would involve a couple of beers and a glass of wine.
    Returning to the flight after lunch produced remarkably similar results to my hypoxia testing with stupid errors one normally would not make, so yes, two pilots with reduced oxygen levels could do unusual things if not in some way alerted to the problem.
    My 2 cents worth for what its worth, and totally worthless if a low or contaminated oxygen level warning system exists.

  3. MartinA
    You are absolutely correct that it complicates the investigative process. We saw it in the Concorde crash, Germanwings and now Malaysia 370 since wreckage found on Reunion Island prompted the French government to open its own probe into MH 370.

  4. MH370? Only one pilot in the world was summonsed to Kuala Lumpur to explain where MH370 was taken, how, and by whom. Further, for all the detectives out their how many predicted MH17 “to the day” from 3.5 months prior? Only one. Google: MH17 + 1900 17 July + second explosive event While in Malaysia MAS and the government were briefed on how their jet was electronically commandeered at BITOD. Google: BITOD + BUAP + ATI MH17

  5. Lt Col Field McConnell , The Man who has done more for aviation and safety issues airborne than any other expert. Explains it simply , truthfully and concisely everytime.. for a real education into the Boeing Honeywell Un-interruptable Automatic Pilot go to /

  6. Meanwhile, in all this tragic circus, the possibility that the plane was “skyjacked” is never once ever mentioned, and some truly important relevant facts are being avoided like the plague!

    Two elementary facts should be considered here:

    (1.) At the time of MH370’s “disappearance”, the South China Sea was chuck full of military hardware with troops from eight nations engaged in two consecutive military exercises. First, Cobra Gold**, involving about 20,000 troops from Thailand, the United States, China, Singapore, Japan, Republic of Korea, Indonesia and Malaysia, followed by the Cope Tiger exercise involving Thailand, Singapore and the United States.

    [**NOTE] The purpose of Cobra Gold was to further develop a multinational force team that responds to a simulated scenario, executing a pre-developed operations plan. Cobra Gold provides an opportunity for allied nations in the Asia-Pacific region to operate and work together so they can respond more efficiently and effectively to potential crises in the future.]

    [Guess they haven’t done too well, thus far, eh?]


    MH370 “disappeared” at the start of the Cope Tiger exercise, and the airways and seaways in the region were under very close surveillance, both before, during, and after these exercises. No planes could have flown willy-nilly in the Gulf of Thailand during that time period undetected. You can rest assured the US military covers its ass whenever it has its hardware in a region.

    (2.) Since 2009, all Boeing aircraft have been equipped with a technology known as BUAP, Boeing Uninterruptible Auto Pilot. According to Boeing’s own admission, this device can be activated by the pilot, or engaged via digital satellite link from the ground, or else military AWACS aircraft, and the civilian airliner can then safely be remotely flown digitally and landed in any one of 108 airports around the globe. Once the BUAP system is engaged, no one aboard the plane can disengage it, not even the pilot. [Surely many folks out there will write me nasty comments saying it’s all a lie, but then they need to do some serious research on the matter to correct their faulty thinking.]

    They can start improving their knowledge base by reading here:

    and here:
    4-1-2014 Power Hour · Field McConnell

    and finally here:
    4-1-2014 Power Hour · Field McConnell · Ending Comments

    These are some topics we should be informed about by the news media, and should be discussing; but then, the elite owners of the news corps and the jailers of our minds don’t want us to realize that the technology to remote control planes has been used since 1995, as it could bring up pesky questions about the 911 case, and make people begin to wonder.

    My point is: We should firstly be holding the airlines responsible for not instructing pilots about and using the already existing BUAP technology installed on their aircraft, that would have prevented this tragedy. Secondly, we should be grilling the governments whose military participated in the exercises present in the area, and at the very moment MH370 “disappeared” from radar screens, to ascertain what role they played (if any), and what they did to prevent it.

    Please do your own research into this matter yourselves before drawing any conclusions. I’ve pointed you to the sources, so, you either believe it or you don’t… that’s up to you

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