Topic of the Week: Malaysia Airlines Flight 370

Accidents/Incidents, Malaysia Airlines

I haven’t written about the strange disappearance of Malaysia 370 because I have nothing to add. We know very little and the story gets stranger every day. I don’t like to speculate publicly… but if you’d like to, go for it! What do you think happened? More importantly, what information would you like to know that you think would help?

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50 comments on “Topic of the Week: Malaysia Airlines Flight 370

  1. It was always strange to not get any acars engine data indicating something wrong so I am sure American investigators suspected foul play. I think it was hijacked possibly to be used as a weapon. If it was a suicide, the plane would have been down and radar would have shown the dive and/or disintegration.
    I am sure the CIA and NSA are very concerned that the plane was landed somewhere in Somalia or the middle east. Given the ability to fuel the plane and possibly fill it with explosives is a frightening thought that I am sure western agencies have considered if they havent located the plane already.

    1. I don’t think that the aircraft had enough fuel on board to make it to the middle east or Somalia. Its roughly 2700 miles from kuala lumpur to Beijing, and assuming a 10% reserve at most you are looking at a 3300 mile range. Its 3500 miles to the middle east from kuala lumpur and even farther to get to Somalia

  2. I don’t understand why it’s even an option to turn off transmitting/communication devices. What legitimate reason could there ever be for “choosing” to turn these things off?

    1. 1. Electrical fire
      2. Radio malfunction
      3. ATC request (Interference)
      4. Shedding load during electrical loss
      5. Maintenance

    2. I don’t fly big jets, but on the small planes I fly, there are two reasons to turn of the transponder:
      – We turn off the transponder on the ground, when we are taxiing, to remove clutter for ATC
      – We turn switch the transponder to standby when changing the squawk code. When cycling through the numbers, if the transponder is on, and you accidentally squawk one of the alarm codes, alarms will go off with ATC.

  3. There are too many things that don’t add up here based on facts so far. Given the regional tensions the militaries of each Govt don’t want to reveal their capacities, but it’s almost certain that a military does know something that is not being revealed. If info is passed to the Malaysian search parties, it’ll be done through back channels and absolutely not in the public domain

  4. As much as I would like to know what happened, I try to avoid reading the speculation. My summary of the news of the last days: “No trace of a missing plane for 6 days now.” (I am not a journalist, they use 1000s of words to hide that there’s no news.)

    But with every day that the search fails to provide a result the chances of “abduction by aliens” increase. ;-)

  5. Along with MathFox, my money is on an alien abduction.

    Sarcasm aside, I really, really hate to speculate on matters such as these when so few reliable facts are known. The amount of misinformation/disinformation coming from the various authorities makes it difficult which “facts” can be trusted, thus making even an educated guess nearly impossible. What we really need are those black boxes, but if a reliable satellite trace can be found, that would be a great help, or even a single piece of debris. Otherwise, trying to venture a guess on what happened is a fool’s errand at this point.

  6. It’s a real mystery and sad for the families with missing loved ones.

    The sad part is I’m sure Hollywood already has scripts being started and actors being considered for roles in the movie this event will sure to produce.

    This is now way beyond TWA800 and the media frenzy that produced at the time.

  7. I’ve been rather annoyed with the treatment that Malaysia and Malaysia Airlines have been getting. I’m not sure I’ve seen anything handled so badly as to merit the allegations of bungling that have been directed at the government and airline over the last few days.

    1. So far my biggest question is “Why can’t they find the plane?” If there were survivors they are perishing after several days without water and food.
      Off course there may be good reasons, but I would love to see an investigation in the Search and Rescue process too.

  8. Probably irrelevant, but I’m curious how much experience the captain had in the 777. I understand he had 30 years of overall cockpit experience, but was he new to the 777? Or had he been flying this type of aircraft for years?

  9. Definitely the communication from Malaysia Airlines has been superb and timely since the incident. They had 9 press releases or so in the first 48 hours, and quickly mobilized counselors, compensation, and travel arrangements for families. Although the media is always hungry for more and more info. If I remember, Asiana in SFO was criticized for its inadequate emergency preparedness plan.

    Let’s wait and see on the investigation and black box.

    1. You obviously know someone personally at Malaysia Airlines who is keeping you informed! On the other hand, your news source may be defective or incompetent. (RT TV?, CCTV?)Malaysia Airlines and their government have not been very professional or helpful with the info they have. They have been secretive, misleading and very amateur in world interface. VERY disappointing. After this event I would be hard pressed to fly that airline. Additionally, let us not forget that it appears that their security procedures are not good or effective. WHY? Another reason to avoid this airline/airport. It could be hazardous to your health!

  10. I don’t like to speculate. All I can write is this: I hope the investigators can find out what happened and why. And I hope they can do it relatively soon. It will at least give some closure to the families. In many ways, not knowing is worse than knowing.

  11. The longer the search continues with no trace at all, the more likely it is the plane is under water somewhere and the options for an explanation reduce. To some extent it might be better if indeed this is a hijack because at least then we can pinpoint the weakness at KL airport. My real fear as one who flies 777’s regularly is that there was a sudden structural failure which may occur again. I can, and do, avoid flying the 787 and until there is some news, and this has been an accident with ‘different news’ every day so far, I would look for an alternative, if possible, for the 777. It might be pilot error as in the case of Air France over the Atlantic but the weather was fine and the pilots appear to have been well trained so this seems unlikely so the options as to the cause seem limited indeed

    1. Since the airplane appears to have headed west toward the Indian Ocean, it would be crossing some of the most heavily traveled sea lanes in the world, and if it ditched/crashed at sea, much of the wreckage would likely float into those sea lanes…

  12. It is difficult for me to grasp how such a large aircraft can be missing. I know the oceans are truly big and the sky is bigger – such a frightening thought to know there are so many questions with so few answers at this point.

  13. Since the US likely has the most technologically advanced search capability, “Follow the US Navy”… The USS Kidd is steaming WEST to the Indian ocean, north of the Malacca Straits, some of the most heavily traveled sea lanes in the world… the lack of a sighting is disturbing…

    IF this were an A Qaeda plan, they would “go big”, attempting to make a bigger impression than they did on 9/11… Following that, how about an off the wall theory…Reports indicate that the Captain had a 777 simulator at his home, and the F/O was a somewhat undisciplined young man… Perhaps a radicalized Muslim terrorist…

    Consider three flight crew scenarios…
    1) The Captain had become radicalized, and either recruited or incapacitated the F/O, or
    2) The F/O was a radical, incapacitated the Captain
    3) The crew BOTH were radical terrorists

    The surviving pilot (or both pilots, for a REAL conspiracy!) shut down communications, descended below radar, and programmed the navigation system for the lat/long of their new destination. They then flew the airplane to their destination, perhaps an unknown remote location (WWII airfield, large straight road in the boondocks)… The region has no shortage of Muslims, including a high percentage of terrorists who could be employed on the ground for preparation and/or security…

    Any such theory is diluted by the fact that the airplane is on the ground (or in the ocean) SOMEWHERE, and no notice has been given for ransom or extended terrorism…

  14. as an airline pilot I find a lot of the talk on the news media in error. what does seem happening is that the malaysian govt (which owns that airline)…is trying to come out of this in good colors…in the process, they have not been forward with all the information. at this point nothing can be ruled out= it can be mechanical failure, suicide mission, military error(shot down), terrorisim, or even the meteor theory. If I were to bet money, I would say the black boxes will be eventually found, and the mystery will be mostly solved,unlike the days of amelia erhart when technology in aviation was quite primitive.

  15. I am annoyed with the all the media speculation going on out there and the citing of unnamed “sources” because they are not authorized to speak. With so many rebuttals by the authorities, it’s amazing that the media continues to cite sources and not anyone willing to speak on the record. Having said that, if I were a betting man, which I’m not, I would not be surprised at all if one of the pilots went cuckoo and did something crazy with the plane. My worst case scenario would be a catastrophic failure of the plane, but it does appear unlikely.

  16. Could some kind of oxygen malfunction have taken place whereby crew and all passengers could have blacked out/gone unconscious ? – seems I have read something about this happening on a small aircraft in the past.

    1. JoEllen, I’ve wondered about this possibility, too. The incident you might be thinking of involved pro golfer Payne Stewart in 1999. The private jet he was on appears to have lost oxygen while cruising at altitude, and all aboard died from that long before it ran out of fuel and crashed. It’s a very sad situation, but here’s a link if you’re interested:

  17. I understand that passenger cell phones were ringing. Doesn’t this indicate that the plane landed/crashed on land. If the phones did indeed ring is it not possible to locate the closest cell phone repeater.
    Satellites (military!) are continuously scanning both before and after views of the ground. Don’t the satellite operators have sophisticated algorithms for automatic scanning to locate differences in the views (a plane for example).

    1. The ring that a caller hears on the originating/transmitting end of the call are automatically programmed so the caller is not discouraged as the service provider searches for the receiving phone number. It doesn’t always indicate that the receiving phone is actually ringing.

    2. I read or heard somewhere that someone calling a cell phone will often hear ringing while the cell phone network is trying to locate the phone, even if the phone ends up not being found.

  18. I’d like to know more details of the operational parameters of the autopilot and the CVR. In particular, if waypoints had been programmed into the autopilot, would it just continue on that path? (Does it have the ability to have way points?)

    Also, on CVR, how long does it record for?

  19. Is it possible for a plane to just dive into the water without leaving a trace on the surface? The whole thing reminds me of the INS Dakar, the Israeli submarine that disappeared in the Mediterranean in 1968. Initial searches revealed nothing, and various conspiracy theories emerged over the years, such as the captain taking it off-course on a secret mission. The ship was eventually discovered on the sea floor, 31 years after its disappearance, exactly where it would be expected based on its planned course and last point of contact.

  20. With so many GPS enabled devices onboard, were there no private cell phone records stored on the service providers’ servers tracking those devices throughout the ‘dark’ portion of the journey?

  21. I’m thinking it was a slow decompression. Transponder accidentally switched off. Hypoxia settled in, the and eventually killed the pilots, crew and pax. The changes in heading/altitude were the plane flying on it’s own and eventually crashed West of Malaysia into the ocean after running out of fuel.

  22. Why are we waiting to find the plane and the CVR/FDR? I know nothing about aviation but here is my contribution to this conversation.

    Why cannot we use technology that is use every day in the Apple product world. Why cannot we use a Cloud to record at a minimum of every Voice Recorder and Flight Data Recorder of every aircraft flying. Then we would not have to wait to recover them at great costs, especially to the Families of all on board, to know what information these data recorders held.

    There could be auto alarms for occurrences that are ‘odd’ during flight eg the transponder was turned off thus allowing for early intervention by ATC with some special attention.
    Manufacturers experts, Senior Pilots could all be brought in to assist in an emergency as the data would be able to be streamed to them straight from the plane in real time.

    Why have only the last 30 minutes of the CVR why not the whole lot from when the pilots come into the cockpit. The capacity of the Cloud to record all this and more data is not any problem.

    As for turning off FDR to remove clutter for ATC why not program that feature into the electronics. Pilots always need to be able to turn off an electrical equipment for fire reasons.

    Somehow I think the Pilots would have some objection to this proposal, as they, I think, control the use and access to the data recorders now. But seems to me that another way is needed to avoid the pain of waiting for the Families and for the crew and passengers that are in the air or will be to know. The information received this way will allow authorities to take preventive action be it Pilot or Aircraft caused.

    Integrity I suggest is required.

  23. Ive been reading everything possible on this flight. There is so much conflicting information and secrecy. The only thing I know for certain is that the plane is missing. Every guess after that comes up with more questions than answers.
    It is unfortunate that a lot of people, media and governments have forgotten that there are 200+ missing and more people waiting for news of their loved ones.

  24. The Malaysia govt. yesterday hired a witch doctor to provide insight into what happened to the plane (he performed a ceremony at the airport). One Malaysia govt. official said it was embarassing and made them look foolish.

  25. For the first time since 9-11, as a journalist I feel like I’m trapped in a bizarre thriller novel that is too weird to be true. As almost everything is too weird to be true, but given that something MUST be correct, I’ll throw the following thoughts into the mix:

    If a disappeared 777 was to land, what would be its purpose (and don’t forget that it needn’t be logical – most terrorists and criminals are either stupid, or make the odd stupid mistake)? Is it for hostages? If airborne again, could it make it to a significant target of any sort once again? If so, what could it contain – depleted uranium + TNT? What could the targets be? Tehran/Tel Aviv/ Delhi/Islamabad?

  26. I can’t even begin to speculate what happened, but I am not sure that it’s unknown by everybody. There is a lot of public opinion (not necessarily about this flight, but in general) about surveillance and government conspiracies, and I can’t imagine that nobody truly knows what happened. If it is terrorism, it would be more public – it wouldn’t really be terrorism if it was unknown (the purpose of terrorism would be lost). If it did go down in the sea, they would have figured it out by now. All very interesting..

  27. Its officially a criminal case now likely a hijacking of some sort. There have been a few officials that have slipped out that the plane might have landed. Speculation is huge where it went.

    One of the most active places for piracy in the world is Malaysia and Indonesia. There are places in Indonesia that are totally controlled by organized crime and pirates.They make their living off ransoms and stolen cargo. If the person in control of the plane are from that area they likely would return to that area that they are most comfortable with and have local knowledge of.

    The plane was tracked on a course heading to the Indian ocean but maybe doubled back after burning off most the fuel for a controlled gear up crash in a large field somewhere among the thousands of pirate controlled islands of Indonesia. Sound Crazy? Sure but a triple 7 vanishing for over a week without hardly a trace is crazy.

  28. Its not without notice that up until this flight, every plane that was purposely flown into the ground or the sea (or a mountain – not sure if there was one) was piloted by …….wait for it……. a muslim pilot.

    I gather these two pilots were muslims and with whats slowly (very slowly) coming out is that they just may have something to do with its disappearance.

    The other thing I doubt will help a lot is the asking of various countries for their military radar – thats like asking them how good – or bad – their system is. They may not be very helpful.

  29. I agree with seapilot. The transponder can only be turned off because of forcing pilots to do it. It seems like hijacking. But nobody knows what happened and what forced the pilots to turn off the transponder. It is so mysterious.

  30. B-777 Capt and LCA Walt Bates

    March 21, 2014 at 1:21 pm · Reply

    Re the new reports that the course alteration to the west which took the flight off course for the first time PRECEDED by several minutes the copilot’s last and very routine transmission acknowledging their departing Malaysian airspace. This virtually proves to me that at least he was in on this. Whether or not the captain was also complicit could be easily verified by fuel data that Malaysia has not released. In preflight preparation an airline dispatcher will go over weights, winds aloft and forecasted weather at the destination and any alternate airports to calculate what he thinks the fuel burn for the flight will be and then presents his data to the flight’s captain. The captain reviews every assumption made and either approves that fuel or adds some which is done on about 15% of flights. Malaysian Airlines has not released their dispatcher’s calculations so we can not tell if the captain added any fuel. What is known is that the distance to Beijing is almost exactly the same as the distance to Pakistan. The fuel burn, though, would be a good bit greater to Pakistan because of the winds at the time which were out of the west while the Beijing flight would only have had a crosswind. Also he would have had to swing wide to the south or go down to wave-top altitude to avoid numerous radars along India’s south coast. If the captain were planning to fly to Pakistan he would have had to add several thousand pounds of fuel to his dispatcher’s figure which he could do without question or explanation. If Malaysia would release those numbers we could also go back over that same captain’s previous flights to see if he routinely added fuel. A lot of people do that using the old logic that, “The only time you have too much fuel is when you’re on fire”. But I suspect that he rarely did that because as a designated check pilot (LCA) he is supposed to teach the downsides of carrying too much fuel and there are many. I know because that’s exactly what I used to teach. If on flight 370 the captain did add a significant amount of fuel that would lend credence to the thought that he was planning a longer flight than that to Beijing. If he was not in on it and did not add any fuel………well, his copilot would have then been in a fix. Though he could have suggested to the captain that he add some fuel, and that is sometimes done, I doubt that it happened here. The copilot was new to the B-777 and it would be highly irregular for someone in his position to question a fuel decision made by his much more experienced and far higher ranking captain. So, he would have had to make do with what he had. If he made it to Pakistan he would have landed on fumes.

    On a separate subject that has always been a thorn in my side………The culpability of the copilot makes the photo showing him going through security with his arms out ironic indeed. Putting the flight crew through security sure didn’t make any difference, did it?

  31. Just wondering, I recall a Fedex flight a few years ago, I believe it was a DC-10; anyway, One pilot was just using the flight as a way home but turned of all transponders and attempted suicide. He had financial issues and before the flight took out a life insurance policy with his family.

    Do you think it could have been one of these situations?

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