Here's more sensible analysis...
So, the mysterious case of the missing flight MH370. We've mainly stayed out of this - apart from noting that no, the jet wasn't hackjacked using a mobile phone. But naturally we've been poking around a bit to see what we could find out, and it's not completely nothing. Here's what we bring to the party. Some of us know a bit …
I was just about to post the exact same link (as published by a commentard from The Independent, this morning).
Sadly, I have to say that the simplest explanation is the most likely: fire & crash.
The worrying thing is that so many people are so ready to believe intricate conspiracy theories about terrorism and/or crime. Though I guess this is the news media's version of nature abhorring a (information) vacuum. Gotta instill some fear to sell the papers.
An excellent theory when it was posted. But it is no longer consistent with the (apparent) fact that ACARS 'keep alive' transmissions were received for 7 hours.
I thought that on first reading, but its a wrong interpretation. Read it again. In the middle Chris Goodfellow says:
"What I think happened is that they were overcome by smoke and the plane just continued on the heading probably on George (autopilot) until either fuel exhaustion or fire destroyed the control surfaces and it crashed."
That explains the ACARS "remember me" pings as well as flying out to sea.
The 'time to live' for an airliner with a serious fire on board is minutes, not hours. The fire would have to be strong enough to knock out (and presumably kill) the pilots (no mayday messages sent), and then subside for 7 hours until fuel exhaustion. I'm afraid this is no longer plausible (but then I'm not aware of any plausible explanation that fits all the 'known' facts).
So long as were going all weird theory here, what if instead of a serious fire it was a problem with one of those new battery packs? Enough damage to the electrical system to take communications offline, plenty of toxic smoke to kill the passengers and crew, but maybe no actual fire. Or is this the wrong type of plane for those batteries?
It occurred to me several days ago before I'd read any of these posts that it couldn't have been fire (the plane having flown for some hours after the start of the incident and fires on planes don't let that happen), but if everyone on board had been disabled or killed by a toxic gas then it would be possible--George would have flown the plane until it ran out of fuel.
Trouble with this logic is how could it happen. It's conceivable that if the pilots had detected/sensed a gas of 'unknown source' then they could have pulled power switches on the assumption it came from some electrical source (thinking it a potential fire).
Any gas from decomposition of industrial materials, insulation etc., is usually acrid, and whilst ultimately dangerous it's not instantaneously toxic, thus passengers would have had time to have used mobiles and pilots to call mayday (even if power circuits had been initially switched off).
Furthermore, it's hard to come up with any chemical that would be carried on a plane (even in the cargo) that could disable everyone without warning (but with just sufficient time for pilots to switch off power (transponders) and do nothing else). That leaves us with conspiracy theories and other way-out ideas such as something similar to the Aum Shinrikyo sarin attack on the Tokyo subway, which I'm not inclined to believe. Even then--given the incident began in Malaysian airspace--it's highly unlikely that any exotic gas could have dispersed and worked so quickly without someone communicating to the outside world (unless a pilot had planned it himself and only deployed the gas after the plane was well outside mobile phone range--i.e.: well past the Malay peninsular).
Such ideas are fascinating and morbidly intriguing for us armchair analysts (especially to this longtime 777 passenger), but as a believer in the conspiracy=1%, fuckup=99% theory, I reckon it'll turn out to be something more prosaic (and even if initiated by the pilot(s), it won't be that convoluted).
In the meantime, we must not lose sight that this is a tragedy for both those on board the plane and their waiting relatives.
"7 hours transmission" is sadly possible if the last command was autopilot before a smoke/fire left no one to do anything more. Depending on the type of fire/problem.
It's a low probability, but I'd guess about the same as the other options until we get more (if any) data.
Stranger things have happened with many parts mechanical systems.
Well having reviewed as much as I can of the data, and trying to ignore as much as I can of the bullshit generated internally in the media, here is my currently favoured hypothesis (based in large part on what Chris Goodfellow was saying on his Google+ page) - most of which fits the few known facts, and none of which requires anything currently known to be impossible:-
There were two 'events', separating the flight into three phases.
Phase 1: Normal, routine take-off and climb out of KL. Having reached cruise altitude (about FL350), the aircraft settles into cruise mode, and as they depart the Malaysian ATC zone, the First Officer says 'goodnight' to the Malaysian controller.
Event 1: A severe event occurs which disables a large fraction of the aircraft's electronics. A fire, structural failure, meteorite impact, or similar - there are plenty of things that can go bad, killing the electronics but not causing the plane to crash immediately. Perhaps an oxygen tank ruptures and takes out a cable bus under the cockpit. Whatever it was, either the event itself, or the aircrew's response to it, results in the loss of transponder and VHF (a fire might lead the crew to pull a number of circuit breakers, for example).
Phase 2: The captain is an experienced local pilot. He decides that rather than turn back to KL, which is a busy airport on the other side of some high terrain (and bearing in mind that he cannot raise ATC to have a slot cleared for his aircraft to land), he will head for the slightly closer, larger, and far less busy airport at Pulau Langkawi. He knows that airport, and he knows the area; but with much of the avionics shot, and flying at night, he keeps the navigation a simple as possible, turning left and crossing the Malay peninsula somewhat North of the target airfield, at the point where the terrain is at its lowest, and knowing that even if he can't locate the airport electronically, he can simply follow the coast south once he reaches the Strait of Malacca, until he sees the runway lights. Unbeknownst to the pilots, they are tracked some of the way by military radar; however none of the radar operators are aware that a civillian aircraft is missing at this point, and so no particular notice is taken at the time.
Event 2: Having reached the straits, the pilot attempts his Southerly turn; but at that point, something else goes wrong. Perhaps weakened by the earlier incident, the cabin pressurization falls to the point where the crew succumb to hypoxia; perhaps the control systems for the aircraft go the same way as the R/F gear and simply stop working; but the aircraft, now no longer under the control of its crew, becomes stuck on a southerly heading.
Phase 3: With all on board deceased, incapacitated, or (less plausibly) simply unable to do anything to influence the heading of the aircraft, it flies on into the night, until it runs out of fuel. The Satcom transceiver, the only remaining functional comms gear on the aircraft (which will work as long as it has power, even if no signals can be sent from the cockpit to the transceiver) continues its hourly handshake 'ping' with the INMARSAT bird at 64E, the last 'ping' coming shortly before the crash, at a point on the Southern 'arc' currently under investigation by SAR.
Of course, there are lots of other possibilities; but at this stage, none fit the known facts as well as the above, with a minimum of speculative additional 'facts' not currently in evidence.
This seems fairly plausible to me. Penang airport is not far from Langkawi either, and there is still a military airport at Butterworth I think, all pretty close together. I note that recent reports have changed the status of the reporting systems from 'deliberately turned off' to 'ceased transmitting', which is a significant clarification in this context.
Bilby, maybe I'm confused, but the event which caused the transponder to stop occurred BEFORE the "goodnight" call. This would indicate that either the cockpit was not aware of the transponder's status or WAS, by the cockpit's own actions.
If the Military was aware of aircraft in its sphere of influence flying without a transponder (whether civilian or military Friend or Foe) , in the post 911 era, it would be unlikely that no aircraft would be sent to intercept once radio contact was refused.
'Phase one' scenario INHO, is quite flawed.
In support of the 'fire' hypothesis, it may be of interest to note that the 777 has had a well-publicised cockpit fire on the ground at Cairo.
And if you look through the accident reports, you see at least one more, reported as 'smoke coming through vents' at Heathrow in 2007. But that was actually an electrical fire where the insulation was burning.
There could be a scandal waiting to happen here. Insulation is not meant to burn. And incident reports are not meant to conceal what has happened. I suggest that the 777 needs a good look at its electrics...
"I have to say that the simplest explanation is the most likely: fire & crash."
When it is known that the plane's equipment has been deliberately reconfigured before the plane itself has changed course the simplest explanation must surely be - it has been stolen, no?
> When it is known that the plane's equipment has been deliberately reconfigured before the plane itself has changed course
Sequence of events:- 1) **electrical** fire starts; 2) alarms go off in cockpit; 3) pilots pull fuses in attempt to cut current and prevent fire becoming worse; 4) pilots then change course for emergency landing; 5) pilots unable to communicate as comms now cut due to fuses pulled
This is still consistent with fire and crash.
> Except that between your 2 and 3 the pilot transmits "roger that, goodnight", or something along those lines.
Between 2 & 3 is not possible. Before 1 or between 1 & 2 only. This is still consistent with a fire: the fire disables ACARS; the fire spreads; alarms go off; the sequence plays out as I described.
So it *could* still be a fire.
The other alternatives are looking unlikely: if hijacked, where are the claims from the hijackers' supporters? If terrorists, where are the claims from the terrorists' supporters? If suicide by one of the pilots, why do the left turn? Why not just crash into the sea as soon as out of radar range? Why not just jump under a train, or off a building, or take an overdose?
"Sadly, I have to say that the simplest explanation is the most likely: fire & crash."
Fire and crash somewhere well away from where it should be seems fairly possible, but that's a lot of ground to cover. Downed planes make a lot of mess, and that mess should be visible from quite a long way away from the air.
The Northern arc seems a likely route if there was some great over-arcing plan. And it's the route that should be investigated if we're looking for survivors.
However, the cynic pop psychologist in me says that the plot might have flown South over the ocean. He was into his plane and knew it well. If he did want to go out in style, how appealing would it to be to just fly off over the Indian ocean, knowing that at some point you'd be at the point of no return and all of the passenger's fretting would be futile: Real power over life and death. Plus the bonus of creating an enduring mystery, given that there's no way that the entire ocean could ever be searched. You'd get to go out over and endless sea and maybe see just how acrobatic a 777 can get.
So: South for elaborate suicide, North for something even more intriguing and nefarious.
"The Northern arc seems a likely route..."
The two arcs are not routes. They are a representation of the possibilities for *** -> a single position at a single point in time, <- *** about 7.5 hours into the flight.
One single point anywhere along those lines. This is assuming that the boffins at Inmarsat have done their sums correctly - likely (but I hope that they've checked their assumptions).
I'm inclined to this theory, which is probably on the southern arc. I think one of the pilots killed the other one, and then took the plane high enough to suffocate the passengers and flight crew. I'm guessing he was able to cut off their oxygen, too. After that, he flew to some distant location and carefully ditched the plane. If the plane didn't leak enough after the ditching, then he helped it along, perhaps by cracking the doors open, until the plane sank. No wreckage, no life rafts, no survivors.
If it was just an elaborate suicide, then he presumably went down with the plane. If 'only' a mass murder, then he might have ditched near land and tried to make it to shore.
Horrifying and insane. I remain unable to comprehend the lack of continuous and uninterruptable telemetry on all large planes.
Cutting off the oxygen supply supposedly needs to be done on the ground outside the aircraft and cannot be performed in the cockpit. Also, no mobile phones were ever used or at least never made contact with anything. This surely affects some of the theories.
...Cutting off the oxygen supply supposedly needs to be done on the ground outside the aircraft and cannot be performed in the cockpit...
Where did you pick this up? The pilots have a full flight engineer panel, which includes circuit breakers for ALL electrical systems. This includes the oxygen generator and mask deployment.
They have to have this because they are expected to shut off power to any part of the aircraft in case of an electrical fault/fire.
The only items the pilots couldn't control from the flight deck would be the portable masks used by the cabin staff. But if the passenger masks don't deploy and the pressure warning signs are disabled, the cabin crew would not realise they needed to put these on and they would just collapse like the passengers.
Alternatively, a pilot could empty the small oxygen bottles quite rapidly if he could gain access to these at some point earlier in the flight....
Another theory (haven't checked if it matches the arcs)
This is one of the most unlikely ideas I've read this week.
Military radars are designed to resolve multiple targets: if enemy aircraft are incoming you want to know how many are in what might be a tight formation, not just that there is one or more aircraft coming your way. At the very least the two 777s would have been seen before MH370 formated on SIA68 and any half-decent military radar set would report two targets in close proximity thereafter.
While its true that one plane can theoretically hide in the radar shadow of another, you can only do that by putting the other plane precisely between you and the radar set and manoevering to keep it there. A military pilot might be able to do that because he will be trained in close formation flying; an airline pilot will not because formation flying is not part of his required skillset. To stay in the radar shadow at night MH370 would have to be carrying at least one receiver tuned to the military radar frequency, have a properly installed antenna on the 777 and, preferably, a flight computer programmed to keep it in the radar shadow. Lastly, you can only hide behind another plane while only one radar is operating. The technique simply won't work as long as long as you're in range of more than one primary radar set: at least one of them will see two reflections.
No plane could be on fire, but somehow continue to fly for another 5 hours. And the fire somehow destroyed the transponder and the backup transponder, and the radio, and incapacitated the pilots in the first 30 minutes, but somehow the autopilot still worked?
Pilots want this to be equipment failure so bad.
"ie downward at planet earth."
As opposed to randomly aiming off into space? And the Inmarsat satellite depends upon random airliners to keep its spatial orientation? Utter nonsense. Doesn't anyone have any common sense about how technology works, at least in general?
Ref: MH370_last_ping_corridors.jpg image.
Inmarsat at about 64E, .: must be I-3 F1 at 64.5E. Inmarsat satellites do have spot beams, but the pattern is fixed. These satellites do not steer beams onto individual aircraft clients. That is *obviously* impractical for a general service provider such as Inmarsat.
The oh-so confusing "tilt" angle of 40 degrees (ref image) is simply a representation of the calculated range ring from the satellite, where the computed range intercepts the Earth. The range was derived by Inmarsat boffins based on signal timing (range).
Someone didn't like me having that beer. :(
But it was too late, because I'd drunk it by that point.
As regards the 'pings' received and triangulating them... a comment on about page 4 along the lines of "Why can't we find the plane on spy satellites photos?" did spur an interesting thought:
Although no other birds or receivers would be listening out for random radio handshakes other than the one managing ACARS, there's a good chance someone might have sniffed and registered it: The NRO.
Specifically, ELINT birds are there to hoover data and see what they can see, and are very sensitive.
If anyone might have picked up the pings as well and might be able to help triangulate, it would be an ELINT bird. Hopefully people are having a look-see at the data on the off-chance.
Having spent far too much time following the ever-expanding thread on PPRuNe, I found this a good summary. Some issues with it (like the purported alignment of receiving assemblies) but better than most media.
From my perspective, the big unanswered question about INMARSAT is what about the other pings? The distance from the satellite calculated from the final ping is being discussed, but what about the preceding ones. These would give us an indication if whether the plane was moving, and what approximate direction. You could use this information to infer whether the plane was likely to be in the southern or northern corridors for example, and it would certainly be useful to know if it had stopped moving with respect to the satellite. However, this information has not been given - and frustratingly journalists have not asked for it in the press conferences. It's entirely possible that only the last ping was retained by the system, but it would be good to know that.
I would also be interested in what level if detail the system recorded ping send/receive times. +/- 1 ms implies a particular level of accuracy, if this is greater or less then accuracy is changed, possibly significantly. I've not seen this reported anywhere.
With the conspiracy hat on, I find it amazing that no journalist in the press conferences has pressed for a cargo manifest. The only concrete statement made by the authorities is that "nothing hazardous" was on board. A very valuable cargo has not been ruled out. If there was nothing valuable on board, why not explicitly and unambiguously rule this out?
The standard of both questions and answers at the press conferences is terrible. Take the ACARS being allegedly switched off before the last voice transmission. Crucial point but turns out it was misleading; accurate version is that last ACARS transmission was *sent* before last voice contact. Actual ACARS disabling time may have been later. Bad communication of facts, and an equally bad failure to seek clarification from the journos present.
The whole thing is a masterclass in how not to run an investigation and handle the associate public relations. Unless of course [tin foil hat!] it is all an act of pretend incompetence :)
Agree it would be good to see the range and time information for the other pings. And even if nobody made a call, was every phone on board correctly turned off? - has anybody checked to see if any phone linked to one of the passengers pinged a base station?
I agree the communication has been very poor but it highlights a continuing problem. If I were a media rep with sufficient funds I'd hire the best translator I could and go to the press conferences given in the languages these officials speak at home - Bahasa Malaysia. I'd then get the replies translated. Plenty of people in Asia speak good international English but that isn't necessarily good enough to deal with highly technical issues in a highly emotional environment with an international press corps, many of whom aren't native English speaker either. I have Malaysian relatives and have been there plenty of times so I have some idea what I'm talking about. I'm quite sure some of these communication breakdowns are things that have been lost in translation. The assumption that 'everyone speaks English' is unfortunate for all involved.
Excellent point. And in this context "highly technical" doesn't necessarily mean "technical" the way we IT people think about it. It's any area that has developed somewhat specialized terminology to describe things.
Ran into this with anime conventions. You can hire an expert translator who would impress any seasoned diplomat, yet they have trouble effectively communicating between Japanese guests and American fans. Meanwhile the amateur who has learned the specialized language accurate communicates even though he stumbles through things the professional would handle with ease.
Do they have high and low power amplifiers on the receiving assemblies? Enabling different data rates, high and low bandwidth? And do satellites not have power budgets and intelligent power management capability? A pulse that says "I'm in your line of sight - keep the high bandwidth receiver warm for a data burst"?
One good reason for an hourly handshaking signal is the same conceptual logic as your mobile phone: What if someone wants to call you? Where are you? How does the network find you?
A handshaking signal upon power-up and every hour thereafter is about right for the Inmarsat network to know at least under which satellite is the aircraft. In that way, they know where to find you (roughly), in case somebody is calling you.
Yes, the Inmarsat offers a vast range of modes and speeds. The satellites offer Global, Regional, and Spot beams (fixed pattern).
Fail #2: the satcom equipment isn't in the 777's MEC (main equipment center), it's all in a equipment bay above the passenger cabin. I'd be interested to know if the AIMS units fall back to VHF if they fail to talk to the SDU, VHF won't be much use out over the sea. If you check SITA Aircom's VHF coverage maps, it's apparent where VHF coverage is avalable, MAS is a SITA Aircomm (rather than ARINC) customer. Inmarsat & Iridium provide satcom coverage to SITA (and ARINC).
Last year Boeing issued an Alert Service Bulletin concerning corrosion and cracking in the fuselage skin around the area of the satcom antenna (the aircraft has two, a high gain phased array for voice and data and a low gain 'shark fin' for low bandwidth data only). After months of discussion the service bulletin has been now issued by the FAA and EASA as a full Airworthiness Directive. That AD goes effective in April (next month).
I'd replace the fire scenario with a gradual depressurization scenario akin to the Helios Airways incident. My hypothesis is the mid Gulf of Thailand turn was instigated by the crew aware of something going awry, switching the a/p out of FMS control to action a simple heading demand but failing to complete it before being overcome. I don't buy the further right/left zigzag over the Straits of Malacca - it just went straight out over the Indian Ocean.
I read today that some old biddy on a remote Maldive atoll has told her local news website that she saw a big old 'jumbo jet' [sic] screaming over her roof later on Sat 8th March.
> I read today that some old biddy on a remote Maldive atoll has told her local news website that she saw a big old 'jumbo jet' [sic] screaming over her roof later on Sat 8th March.
Where did you read that? Which atoll? What time?
Without answers to these questions that contribution is noise, not signal.
One possibility that does not seem to have been discussed is the intentional landing on the sea and sinking of the aircraft. If it remained intact any slicks produced would be minimal and there would be little floating debris.
This seems just as plausible as landing and hiding what is a fairly large aircraft.
I must say I am surprised at the apparent lack of aircraft tracking in the region however, particularly given that the politics of the areas invovled are generally prickly at best.
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