back to article MH370 airliner MYSTERY: The El Reg Pub/Dinner-party Guide

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 …

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Re: What if it was ditched and sunk intact?

"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."

No volume of political spite can make cheap air defence systems work better, or over the horizon.

Radar isn't magic: It works in straight lines* and needs to be part of an integrated, closely spaced network.

*kinda, generally.

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Re: What if it was ditched and sunk intact?

I've seen some discussion of this and the consensus from people who claim to be in the know is that it is extremely difficult to land a large jet on water under any semblance of control, to the extent that it has *never* been done.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: What if it was ditched and sunk intact?

"Radar isn't magic: It works in straight lines*"

That's why military types use them from on top of (relatively) high flying aircraft, so as to get a better long range view.

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Re: What if it was ditched and sunk intact?

"it is extremely difficult to land a large jet on water under any semblance of control, to the extent that it has *never* been done."

Oh yes it has!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/US_Airways_Flight_1549

But it seems an unlikely explanation.

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Re: What if it was ditched and sunk intact?

> to the extent that it has *never* been done.

Sorry, that's cobblers. Did you forget the Hudson River? It's been done on a number of occasions with varying degrees of success: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_landing#Commercial_aircraft

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Re: What if it was ditched and sunk intact?

"to the extent that it has *never* been done."

Ok so what about US Airways Flight 1549 which an Airbus A320 which landed on the Hudson, intact and with all passengers and crew surviviing.

http://www.nbcnews.com/id/28678669/ns/us_news-life/t/ny-jet-crash-called-miracle-hudson/#.Uyg-Mvl_uXw

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Re: What if it was ditched and sunk intact?

As has been pointed out, you can land on water, but the vast majority of water landings are catastrophic. The Hudson landing was on relatively flat river water, a sea based landing would be harder.

In any case, sinking an entire plane would be difficult. Many parts of the plane will float as they escape/break off and unless the passengers were restrained, you'd expect some of them to have remembered their life jackets.

Still, the Indian ocean is huge and finding debris would be difficult without some kind of way of narrowing down the search area.

My guess is someone knows something they're not telling - the Malaysian radar info was released very late after the event, I'm guessing something else will come out sometime.

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Re: What if it was ditched and sunk intact?

It's generally agreed that the Hudson landing was a remarkable feat of airmanship, but it took place in benign conditions on an inland waterway. Quite different to attempting a landing in the open ocean, where even a few foot swell would be almost certain to cause catastrophe.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: What if it was ditched and sunk intact?

>to the extent that it has *never* been done

Except maybe on the Hudson river, or perhaps you consider an A320 to be a small jet.

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Re: What if it was ditched and sunk intact?

<cough>

Does an A320 count as large?

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/jan/16/us-airways-plane-crash-lands-on-hudson

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Pint

Re: What if it was ditched and sunk intact?

"...extremely difficult to land a large jet on water under any semblance of control, to the extent that it has *never* been done."

"We'll be in the Hudson." A very very high semblance of control.

Yes, a few bits broke off (e.g. an entire engine), but the only residual floaty bits were a couple of passengers that fell off the wing.

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Re: What if it was ditched and sunk intact?

"That's why military types use them from on top of (relatively) high flying aircraft, so as to get a better long range view."

That's why over-budgeted air forces use a few of them on top of high flying aircraft, to provide detailed coverage of areas of interest.

The USAF does not constantly fly AWACS up and down every border, 24/7. And most of the rest of the planet does not have airborne early warning radar systems.

I'd be surprised if there wasn't an AWACS loitering over 'stan and another one Korea-way, but I very much doubt any of the local nations had any in the air.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: What if it was ditched and sunk intact?

And drown all the passengers or maybe kill them all beforehand, including the crew?

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@Psyx Re: What if it was ditched and sunk intact?

"No volume of political spite can make cheap air defence systems work better, or over the horizon."

Except for Australia's JORN, which works over the horizon. (Although I must admit it is far from cheap.)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: What if it was ditched and sunk intact?

Rubbish - I give you US Airways Flight 1549: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/US_Airways_Flight_1549

Given the pilot's years of experience and a calm sea it's possible, not likely but possible to ditch and survive.

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Boffin

Re: What if it was ditched and sunk intact?

I thought that might stir up a few people ;-)

Re: the Hudson River incident: as others have pointed out, it was on a calm inland waterway, not the open ocean. And that was hailed as a feat of extraordinary piloting.

And no, an A320 is not a large jet (Airbus describes it as "The founding member of the Airbus single-aisle Family" (http://www.airbus.com/aircraftfamilies/passengeraircraft/a320family/a320/)).

As for the list of water landings (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_landing#Commercial_aircraft), have a look at the aircraft types and the outcomes. Most of them are much smaller aircraft, and the outcomes were not generally very good.

Interestingly that same Wiki page claims that "The FAA does not require commercial pilots to train to ditch".

Getting back to MH370, you could argue that a pilot who was prepared for ditching and had not run out of fuel, had not lost one or more engines and was not flying in foul weather could do it. Possibly, but he'd still be trying to land upwards of 140 tonnes of aircraft at 250km/r. In the dark.

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Re: @Psyx What if it was ditched and sunk intact?

"Except for Australia's JORN, which works over the horizon. (Although I must admit it is far from cheap.)"

People have been trying to improve radar by bouncing it off the upper atmosphere for 60-ish years now. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but generally it's line of sight, and that's what you kinda trust it to do. Low-budget south east Asian countries don't have such luxuries.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: What if it was ditched and sunk intact?

". And most of the rest of the planet does not have airborne early warning radar systems."

Well NATO, that is 28 nations...share 17 planes, and then you have 27 more airforces/navies having airborne radar systems, and quite a few ones of these are in Asia, including India, Pakistan, Thailand, Korea (both) , Japan, Taiwan and China.

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There's a difference

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/US_Airways_Flight_1549

It has been done.

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Re: @Psyx What if it was ditched and sunk intact?

People have been trying to improve radar by bouncing it off the upper atmosphere for 60-ish years now. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, but generally it's line of sight, and that's what you kinda trust it to do. Low-budget south east Asian countries don't have such luxuries.

No, but that southern search arc is largely within the coverage area of Jindalee.

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Go

Re: What if it was ditched and sunk intact?

"Switch on the underwater landing lights"

- best line from any film, ever. :-)

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Re: What if it was ditched and sunk intact?

"Well NATO, that is 28 nations...share 17 planes, and then you have 27 more airforces/navies having airborne radar systems, and quite a few ones of these are in Asia, including India, Pakistan, Thailand, Korea (both) , Japan, Taiwan and China."

I'm not really seeing what your point is, especially as Korea and Japan aren't exactly near the search locations. I mean we might as well mention that old F14 Iran used to use as AEW too, if we're feeling keen.

The vast majority of nations do not fly AEW around 24/7 in peacetime along non-volatile borders and oceans. It's very expensive and pretty pointless.

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Re: What if it was ditched and sunk intact?

"It's generally agreed that the Hudson landing was a remarkable feat of airmanship, but it took place in benign conditions on an inland waterway. Quite different to attempting a landing in the open ocean, where even a few foot swell would be almost certain to cause catastrophe."

It was accomplished on a tidal estuary in a sky crowded with tall buildings with a number of roadbridges and watercraft to be contended with.

There. Fixed it for you.

Can't understand why landing on the open sea is harder than that, but I'm not a pilot.

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Re: What if it was ditched and sunk intact?

The danger in landing on anything other than on the undercarriage on a flat hard surface is one of the wings or engines touching down before the other. The sudden enormous asymmetrical drag will spin the plane into oblivion. The trick is to pancake it perfectly flat. Not easy to do on a flat surface (and the Hudson was effectively flat) but in any swell next to impossible if you think about it. The middle of the Indian Ocean is likely to have quite a swell whether the surface is rough or smooth.

There is no way a pilot could plan to ditch with any confidence of success. It would make "Miracle on the Hudson" look like landing a Tiger Moth on a deserted JFK.

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Re: What if it was ditched and sunk intact?

@Chris Miller

It's generally agreed that the Hudson landing was a remarkable feat of airmanship, but it took place in benign conditions on an inland waterway.

But it was done with an almost total loss of thrust in both engines.

Though I don't know if having engine power or not would make any difference in being able to put down the plane at sea with minimal damage. The pilot on Ethiopian Airlines 961 also tried ditching in sheltered water without engine power, and might have fared better if the plane hadn't banked at the last moment, causing the left wingtip to hit water first and the craft turning sideways before its body hit the water.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: What if it was ditched and sunk intact?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G9CZivaR0tU no never before... Surly anything is possible with John Travolta at the controls... And dont call he Shirley

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Anonymous Coward

Re: What if it was ditched and sunk intact?

I disagree. US Airways Flight 1549 (Airbus A320-214) that ditched in the Hudson in 2009 was *very* intact when recovered... OK the Hudson River isn't oceanic but it shows there can be little damage if it is handled skilfully - like a 18K hour pilot perhaps? Just sayin'

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Re: why landing on the open sea is harder than that

For one of the key reasons* landing on an aircraft carrier is harder than landing at Heathrow:

the landing surfaces moves.

I'm not a pilot and I can recognize that difficulty.

*And the shorter stopping distance and requirement for a tailhook. But even when they first started trying to land aircraft on a ship that moving landing strip was a real obstacle.

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Re: done with an almost total loss of thrust

That it was an exceptionally skilled and miraculous feat does not in anyway affect the fact the conditions were effectively benign.

Neither does the fact that the conditions were benign negate the fact that it was an exceptionally skilled an miraculous landing.

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Unhappy

Why could they turn everything off?

One thing which has been bothering me - is there any good reason why the pilots should be able to turn off all comms and transponders?

Another way of asking that is - is there any failure mode of the comms and/or transponder equipment which represents such a hazard to the plane - or to others - that shutdown of all such equipment is justified?

Serious question. I guess that if there's no good reason, then somewhere along the line there will be a recommendation that all passenger aircraft carry some comms equipment that cannot be shut off by normal cockpit control.

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Happy

Re: Why could they turn everything off?

I think somebody explained the turning on/off as needed to check if the thing works.

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Re: Why could they turn everything off?

The other explanation is that they need to be able to switch it off if it has a short circuit etc.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Why could they turn everything off?

One thing which has been bothering me - is there any good reason why the pilots should be able to turn off all comms and transponders?

If one of these things starts spewing smoke then the circuit breaker is there to kill the electrics and whatever is causing the issue before a full scale fire / fault breaks out. However to disable these things isn't easy and indicates that it was definitely the pilot or co-pilot who carried out the action..

As much as the media are hoping for a grand conspiracy theory and that the plane is landed safely in a muslim country ready to be kitted out with a nuke and sent off to some unsuspecting city the logical answer is sadly a lot more simple and tragic.

Disillusioned pilot possibly with a political motive slips his co-pilot a mickey finn disables all the tracking gear turns the plane around takes it up to 45,000 feet nose dives it and then puts it in the drink hundreds of miles away from where he knows search crews will be looking

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"Disillusioned pilot possibly with a political motive"

I'm not sure how leaving behind a mystery advances any political motive much?

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Re: Why could they turn everything off?

"Another way of asking that is - is there any failure mode of the comms and/or transponder equipment which represents such a hazard to the plane - or to others - that shutdown of all such equipment is justified?"

Yes.

Firstly, some kit sometimes stops working and as we all know the best way to fix it is to turn it off and on again.

Secondly, from what I understand, transponders can sometimes cause interference in cluttered airspace, and pilots are routinely asked to switch them to standby mode.

I'm seeing a lot of crap in the press about "Why can pilots press a button to make their plane invisible to radar". Well, ultimately these people are trusted with our lives. Someone has to be. The alternatives to trusting a pilot with a plane full of people are potentially even more troublesome:

1) Fly aircraft by remote control, where they are then susceptible to interference.

2) Robotic control. because people are just fine with the idea of robot planes these days. Not.

3) Armed person to watch the pilot... who is then just as fallible... and armed.

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Re: Why could they turn everything off?

"However to disable these things isn't easy and indicates that it was definitely the pilot or co-pilot who carried out the action.."

Dude, transponders are a box in the cockpit with an on/off/standby switch on them. Anyone can turn them off.

The engine monitoring stuff... less so and more niche. A hijacker probably wouldn't know to order those to be switched off. But transponders... obvious and easy.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "Disillusioned pilot possibly with a political motive"

I'm not sure how leaving behind a mystery advances any political motive much?

If he puts it down in the water on the normal route it'd have been found within hours / days and there would not be anywhere near as much news coverage as we are getting. Rolling news channels by their very nature are quick to move on to the next tragedy once they've got all the mileage out of the current story.

As it is because nobody has the faintest idea of where it is due to his elusive actions and change of course we are now into what the 11th day? of worldwide media coverage where papers and rolling news channels are digging through the pilots life story and revealing that he supported a certain political party, the leader of which was recently jailed, which the pilot may of found unjust. If the plane had been found within 24 - 48 hours I doubt there would be all this media coverage on the rolling news channels still and they wouldn't have got as far as mentioning the fact he was an avid supporter of a man who was jailed for simply being gay in 2014...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "Disillusioned pilot possibly with a political motive"

" they wouldn't have got as far as mentioning the fact he was an avid supporter of a man who was jailed for simply being gay in 2014..."

Not to mention being apparently a relative by marriage. Still, I still can't quite see how destroying your aircraft (having first ensured to as great a degree of certainty as you can that it will never be recovered or the truth known) and killing 239 innocent people advances any personal or political agenda, no matter how deranged you are. The straightforward suicide theory just doesn't work for me.

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Re: "Disillusioned pilot possibly with a political motive"

perhaps - like most polical motives - it went off track.

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Re: "Disillusioned pilot possibly with a political motive"

> Still, I still can't quite see how destroying your aircraft (having first ensured to as great a degree of certainty as you can that it will never be recovered or the truth known) and killing 239 innocent people advances any personal or political agenda, no matter how deranged you are

Didn't you know - killing people is a good way of changing their minds.

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Re: "Disillusioned pilot possibly with a political motive"

It's a trailer for a new season of Lost?

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Re: "Disillusioned pilot possibly with a political motive"

"I'm not sure how leaving behind a mystery advances any political motive much?"

He works for a production company than makes TV mystery shows, or owns shares in one, or bought shares before disappearing the plane, at the very least.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "Disillusioned pilot possibly with a political motive"

"Didn't you know - killing people is a good way of changing their minds."

Not if they don't ever know you did the killing.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Why could they turn everything off?

Simple reason, safety. Fire is a genuine problem and the commonest cause would be electrical. In general the protocol on an aircraft when smoke is detected or a fire suspected is to isolate equipment to remove the cause. Thus all electrical items have a circuit breaker that can isolate them from the electrical supply, that is, turn them off.

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Re: Why could they turn everything off?

..."Another way of asking that is - is there any failure mode of the comms and/or transponder equipment which represents such a hazard to the plane - or to others - that shutdown of all such equipment is justified?"

Yes.

Firstly, some kit sometimes stops working and as we all know the best way to fix it is to turn it off and on again.

Secondly, from what I understand, transponders can sometimes cause interference in cluttered airspace, and pilots are routinely asked to switch them to standby mode.

Thirdly, ANY electrical kit needs a circuit breaker/isolation switch to protect the circuit/enable routine maintenance/cut power in case of short/etc, etc...

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From the horse's mouth...

...an old friend of mine is a fairly senior manager at a well regarded airline. He says no one has a clue what happened and that lines up well with Mr Page's last paragraph.

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Re: From the horse's mouth...

> well regarded airline

File under "unicorn".

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Re: From the horse's mouth...

> ...an old friend of mine is a fairly senior manager at a well regarded airline. He says no one has a clue what happened and that lines up well with Mr Page's last paragraph.

And that's where the effort should be focused.

If I was the chinese authorities, I'd charter another plane of the same type and fly it over the same route. Then replicate the actions we *know* happened, gather the same information from the same radars and satellites (assuming the malaysian authorities will comply - if not, that tells you something, by itself) and see what possibilities turn out to be impossibilities and who's telling porkies.

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TRT
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Re: From the horse's mouth...

Ahhhh! You've been watching Thunderbirds! Operation Crash Dive. I watched it the day after the disappearance - not deliberately, it was just the next one on the box set I was working through again as I relived my second (third? fourth? actually probably fifth) childhood.

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Re: From the horse's mouth...

Stanislaw Lem - The Conditioned Reflex

Pirx dashed out into the corridor. Quick—outside! Get your ass into the pressure chamber! He got as far as the airtight door; as he was racing past the kitchen, something black against white had caught his eye. The photographic plates! They were lying right where he had dropped them in all the panic over his partner’s sudden disappearance…

He stood before the chamber door, too dumbfounded to move.

The whole thing was like a replay, a repeat performance. Langner cuts out in the middle of making supper, I take off after him, and—neither of us comes back. The hatch will be open… In a few hours the Tsiolkovsky team will start radioing the station… No one will answer…

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