Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : March 31st 2014 Contents B6
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Monday, March 31, 2014
As the search for missing
Malaysia Airlines flight MH370
continues in the southern Indian
Ocean, some key questions
Here are ten questions about
what happened to the Boeing 777
that disappeared after leaving Kuala
Lumpur bound for Beijing on
March 8, with 239 people on board.
1. Why did the plane
make a sharp left turn?
Military radar logs show flight
MH370 turned unexpectedly west
when it diverted from its planned
flight path, by which time the
plane s transponder had already
been switched off, and its last
ACARS datalink transmission sent.
Sudden turns like this are
"extremely rare", according to Dr
Guy Gratton of Brunel University s
Flight Safety Lab. He says the only
real reason pilots are likely to make
such a manoeuvre is if there s a
serious problem on the plane
which makes them decide to divert
to a different destination, to get
the aircraft on the ground.
That could be a fire or sudden
decompression, according to David
Barry, an expert on flight data
monitoring at Cranfield Universi-
ty.Malicious intent, by a pilot or
intruder, is another possibility.
But unless the "black box" flight
recorders are found, whatever hap-
pened in the cockpit at that
moment will remain in the realms
2. Is it reasonable to
speculate that a pilot could
have intended to kill himself?
There has been much specula-
tion in the media that suicide
might have been behind the loss
of the plane.
It wouldn t be the first time it s
happened. The crashes of Egypt
Air flight 990 in 1999 and Silk Air
flight 185 in 1997 are both thought
to have been caused deliberately
by a pilot, though the view has
been contested. The Aviation Safe-
ty Network says there have been
eight plane crashes linked to pilot
suicide since 1976.
So far, no evidence has been
released from searches of the
homes of Captain Zaharie Ahmad
Shah and his co-pilot Fariq Abdul
Hamid that back up any similar
explanation for MH370. There has
been speculation that Shah may
have been upset after breaking up
with his wife, but there is so far
no reliable source for his state of
mind. It s been reported police are
still examining a flight simulator
found in the captain s home.
Barry says the apparent turning
off of certain systems might give
weight to the theory, but "pilot
suicide is a theory like any other".
Gratton agrees. "There simply isn t
any evidence to prove or disprove
it," he says.
3. Is a hijack scenario
Airliners have been fitted with
strengthened flight deck doors,
intended to prevent intruders from
taking control, since 9/11. David
Learmount, safety editor at Flight
International magazine, says they
are "bulletproof" and "couldn t be
penetrated with an axe".
Sylvia Wrigley, light aircraft pilot
and author of Why Planes Crash,
agrees it s unlikely anyone would
be able to force their way in. "Even
if the door was being broken down,
they wouldn t be able to get in
before there d been a mayday call,
unless the pilots were incapaci-
tated," she says.
However, one former pilot, who
did not wish to be named, has
suggested there is theoretically a
way to disable the lock and get
into the flight deck.
But in any case, however secure
the door, there are times when the
door is open, when a member of
the crew either visits the toilet or
has to check on something in the
cabin. It s always been pointed out
that it would be possible to rush
the cockpit when this is the case.
Some airlines, including Israel s El
Al, have double doors to guard
against this scenario. Gratton says
there s a procedure which requires
a member of the cabin crew to
guard the door when it s opened.
But even in the event of hijackers
rushing the cockpit, it would be
easy for either crew member to
send a distress signal.
There s also the possibility that
a pilot invited a passenger in. Pho-
tographs have emerged of the co-
pilot of MH370 entertaining
teenage tourists in an aircraft cock-
pit during a previous flight.
4. Is there an accidental
scenario that stands up
So far most theories have been
based on the assumption that the
communications systems and the
plane s transponder were deliber-
ately disabled, a view endorsed by
However, Wrigley believes it s
possible a sequence of events may
have taken the plane so far off
course by accident. "Something
could have gone wrong in stages.
A fire could have taken out part
of the plane, or led to some sys-
tems failing, but left the plane
intact. Then there could have been
decompression, not an explosive
decompression, but a gradual one,"
Wrigley cites the Helios Airways
flight 522 which crashed into a
mountain in Greece in 2005 after
a loss of cabin pressure and lack
of oxygen incapacitated the crew,
but left the plane flying on autopi-
lot, as an example. "I m not saying
it s a likely scenario, but it s not
impossible," she says.
Pilots have pointed out that one
of the very first actions in many
emergency drills is to send a mes-
sage to air traffic control or some
other form of signal. For a purely
accidental scenario to make sense,
whatever initial event took place
must have simultaneously knocked
out all regular means to commu-
nicate with the ground.
5. Why was no action
taken when the plane's
transponder signal went off?
MH370 s transponder, which
communicates with ground radar,
was shut down as the aircraft
crossed from Malaysian air traffic
control into Vietnamese airspace
over the South China Sea.
If a plane disappeared in Europe,
Barry says someone in air traffic
control would have noticed and
raised the alarm pretty quickly.
Gratton agrees. "In Europe han-
dover is extremely slick.
"At the very least I d expect air
traffic controllers to try and contact
a nearby aircraft to try and establish
direct contact. Pilots frequently use
TCAS [traffic collision avoidance
system], which detects transponders
of other aircraft to ensure they aren t
too close to each other," he adds.
However Steve Buzdygan, a for-
mer BA 777 pilot, says that from
memory, there s a gap or "dead
spot" of about ten minutes in the
• Continued on Page B7
Still awaiting the plane truth
A Malaysian woman takes a picture of a message board for passengers
aboard the missing Malaysia Airlines plane at Kuala Lumpur
International Airport in Sepang, Malaysia. AP PHOTO
Links Archive March 30th 2014 April 1st 2014 Navigation Previous Page Next Page