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MH370: A different point of view (plus.google.com)
404 points by beaner on Mar 17, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 202 comments



This doesn't explain the zigzagging trajectory of the plane after its disappearance:

Indeed, soon after MH370 disappeared, reports emerged that recordings of Malaysian military radar returns showed an unidentified track that could correspond to the flight turning left onto a westward course and descending. At the time it was difficult to assess the validity of that claim. It’s been bolstered, however, by a Reuters report earlier Friday stating that Malaysian military radar showed the flight following a course westward over the Malay peninsula and then heading out over the Indian Ocean, passing specific navigational waypoints as it went.

According to the report, this latter portion of the flight followed an unusual zigzag trajectory as it worked its way toward the north and west. This is a very inefficient way to get from one place to another, but it had some consequences that may have been useful for whoever was in control of the airplane. For one thing, by navigating between well-traveled waypoints, the plane would have seemed to military radar operators to look just like all the other well-behaved commercial traffic traveling over that stretch of ocean. “That’s going to seem like unsuspicious traffic,” says Maarten Uijt de Haag, a professor of electrical engineering at Ohio University. Had the plane left the well-traveled routes and struck out on its own, it would have been far more conspicuous.

Another consequence of the zigzagging trajectory is that, like a fox crossing back and forth over a stream to eluding a pack of hounds, it obscured where exactly it might be heading.

http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2014/03/14/mh370_dis...


"By signing off from Malaysian airspace at 1.19 a.m. on March 8 with a casual "all right, good night," rather than the crisp radio drill advocated in pilot training, a person now believed to be the co-pilot gave no hint of anything unusual.

Two minutes later, at 1.21 a.m. local time, the transponder - a device identifying jets to ground controllers - was turned off in a move that experts say could reveal a careful sequence."

-Reuters

Turning off the transponder two minutes after communication and turning IMO rules out fire. It would have had to take place in a 2 minute window.


10 minutes later (1:30am), and this is the thing that dooms the article's theory for me, a jet half an hour ahead was asked to radio the plane and request location. The captain did make contact and heard the copilot answer. It's possible there were electrical problems since he said the line had lots of static on it, but in the end there was no mention of an emergency. Once you are communicating I would expect there to be mention of a fire, etc (but maybe not a hijacking).


Hypoxia?

I know, I know, I'm reaching. But it'd explain the "mumbling."


Also doesn't address telemetry being turned off dozens of minutes before last radio comm.


It's being reported[1 - NYT] that the 107 "turn off time" is inaccurately quoted. It wasn't that the system was turned off at 107, as much as the next expected report at 137 was not received. This leaves a 30 minute window during which the system was disabled. Note also that the last voice communication was at 119, so it could have been disabled after that. We simply do not know.

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/18/world/asia/malaysia-airlin...


""turn off time" is inaccurately quoted"

That is part of the problem with any analysis of what could have happened.

We don't know for sure if all the input is correct as reported. The old garbage in garbage out.

We don't know if the background checks (some of which are complete some which various countries haven't even released yet) have issues. Everything is speculation based on fuzzy information.

All we know is what is reported and we don't know how much of it is actually correct. Which is what your comment illustrates ""turn off time" is inaccurately quoted".


Much of the information coming from the Malaysian officials tasked with communication is confused or inaccurate. Naturally it's unclear whether this is a case of "right hand not talking to the left" or broader incompetence, but I think you're right to be conservative in building hypotheses atop this information.


The following is speculation:

If there was an electrical fire maybe it disabled the telemetry system before the last radio comm without them knowing? I don't know all the systems on the plane and what the possibility is of an electrical fire going unnoticed for ~12 minutes. That's my only guess for why the transponder was turned off before last radio comm IF we assume this article/post's point of view is correct.


Couldn't a fire in the electric turn off the telemetry minutes before it gets noticed?


There are alarms for everything under the sun, I don't think it would be possible for a fire to knock off a key system and the pilots not know about it.


In the world of Electrical Engineering ANYTHING can be knocked off without you knowing, because at some stage you just HAVE to assume that given circuitry works. With radio comms, the only way to check if antenna is actually working (a connector is still intact) is to use receiver. That's what commercial radio operators do


Or the last ping received by the satellite, which would require a sharp turn to either the north or south after the last known trajectory. After it was well past the supposed target airport.


It's also hard to square with the fact that the satellite system was still pinging 7+ hours later. It doesn't appear to have been powered down at all, it just stopped sending ACARS reports. And so it wasn't powered down deliberately (or if it was, it was then powered up again), and it wasn't powered down by fire damage, even seven hours after "goodnight", and it wasn't sunk under water or torn apart by a plane crash within that time either. I think it's conceivable that that could happen as the result of the suggested fire accident, but it would take a very specific set of circumstances. And you'd also have to have an explanation for the other apparently contradictory information, such as the reported radar pings west of Malaysia and heading north, or (as you said) the later deviation from course. Doesn't seem likely.


And, just curious though, in case there was a fire and they turned the transponders off on purpose - How difficult would it be to just say "Fire" or something over the wire before turning things off? Does abruptly going cold and switching everything off make sense? Would a fire hit so fiercely that the very first response would be to turn everything off without any communication?


Ordinarily, you keep your plane in the air as your top priority, go where you need to go as your second priority, and communicate as your third priority. So ordinarily, I would say that's too far down your list of priorities.

In this case, however, there was a communication at 1:30, ten min. after the transponder was turned off. Once you are on the radio, it makes sense to say "we have a fire" I would think.


You can't say that and not mention the mnemonic!

"Aviate, Navigate, Communicate"


Airplane fires can and have been so fierce, that pilots barely have time to utter a single sentence to ground control after they know they're in trouble and before they lose consciousness. It really is that time critical.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ValuJet_Flight_592


You cite a source but it doesn't really back up your claims. "Kubeck and Hazen immediately asked air traffic control for a return to Miami due to smoke in the cockpit and cabin, and were given instructions for a return to the airport. One minute later, Hazen requested the nearest available airport."

I have yet to hear of a single midair aircraft fire that was not reported over comms.


I did not assert that they didn't have time to talk at all. The Valuejet pilots only knew they had a large scale raging fire onboard when they asked for the nearest available airport. Before that, they would have thought the airtight cargo compartment would extinguish a flame from O2 starvation. My point was that fires can overtake pilots very quickly, going from seemingly minor to terrifying in seconds.

You misunderstood which time interval I was talking about entirely. I am also not espousing a theory that this is what happened to the MH flight. I just wanted to point out to people what timescale these things operate within.


or the climb to 45k


Plenty of weird reasons to climb like that[1]. I think people dramatically underestimate how mechanical and/or electronic system failure combines with human misjudgement to make things operate in entirely unpredictable ways.

I've never been involved in an air crash investigation, but I have done many system outage investigations. The majority of them[2] involve a failure of a hardware/software system, followed by manual intervention done without complete information. The number of times I've seen small problems escalate dramatically by the combination of automatic systems and manual intervention is enough to make me assume accident when something like this happens.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_France_Flight_447#Final_rep...

[2] Ok, the majority that don't involve the deployment of new software.


I don't know where you got your ATP from, but there isn't a good reason, in clear weather, to climb above the service ceiling for your air-plane.

Now, I don't miss-underestimate how failures happen, how they combine, but I know my procedures. If I'm pulling fuses for things, I'm going to first SQUARK 7700, have the co-pilot screaming on 121.5, whilst he is charged with flying the plane (following a heading, not dropping out of the sky, like AF447!) whilst I then follow the procedures for the kind of electrical fire. Even if it's only for 10 seconds, the 7700 will be picked up, the ATC will see it light up like an angry chirstmas tree. It will not be 'cancelled' by the transponder then being switched off, the operative would have to cancel it, which they wouldn't do until after contact had been reached. In the case of say 7500, they wouldn't take radio as reason to cancel it.

The point is, the transponder just happened to turn off at the perfect moment (between two ATC services) after the ACARS had been switched off long before.

If you had a fire, that had endangered physically separated, redundant systems in that manner, I doubt the plane would be able to fly for 7 hours. The 777 is a fly by wire plane.

However, if you wanted to drop off, un-noticed, it is the perfect time.

Occam's razor n all that. If I thought such failures were possible, as I've said before, I'd shred my pilots license tomorrow.


> I don't know where you got your ATP from, but there isn't a good reason, in clear weather, to climb above the service ceiling for your air-plane.

You are assuming the pilot was in command, but keep in mind a different B777 operated by Qantas had an uncommanded climb caused by twin air data unit failures. The pilots in that case recovered and returned to the airport for an emergency landing. However, I wonder how different it would be over the ocean and at night.

> The point is, the transponder just happened to turn off at the perfect moment (between two ATC services) after the ACARS had been switched off long before.

Yeah. Recovery over the water at night is one thing. Flying for hours after is a very, very different scenario, and that's what makes the difference for me.


Completely agree. I'm surprised that, especially on HN, the large number of people who won't apply Occam's Razer to the situation.

I imagine that most air accident investigations begin like this; confused, competing information from numerous sources of varying reliability. Just with the internet and 24h news, everyone is following along with each revelation (see also the Pistorius trial).

Give it some time, let the investigators work and report their findings. I'd be very surprised if it's not a combination of system failure and human error in reacting to the failure.


> I imagine that most air accident investigations begin like this; confused, competing information from numerous sources of varying reliability.

Not to mention that but when things happen on the plane, pilots are given confused, competing from numerous sources. This is why I assumed it was an accident (like Air France 447) at first.

> Give it some time, let the investigators work and report their findings. I'd be very surprised if it's not a combination of system failure and human error in reacting to the failure.

That was my first impulse too. Google "IEEE Automation Paradox Air France 447." However, this is really hard to square with the engine information. So you have three possibilities: the plane flew an uncommanded course on autopilot for 5 hours following an accident, the flight data is wrong, or it is a hijacking.

In this case an investigation is hard because there is so little information. It took until the black boxes were recovered from AF447 to determine what happened there. Here? We don't even know where the plane is, much less the relevant recorders.


To be fair, it isn't at all clear if Occam's Razer doesn't point to a hijacking.

I think that the lack of clear & sufficient information makes Occam's Razer hard to apply.


I just blame aliens or a very localized rapture.


Come on;. The Air France cause for climbing up was due to the copilot panicking and completely misunderstanding the situation at hand once the autopilot was disconnected. I would have a hard time to believe that a veteran pilot as the one in MH370 would make such an amateurish mistake.


I've heard arguments from private pilots that say exactly the opposite: The experienced pilots have so much "Nintendo time" flying just on autopilot that they are more likely to commit such gross flying mistakes. Newer pilots still have aviation basics in fresh memory because they have recently flown many hours in small planes with only manual controls.


The pilot in question had built a flight simulator at home. I doubt he was flying it mostly on autopilot. He also worked as instructor.

I am not a pilot, but I would expect both would provide opportunities to refresh memory.


Well in the AirFrance case it was clearly the inexperienced pilot who drove the plane to the water. The commander was sleeping at the time and when he came back in the cockpit he grasped what was happening but it was too late.


s/commander/captain/

s/drove/stalled/

s/sleeping at the time/had just retired to the crew cabin, taking a rest/

he was only out of the cockpit for 18 minutes.

http://www.bea.aero/docspa/2009/f-cp090601e3.en/pdf/f-cp0906...


If it was outside fire (tire), wouldn't it die out in higher altitude?


Possibly explaining the climb to 450? To remove more oxygen from the depressurized compartments to try to smother the fire? I don't know if this is a legitimate fire-fighting technique for an aircraft though (i.e. somehing that the flight crew would have been trained to do).


That's from primary radar. Those altitude readings are unreliable at that range.


Investigators flew the same exact flight path in another 777 and it should have been apparent if primary radar misreported altitude +/- such a large margin at the distances observed. If they observed primary radar lose no accuracy at that distance, why judge the 45k as inaccurate?


You are assuming that the altitude reading would always be off by (close to) the same amount.


Can you expound on that? Does it have to do with atmospheric curving of the radar beam?


> The use of primary radar requires a great deal of signal power, because objects further from the antenna will reflect or send back a weak signal. At longer distances from the antenna, radar becomes unreliable as a way to determine aircraft position with only reflected signals.

http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-a-primary-radar.htm


Radar derives altitude from measurements of distance and elevation angle. The greater the distance, the less sensitive elevation angle is to vertical displacement (simple trigonometry), and hence signal:error decreases.


I think it has to do with electromagnetic ducting or other clutter effects:

http://www.radartutorial.eu/07.waves/wa17.en.html

If the last effect on the page were in effect, you might get a return, know it's relative bearing well, it's range a little less well, and it's altitude not very well at all.


one theory is that the aircraft was still climbing towards cruise altitude when all control was lost.

a stall, a recovery, and a randomly meandering flight followed.


It wasn't random, though. It was flying to waypoints.


maybe.

adjectives used of the radar data: "inaccurate", "undisclosed".

adjectives used of the flight path: "erratic", "uneven", "zigzagging".

waypoints are thick as thieves, the odds of a flock of birds not hitting three of them are small.

...plus hitting exactly those waypoints makes no sense: the middle zig should have been skipped as superfluous.


waypoints are thick as thieves, the odds of a flock of birds not hitting three of them are small.

Really? On a plane? On my boat they're typically within a few meters.


I don't know much about VNAV but couldn't have they configured a vertical ascent rate with no upper ceiling?


In every instance of cabin fire, even ones where the fires spread extremely quickly and are eventually fatal such as SwissAir and ValueJet, the crew contacted the ground. And this was the case even when co-pilots were literally out of their seats actually fighting the fires. Yet every single time the ground was alerted about an emergency. This is what veteran pilots do.

Also, for a fire to destroy the multiple electronic systems so as to render the transponder and comms useless, the smell of smoke would've almost certainly been recognizable long before the damage was complete. In this case, the pilots would have alerted the ground.

It was the pilot and/or co-pilot acting deliberately. I would bet my life on it.


What does it take to switch to a new ATC? AFAIK they were in the process of switching to the Vietnamese ATC and in fact the last message was a "good night" to the Malaysian ATC. Could the process of switching to the new ATC mean that they were left without communications in the deciding minutes?


>In every instance of cabin fire ... the crew contacted the ground.

How many documented cabin fires have there been?


> From 1990 to 2010 there have been 18 major accidents involving in-flight fire (Flight Safety Foundation) These accidents resulted in 423 fatalities.

> In the late 1990s the rate of diversion in the United States on average was more than one aeroplane each day diverted due to smoke (Shaw, 1999). Fortunately, it is rare for a smoke event to become an uncontrolled in-flight fire. Later data collected by IATA estimates that more than 1,000 in-flight smoke events occur annually, resulting in more than 350 unscheduled or precautionary landings (International Air Trasport Association, 2005). In-flight smoke events are estimated at a rate of one in 5,000 flights while in-flight smoke diversions are estimated to occur on one in 15,000 flights(Halfpenny, 2002)

source: http://flightsafety.org/files/RAESSFF.pdf


An Egypt Air 777-200 had a cockpit fire on the ground. This would complicate a reponse.

http://www.avherald.com/h?article=44078aa7&opt=0

Presuming they lost the battle, instrumentation/ap would drop out. Eventually, the fire would burn through the cockpit (see pictures above) and depressurize the a/c. Fire would then go out. Engines would keep going.

Eventually, someone will correlate wind directions with any required in-flight cg changes (fuel tanking) not being completed and I won't be surprised if a pattern emerges.


Interesting. Except is it really possible for a 777 that just had its entire avionics destroyed by a fire and a total loss of cabin pressure at 35k feet to maintain relatively level and straight flight? If the fire is really that catastrophic, I would reckon the plane would crash soon thereafter. It would also be unprecedented (as far as I know) to have the crew aware of a fire and unable to alert the ground (either because the comms were inoperative or the pilots were incapacitated). Also, another pilot is now claiming he established radio contact with 370 at 1:30, but that it was "mumbled" and brief. I guess the radio was working and there was a butt in the seat?

I dunno. Who am I kidding, it's all circumstantial at this point.

EDIT: I'm not sure if the Cairo incident is a good example of how quickly a fire can overcome a crew. They were on the ground with the jetway still connected, so it's quite a different situation.


Well, didn't maintain level and straight flight. The damage would probably not be as bad as Egypt Air, because any small hole would immediately depressurize the a/c, whereas EA kept burning for 20 minutes.

Cockpit window heater fires:

http://archive.chicagobreakingbusiness.com/2010/06/us-boeing...


Well it should not be too difficult to locate maintenance and build records to determine if such an issue could have existed with the this plane and if it were corrected or not.

However as someone pointed out, could it really continue to fly at this point, let alone where did the debris go?


[deleted]


Regarding that, I only know what I've read from commercial pilots and heard from a family member who's a commercial pilot in the last week, though I appreciate the accusatory tone. Besides, the circumstances make no sense...how would the fire be severe enough to destroy all major communications of the plane, then somehow extinguished, yet the plane not only didn't crash but flew aimlessly for another 6 hours? I suppose it's possible somehow but sure seems far-fetched.


We know at least that the last voice contact with the plane occurred after the transponder stopped, and no one mentioned a fire. If a fire killed the transponder, it would have had to have done so without alerting the pilots in any way. Then killed the comms very shortly thereafter, again with no prior warning.


[deleted]


At the time of my reply your comment is 10 minutes old.

That means you've been able to read the exact same posts as I have been reading in this comment section. Comments from experienced pilots, one of whom explicitly states it's impossible for everything we know to have happened to just "happen by accident".

It's reasonable to downvote your crusade, you're hogging a whole page with it.[1]

[1]http://i.imgur.com/lswNgAI.png (@125% zoom)


It's also reasonable to downvote someone who's being an asshole. Please stop it.


Sequence of events this implies when coupled with other information:

1. Electrical fire starts, takes out ADS-B transponder, pilots unaware and continue the flight as normal 2. They radio a goodbye as they leave ATC, still unaware of anything which means that a fire has taken out a transponder and they are unaware of that fact 3. The fire is discovered. The crew put on full-face oxygen masks and the pilot makes for that airport either by dialling in a bearing into the autopilot or disengaging it and flying for it. 4. They attempt communication but fail because the systems are out due to the fire

At that point, we then have a lot of things to consider: was it pilot input or autopilot that took them to FL450? When did the pilots lose the ability to land, either because of control surface damage or because they were incapacitated? In the event of being alive but unable to fly the aircraft because control surfaces were no longer responsive to cockpit or autopilot input, is there anything else they could/would do other than do some maths and work out when the inevitable crash was coming? If they could control some surfaces but not others would they use that to buy themselves more time, e.g. climbing to ceiling (FL450), or would they get low quick?

This theory raises quite a few questions then, but it's a perfectly valid hypothesis: the issue for me around it is understanding why the pilots didn't go on to make the landing suggesting loss of control or their own lives by that point. The only way we'll get to understand that is by finding the black box which of course would explain the whole thing anyway.

This theory also suggests a likely ditching or crash into the water, and if that were the case then I would expect sonar operators over a large part of the region to hear the black box locator, pretty much as they did with the Air France crash.


"The only way we'll get to understand that is by finding the black box which of course would explain the whole thing anyway."

I appreciate that there are technical challenges and costs associated with the following idea, but it would be quite an interesting project to create a system that would transmit Flight Data Recorder (FDR) information to a ground location.

Off the top of my head, it would need to be flexible, perhaps recording more detailed telemetry in cases where cellular networks were available, to being able to provide critical, but perhaps less-detailed telemetry, in cases where only satellite communications were available. In addition, data monitoring systems could be programmed with the intelligence to transmit more detailed telemetry in the event of an anomaly (e.g., the "left turn" with regard to MH370). This would be an attempt to find the right balance of data fidelity, with regard to available transmission capabilities and associated costs.

Sadly, as it is now, we are left with relying on essentially locating the proverbial "needle in a haystack" with regard to locating the FDR. Another example is the case with AF447 [1]. Although the FDR was recovered, it was not until nearly 2 years after the incident.

My heart goes out to those that lost loved ones. Not having closure is an extremely painful and difficult process to endure.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_France_Flight_447


Why Do Airlines Keep ‘Black Box’ Flight Data Trapped on Planes?

"In an airplane tragedy, however, the information stored in the so-called black box inevitably ends up inside a wreck. This seems like a terrible place to keep the clue you need to find most."

http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-03-10/malaysia-air...


Alternatively, why don't planes have floating EPIRBs (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distress_radiobeacon) or even floating black boxes? They could be attached to one or more points on the plane where they're likely to be released if wreckage sinks.


Black boxes do have an ELT. If the plane had crashed it's likely they would have been found it already.


also what about including some kind of traceable liquid that can be detected by search ships or satellites?


This requires the pilots to discover the fire at the exact time when switching from Malaysian Air Traffic Control to Vietnamese Air Traffic Control. The fire then incapacitates the radio or the pilots before they have a chance to call in the incident. Seems overly coincidental to me.


While I'm not sold on the cabin fire theory, could flying to FL450 have been an attempt to snuff the fire out?


No, previous experience with fires has taught the best policy is to land as quickly as possible. Standard procedure would be to put out all available drag and descend for the nearest aerodrome with all possible haste. Ditching is preferable to cruise in the case of a serious fire. The turning maneuvers west of the peninsula are not consistent with a rational fire response by the crew.


The article talks about the turning moves being a rational choice to go to the Langkawi runway


Those turning moves were east of the peninsula.


That's an interesting hypothesis, one I have not heard discussed yet.


I would speculate that in the case of a fire, the subsequent change in altitude was probably more likely the result of loss of control, or the autopilot was still connected and became confused by the avionics/instrumentation sending it bad/invalid data.

The latter part seems fairly unlikely, but I have no idea what a fire would do if it took out or disrupted the instrumentation, flight computers, etc..


> and if that were the case then I would expect sonar operators over a large part of the region to hear the black box locator

Apparently the pingers are only audible for 2-3 km [1].

[1] http://www.hydro-international.com/issues/articles/id1098-Ai...


It's a pretty massive area and the boxes might be trashed.


Those boxes are built to be untrashable.


As were the boxes on 9/11, but those were allegedly destroyed in the fire.


Those might have been crushed by a skyscraper falling on top of them. A fire and a crash won't come close to destroying a black box.


Well, 9/11 is a different story. Like they have found the passports of the hijackers but the black boxes were destroyed. And some hijackers were alive after the event http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/1559151.stm and also not forget that there are too many problems with the official story which makes it suspicious.


You might find this site useful: http://www.911myths.com/html/hijackers.html


They certainly are. Doesn't mean they can't be trashed. They have been before.


I doubt a fire and an impact on to water would do it though.


I did say might be. Rescue ops have to be within 15 miles for detection and the overflight area is absolutely massive given the very approx location data provided by the SATCOMM pings.


And the Titanic was built to be unsinkable.



Oh cool! I didn't know that. Off topic, but I learned something. Thanks.


I took a flight on a 777 from Dulles to London a couple years ago. A few hours into the flight the captain announced a suspected cabin fire and the smell of smoke in the cockpit. The crew shut off all the circuits they didn't need to fly the plane, the captain took a left turn, and we made an emergency landing at Reykjavik. Just sayin'.


You could just as easily take the same facts and say:

"I took a flight on a 777 where there actually was a cabin fire (or at least the crew thought so). But our pilot never lost contact with the ground and we landed safely -- we certainly didn't disappear for over a week, fly far beyond our emergency landing opportunity, or perform bizarre evasive maneuvers. Just sayin'."


Of course.


Sure. But a gas leak recently brought down two buildings in Harlem and that's akin to someone posting, "we had a gas leak and I just called the gas company, they switched it off. Just sayin".

Point is: things don't always go to plan, and successfully avoiding disaster once does not necessarily set a precedent.


I guess the point was that turning off transponders and other things could have been the crew's reaction to suspected fire. Obviously the radio messages do not go along well with this theory. On the other hand I'm at least a little bit confused about what pieces of information about the case have been confirmed and what is just from "anonymous sources".


My post was simply to share useless aviation information in a show of solidarity with everyone else, but it would be more accurate to say it was akin to someone saying "we had a gas leak over the middle of the ocean, at night, it was dark and sweltering and smelled like smoke and everyone was freaking out but they made us stay inside for a couple more hours until we finally landed on a runway lit up by emergency vehicles and evacuated the building. Just sayin'."


"Akin" in that your second version has the complete opposite tone and implicit meaning to your original post?


"Implicit meaning?" I never meant to say a fire in-flight is no big deal, if that's what you inferred. I hope you never experience one or anything like it, but if you do my advice is to try to stay calm and not to call the gas company.


One big hole in this theory is that its been widely reported [1] that a transponder was switched off before the pilots last radio contact. The pilots would have had no reason to pull the breakers before the last communication if they weren't already aware of a fire.

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/17/world/asia/malaysia-airlin...


Another massive hole is that the closest airport ,at the point where communication was lost, was Sultan Mahmud in Kuala Terengganu. Long runway, approach directly from sea, can accommodate a 747 according to Wikipedia. There is no justification to go to Langkawi which is on the other side of the Malay Peninsula.


Never underestimate "pilot familiarity." In an emergency, a pilot is going to favor an airstrip he/she is familiar with over an unknown one. Perhaps the captain was more familiar with Langkawi?


apparently the co-pilot was fresh off his 777 training which occurred on Langkawi.


It's quite possible to think of reasons why they decided on that course of action. I'm no expert, but here's some based on previous incidents:

They wanted to burn off fuel.

There was a fault with the rudder

There was a fault with the control system

They pilots were dead, and the autopilot was doing something off.


In an emergency, the safest way to burn fuel is to reach the closest airport and then circle it. Not head to a more distant airport which you might not reach because of the very emergency.

All hypotheses will invalidate the major premise: that the pilots chose that particular heading not randomly, but in a calculated attempt to reach the nearest airport because of an emergency. Basically, no matter where the plane would have turned, if you draw a long enough line you will find an airport. But that does not explain anything.


In a dire emergency, you would just dump the fuel and not try to burn it off.


Except, the 777 does not have fuel dumping.

It was not required for certification because it meets the minimum required climb rate with an engine failure after takeoff at Max Gross Weight.


Yes it does:

http://cdn-www.airliners.net/aviation-photos/photos/7/4/7/23...

Look at the top center, at the "Fuel Jettison" switches. (This is a 777-200 non ER, but I doubt the ER model would remove this feature.)


Or even land heavy.



Damage from an electrical fire on board could possibly explain the first transponder going out, even if the crew wasn't aware of the fire yet.


You'd imagine that the transponder going out would immediately bring up a fault warning in the cockpit, though, even if the fire itself had somehow not been detected. But I suppose a sufficiently bad bug in the flight systems might be invoked to cover that.


If so, they would probably already have seen other faults as well, and at the very least have a warning about the transponder being disabled. Their last communication made no mention of any problems.


So, is there a publically traded company that makes fireproof transponders? Because I have this hunch...


there was also rumor captain grow up around that airport. i suggest research his childhood schools if possible.


Except that the left turn was pre programmed into the flight computer.

http://abcnews.go.com/ThisWeek/week-transcript-rep-peter-kin...

"KERLEY: The prime minister confirming the report by ABC News the communications gear was deliberately shut down. Now we have learned from a source close to the investigation that whoever was controlling the plane preprogrammed that sharp left turn right off of the flight path, convincing investigators that someone was in control of the jetliner, either a rogue pilot or a hijackers."


One problem with the theory: The first communication system was shut down before the pilot's last message 'All right, good night'. If it had been an accidental fire that caused the pilot to cycle the systems, I would imagine the last message would have been more along the lines of "Holy Smokey Bear, the plane's on fire!"


See wikiburner's comment:

Damage from an electrical fire on board could possibly explain the first transponder going out, even if the crew wasn't aware of the fire yet


the last ACARS message was received before the ATC goodbye.

the next ACARS message was scheduled to be sent after the goodbye, but it was never received.

the time when the ACARS was disabled would be within this window.


The NYT is saying that some Malaysian government officials are confused about how ACARS works, leading to the confused reporting.

The above comment is accurate: the last ACARS message was received at 107, and the next one was expected at 137. The voice communication was logged at 119.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/18/world/asia/malaysia-airlin...


This is what I've been saying for the last couple of days.

The cool thing with watching this story develop in real time is understanding how fucking incompetent conspiracy theorists are. From confusion on how ACARS works, to the limits of radio comms, to the organization of the plane's electrical system to their complete misunderstanding of how accurate primary radar readings are at the edge of range. These people aren't qualified to speculate in the slightest.

If you don't know what you're talking about: shut the fuck up.

By default I disbelieve all conspiracy theories, unless overwhelming evidence is forthcoming, because their proponents don't know shit.


This is probably the most intelligent explanation I have heard. Everyone wants to make this into some Hollywood action movie with terrorists, kidnappings and sneaking through airspace.


This author isn't helping the cause either. He is going as far as calling the pilots "heroes". He is grandstanding just like other journalists.

One would think that cabin smoke was one of the first scenarios experts considered.


MH370 might have entered into a blackhole and come back as a dove.

What's with all this speculation?!?


So you're saying the best way to figure out what happened to MH370 is to do nothing, don't think, don't have any ideas, in no way make any effort to interpret the facts as they present themselves or try to fill in the blanks with educated guesses?

Nice plan.


Well it definitely won't be bloggers and armchair investigators who figure it out. Unfounded speculation is irresponsible and immature behaviour the very least.


Some people seem to enjoy it as a sort of creative challenge, it seems, which I guess doesn't really hurt anyone (I don't envision the victims' families reading these threads). That's fine as far as it goes, although these threads always seem to branch out into bizarro conspiracy theories about the Mossad trying to smuggle the Reptilians' sacred crystals into Liechtenstein and wondering about why the "all-powerful, all-seeing" governments are hiding what they know about it.


Why don't you envision the victims' families reading this sort of thread? If I were the relative of somebody on that plane, I'd be reading every single article and thread I could, trying to keep the hope of finding them alive, alive. Surely I'm not the only one?


I guess that does answer my question. I have no real beef with the speculation, it is somewhat darkly amusing, given that real people died and are totally missing, leaving behind distraught family and friends.


Why is it irresponsible and immature?

It's an interesting puzzle. Lots of people like puzzles. Trying to figure it out is good exercise for the brain. It doesn't cause any harm. So what's the problem?


Because this is simply not a puzzle or a brainteaser you can solve from your armchair. You can't just Google a few things, read a few pages on Wikipedia, watch a documentary on Discovery Channel about aviation disasters and maybe read the comments on Hacker News as well and then use logical deduction and Hegelian dialectic to formulate to a conclusion. Dont't you see that?


That does not answer my question at all. Just because you can't solve it conclusively with Google doesn't mean that it's not an interesting exercise to work on. Again, what's the problem? It's harmless, it's interesting, why fight it?


I'm curious how idle speculation has been helpful in finding the plane in any way?


I'm curious how an army of people from military and civil aviation organisations, including radar operators, Satellite Image analysis, air accident investigators, air traffic control and pilots, have been helpful in finding the plane in any way.

This is an unusual situation, and none of the facts seem to make any sense. Who care's who is trying to make sense of what happened? If I was one of those passengers, I wouldn't be on the other end thinking "You know, I hope no one on the internet tries to figure out where I am".


You don't have to be curious. They are using data and have sent crews out looking for the plane. They have experts in their field coordinating the search. People who have expertise in radar, Satellite Image analysis, air accident investigations, air traffic control and actual ability to fly a plane.

I was merely commenting that it's funny how there is one story that MH370 may have snuck under radar by shadowing another 777, and this article says there was a fire. Perhaps the fire caused the crew to shadow the 777? Or maybe the 777 caused the cabin fire?

I am, of course, being facetious. But when they do eventually find MH370, it's unlikely it would have been because of speculation on the Internet.


And yet they're doing a completely awful job of it.

They spent a week searching the wrong ocean for the plane. They had the thing on radar showing definitively that it was nowhere near the initial search area. They had satellite data showing it continued flying for hours after the supposed last contact.

I imagine the experts are not to blame here. But whoever is managing them is doing a terrible job of it.

Yeah, this amateur speculation is not useful. But at least it's not actively harmful. How much time and money was wasted searching the Gulf of Thailand before these clowns finally admitted that it was evident the plane wasn't anywhere near there? How much time was lost that could have been used to search places where the plane might actually be?

Decrying amateur speculation on the internet is silly. People are going to waste time regardless. Would you rather they do mental exercises or just look at cat memes? If you want to get upset at somebody related to MH370, there are far better targets.


I'm not decrying it. Point me to where I decried it, because you are reading into what I've said things I did not say.


Right, because this surely wasn't meant as criticism:

"MH370 might have entered into a blackhole and come back as a dove.

"What's with all this speculation?!?"

I love the internet tactic of making obvious insults that aren't 100% literal, then turning around and saying "I never said that, prove that I said that." It's hilarious.


But this whole thread is about speculating on the disappearance of the plane. For you to come here and say that is like Dad telling everybody that it's late and time for bed. Total party pooper.

Nothing may get solved, but it helps us to try to make some sense for ourselves out of the incongruous facts and help us alleviate our own cognitive discomfort with the situation.


Where did I say that? I don't recall saying that. I asked why there was so much speculation. I didn't necessarily say that it was an awful thing.

Stop reading into what I said. You're getting it wrong.


Oh, so now you're going to pretend that there's no such thing as tone or context, eh?

Anyway, I answered you as to why there was so much speculation. You're welcome.


It's not, and no one is claiming that it is.


Perhaps you didn't read what I responded to:

"So you're saying the best way to figure out what happened to MH370 is to do nothing, don't think, don't have any ideas, in no way make any effort to interpret the facts as they present themselves or try to fill in the blanks with educated guesses?"


While it's all speculation, it's a hell of a lot better than what the government does with these baseless terrorism claims which they disguise to look like facts. At least going through these scenarios (fire in the cabin, electrical damage, loss of cabin pressure) might lead to some clues worth pursuing.

I do share you pessimism a bit though because I believe since we haven't found the plane by now, it's probably at the bottom of the ocean. There might be an accidental discovery in the years ahead though. And with a little luck they can reconstruct a credible scenario from the engine telemetry... it wouldn't be the first time.


Armchair speculation is perhaps the most common, most universal game humans play. It really shouldn't be a surprise.


The big thing that's been bothering me about the hijacking hypothesis is that there's no clear logical motive behind it. This indeed makes more sense than anything else I've read so far.


What do you mean? There's plenty of motive for hijacking, just as always. Especially a flight filled with Chinese civilians headed to China. There has been a rash of terrorist attacks within China recently from Xinjiang separatists, including several different mass stabbing attacks just this year which have claimed dozens of lives.

One might hypothesize that terrorists managed to take control of the airplane and divert it only to have the passengers counter-attack and then in the chaos that followed either control of the plane was lost and not able to be recovered or it was intentionally crashed. Even with reinforced doors it would not take very long for highly motivated individuals to breach them, whether that's the attackers or the passengers or whomever.

I'm not saying that anything of the sort is likely but similar things have happened before.


I had the same idea. This remains the most plausible theory (IMHO) I have heard since the beginning.


Sadly logic isn't required in the media. "Cabin fire" isn't nearly as exciting as "Eight days after Flight MH370 vanished, Malaysian authorities are seeking diplomatic permission to investigate a theory that the Boeing 777 may have been flown under the radar to Taliban-controlled bases on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan"


I agree. And the fact that this article's author is also a pilot ("We old pilots were always drilled...") makes his thesis even more trustable.


There aren't logical motives for school shootings, yet they still happen.


There are motives for school shootings. There are motives for terrorist attacks. There are no known motives (as of yet) for hi-jacking MH370.


What? This has a lot more plausible and structured motives than either school shootings or terrorist attacks. Whoever hijacked it has a Boeing 777 now. Not sure why that doesn't seem like a worthwhile task?


Yep. Esp. Considering they cost north of quarter Billion dollars a pop. I am surprised more aren't stolen!


your logic is in a complete freefall. Someone might have hijacked a plane (e.g. one of the pilots) with similar mental processes as a school shooting murderer.


Group/ state with low morals wanting a plane seems reasonable to me. Obviously if you were attempting to make a point with hijacking a plane there would be someone out there loudly claiming responsibility.


The part about tire fires producing "horrific incapacitating smoke" seemed a bit odd to me --- the landing gear are located outside the pressurised part of the fuselage.


Read about Nigeria Airways Flight 2120 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nigeria_Airways_Flight_2120).

An under-inflated tyre caught fire during take-off, the plane took off unaware of the fire, when the landing gear was retracted the fire spread burning through electrical and hydraulic lines.

A fire "outside of the pressurised part of the fuselage" doesn't mean the same didn't happen here.


Sure, although the NationAir DC-8 tragedy was a different jet. The 777 is significantly more advanced and I believe has some sort of fire detection in the wheel well; they would have known very shortly after takeoff if there was smoke. Unless we're saying that the fire immediately disabled the ability to communicate the fact that there WAS a fire to the pilots...

...but that seems unlikely too, because I imagine the 777 has backup systems that would alert pilots in case a system as critical as the fire detection equipment in the wheel assembly was not responding.

I'm not saying the fire scenario is impossible; I'm still erring on the side of this being a tragic systems failure, and not a malicious act. I just think it might be entirely unlike anything we've seen in the past.


When I was considering a similar scenario, I looked at the airports around there and found Kota Bharu to be much closer. The runway may not be similar in length, but if your plane is on fire, you would not be picky.

It is at least 200km closer than Langkawi. The flight path was also close to Kota Bharu, so one theory does not exclude the other.

Maybe somebody with more knowledge of an autopilot can offer some insight: what happens is you overshoot your programmed target? With it go in a holding pattern? Would the autopilot disengage? Or will the plane continue on its course?


Apparently, the autopilot can put it into a holding pattern:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helios_Airways_Flight_522

Whether or not it would, I suppose, would depend on how it was programed.


Look how close it went to the airport... it flew right past it because of the fire?

http://findmh370.tumblr.com/


Yes, if the fire had incapacitated the pilots and the plane was on autopilot.


How can it turn to south east to Australia if it was on autopilot?


The 777 aircraft reports ACARS (Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System) every thirty minutes and it is typical of pilots flying overseas to squawk transponder code 2000 immediately after signing off from the regional ATC. If a secondary radar was not listening to the 2000 frequency it would have no record of the plane in that region. So, if the plane did go down in the 30 minute block between the ACARS transmission, AND AFTER the sign off, it would easily explain the radio silence, because the plane wasn't silent, it just wasn't transmitting & was not visible to secondary radar.

Obviously, this means the plane had to go down very quickly (because it had so much altitude) and while being a consolidated mass (blown up or shattered planes scatter debris which are easily identified). It's very possible they suffered from an electrical failure from a fire, but it's much more plausible there was some control surface failure. For example in Alaska Airlines 261's case the horizontal stabilizer jack-screw failed unconstraining the entire horizontal stabilizer causing the plane immediately dive 31,000ft and hit the water in under 5 minutes.


Doesn't make sense. Langkawi is on the other side of the country. There are airports on the north east side of Malaysia.


This nytimes article mentions that a satellite picked up four or five signals from the airliner, about one per hour, after it left the range of military radar. The only information which can be deduced from those signals is the angle of the plane to the satellite. From the last transmission 7.5 hours after take off they were able to draw an arc on the map which corresponds to the deduced angle(see article). If we draw an arc for each of the last five transmission, and if we assume an average speed of the plane wouldn't their pattern suggest a certain direction of flight?


this is actually a not that bad theory. The question is: have they already scanned that area?


According to the author, the plane may have continued on auto-pilot after the crew had been killed by smoke inhalation. It's a large area to search.


This could also explain the climb to 45,000 feet if the plane was on auto pilot and the fire was messing with the instruments.


Not likely.

The Pitot static systems (which are redundant) on a 777 are very far aware from the transponders. So this fire that magically spread all the way across that, somehow allowed auto pilot to have enough elevator control, change the engine power, but not realise it was hitting the ceiling, then was able to calmly decent from an above service ceiling height?

Incredibly unlikely set of events.


Those were primary radar readings which aren't accurate at range.


This theory still doesn't explain the lack of any debris. Perhaps some will float to occupied regions at some point - but not everything sinks or burns.


The autopilot until fuel exhaustion theory doesn't explain how it ended up on this line:

http://news.bbcimg.co.uk/media/images/73602000/jpg/_73602229...


I we 100% sure that the plane turned to west? This line aligns with; where the plane lost, and where the oil platform worker noticed a fire on the sky. May be the plane was on the sky, or on the water why pinging?


Huh?


i agree with the story, however the author did not write the possibility that the plane could be shot down by air force and was covered up within those 5 hrs that they failed to report.

also i heard somewhere the captain used to live around that airport and is familiar with it..thats why he decided to go there.


Surely a fire would have caused the plane to crash in 10-15 minutes, it certainly wouldn't have gone on flying for 6+ hours more! The previous cases of on-board fires I read about all have the plane crashing or landing within 20 minutes of the first systems failures.


This does corroborate the oil rig worker's account of a seeing a plane burning midair.


Didn't he say that he saw it crash and that they didn't find it where he claimed?


They haven't found anything yet, so not sure what to make of that.


That report was falsified.


Source ?


Seems obvious enough that a plane that's visibly on fire isn't going to fly very far.


How many (remote?) airports in the Maldives are good enough to land a 777? Seems like the perfect remote spot for landing a plane! Torsten @ http://www.mightytravels.com


I have no specific knowledge of airplane systems, but I wonder if the airplane's computers could have been hacked to produce the disappearance? It would explain why so much effort would go into the planning, with the plane then appearing to be dumped in the indian ocean. The hacker would not have been on the plane, and the indian ocean is deep enough to make recovery and diagnosis of the hack difficult. It might explain how such a precisely timed sequence of events occurred.

I wonder if someone on HN has an understanding of what kind of safeguards go in to preventing a fly-by-wire system from being compromised. Presumably systems like communication, cabin pressure, navigation, etc are separated. Perhaps some of them are not software-based, and thus could not be compromised (but maybe their power could?)

It seems really unlikely, but so do most other theories.


But how often do two passengers use stolen passports to board the plane?


Not infrequent enough in SEA that you are surprised at <1% of your pax using them.


of course a fire is a great way to get the pilot/copilot to open the door - "smoke in cabin"...

I think the other guys theory about a second triple 7 better than this.


Wow that was the most lucid piece I've read about the incident - also good to have found somewhere to point my crazy conspiracy theory family to :)


It's hard to believe that there are no communication failovers. A fire in the cabin should not mean a loss of contact with the rest of the world.


Great analysis. Still, it falls under the category of "wild speculation" until the plane is found.


Why would the satellite logistics system get shut down but still continue to send hourly pings?


Courageous captain dealing with a cabin fire radios "all right, good night" ???


> Yes, pilots have access to oxygen masks but this is a no no with fire.

Anyone know why?


I'm guessing because concentrated O2 is extremely flammable and would be fuel for a fire, when the opposite would be needed. Rapid fire-suppressant systems basically work by sucking all of the oxygen from the room/space as quickly as possible.


The flight deck O2 masks are specifically designed to provide positive pressure to avoid smoke inhalation in the event of a fire. There's no real reason not to use them - if the fire is close enough that it would matter you're already dead.


Makes sense to me. Thanks for clarification.


O2 isn't flammable and doesn't provide fuel unless the oxidant is something very electronegative like fluorine. In most fires, oxygen is the oxidizer, not the fuel.


A guess- oxygen feeds fire. I believe that on-board oxygen is not stored in tanks but rather generated as a chemical reaction on-demand, so if they don't start the O2 flow they would not risk feeding the fire.


If fire was the problem, why didn't the pilot just land by sea?


You clearly don't understand how unsurvivable water landings are.


This video demonstrates what actually happens when a widebody airliner attempts to land on the ocean:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WE2Yn0cipTY

767s are bigger than A320s and the ocean is a lot rougher than the Hudson.


That video demonstrates what happens when you try to land in the ocean while you are fighting with hijackers which causes a sudden dip to one side, when you happen to be over a coral reef for the engine on that side to hit. Even with that, the crash was quite survivable. A large number of the fatalities were due to drowning, because people inflated life rafts while still inside, which blocked them in so they drowned when the plane sank.

This is probably not a good crash to use as a baseline for predicting what would be typical for an ocean landing attempt.


I assume you could probably hit the water at an even lower speed than that without stalling the plane before you got there?


The plane ran out of fuel.

The hijackers, who were apparently young, stupid and intoxicated - forced the pilot to try to fly to Australia, even though the pilot said they didn't even have enough fuel to make it 25% of the way.

The plane ran out of fuel off the coast of Africa, and the engines died.

The pilot used a Ram Air Turbine (basically using airspeed to drive a turbine) to provide emergency power so he could land.

However, I assume the hydraulics didn't work at this stage, hence he couldn't use the flaps to slow it down.


I believe it was people inflating their vests inside, not rafts.


this theory follows the keep it simple rule. though simple, it doesn't apply here. I'm sure experts have already looked into the option of simply turning "left".




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