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everything-we-know-about-malaysia-airlines-flight-370-in-one-graphicSo what do I know about Malaysia Flight 370? Absolutely nothing, yet friends and acquaintances keep asking. I'm a pilot, so I must have some opinion, right?

Information is sparse and contradictory. We were told Thai military radar tracked MA370 turning off course shortly after the transponder quit sending information to civilian controllers. A few hours later Malaysian authorities told us those reports were wrong. A day or two later the Malaysians allowed as how the reports may have been true, but MA370's new course could have been north or south.

Nearly every new bit of information on MA370 has followed the same trajectory: first the leak, then the breathless media frenzy, then the denial, then the qualified "maybe."

The only sure thing we know is where the airplane was when its transponder quit, a little less than an hour after takeoff from Kuala Lumpur. Everything else is speculation.

For now I'll buy the reports of MA370 turning off course. That story seems more solid now than it first did, if only because investigating authorities, after initially denying it, came back to it and have stuck with it for several days in a row, and also because American investigators are saying they've seen the radar data and concur.

There's also this, a convincing argument putting forth logical and well-informed reasons why MA370's pilots may have turned to a new course.

As for the report of altitude deviations -- a climb to to 45,000 feet, followed by a rapid fighter-like descent to a much lower altitude -- I totally discount that. Civilian and military radar controllers are far more reliant on aircraft transponders for altitude information than most reporters realize. Controllers aren't very good at calculating altitude from raw radar returns, and often they're just guessing.

How can I make this assertion? Because I know it to be true from personal experience with military ground-based and airborne radar controllers. When military fighter pilots conduct air combat training, or fly into actual combat, they often turn off their transponders. A really good controller who knows this is going to happen and is prepared to interpret radar antenna angles can track your approximate altitude and report it to your adversaries. But a controller who is caught flat-footed -- hey, MA370's transponder data just disappeared -- wouldn't be able to get his or her shit together for several minutes, and even then would be grossly out of practice. Not to mention that the point at which MA370's transponder went off was the point at which Malaysian air traffic control would have been handing MA370 off to Vietnamese air traffic control, no longer concerned with tracking the flight.

Oh, one more thing. The B-777's service ceiling is less than 45,000 feet (about 43,000 feet, according to Wikipedia). That's not to say a big airliner can't be coaxed up to a higher altitude, but you'd have to have golden hands to do it, maintaining an exact speed with zero margin of error on either side, and a perfect climb rate and angle. It would be like balancing the airplane on the point of a pin. And why would you do that in any case?

Controllers can track an airplane's course with raw radar returns, as mentioned, and that's why I believe them when they say MA370 turned off course after the transponder quit. Controllers are very poor at tracking aircraft altitude without the transponder, which is why I don't believe the stories about altitude changes.

Apparently, though, controllers didn't track MA370 for very long after it turned off course, because they don't know where it went after that.

One of the wilder assertions I've heard is that MA370 flew into the "shadow" of another airplane going somewhere else, and stayed in its shadow to evade radar tracking. I think that's utter bullshit.

In the mid-1980s I was deployed to Shemya Island in the Aleutians to help support a big naval exercise in the Bering Sea. The Soviets were watching the exercise closely, sending long-range aircraft from Siberian bases to observe. Our job was to intercept the Bears and Bisons, and we were busy every day. One day the radar controllers vectored me west to intercept a hot target, a track they believed was another Soviet bomber or reconnaissance plane inbound to the exercise area. When I finally got close enough to visually pick up the target, five or six miles out, I could see it was a B-747, and could even make out enough of the blue and white paint scheme to identify it as a Korean Air Lines jet. "No, that's not it," the controller said, "look below and aft." I did, but there was nothing there. It took me a while to convince the controller the target was just a single KAL 747.

Apparently the radar controller saw two blips almost superimposed on one another and interpreted that to mean that a Soviet aircraft was shadowing the Korean airliner in order to sneak into the exercise area. In this case there wasn't really a second target, just a lone KAL 747 on a long flight to Seattle or LA. It was a glitch. If a Thai military radar controller thinks he saw something like that the night MA370 disappeared -- if indeed the shadowing story is based on something a radar controller reported and isn't just a product of some reporter's fevered imagination -- I'd say it was a similar glitch.

Interpreting raw radar returns is tricky, and controllers sometimes see things that aren't there. Another time during the mid-1980s, I was scrambled from an Alaskan Air Command alert base at King Salmon toward the Bering Strait. My target was flying a north-south orbit in the middle of the strait, up and down the narrow section where Alaska and the USSR are close together (you know, near Sarah Palin's front porch). As I flew west the radar controller told me I might have more than one target. By the time I got close enough to pick it up visually, he was excitedly reporting as many as a dozen separate targets, and Alaskan Air Command had scrambled two additional F-15s from our other alert site at Galena.

Well. The target, when I got there and slipped in behind it, was a single An-24 Coke, a propeller-driven twin-engined transport the Soviets routinely flew over the Bering Strait to observe the extent and thickness of the ice. We'd intercepted that same plane on numerous occasions, and it was no big deal. But those turning propellers threw off so many false glints the radar controller thought the Russians must have mounted a major air operation over the Bering Strait.

All this by way of telling you that when it comes to raw radar returns, it's very hard to say what's actually out there, and to take what you hear with a grain of salt.

Back to verifiable facts, we do know that two separate automated systems on MA370 quit sending signals back to the ground. The first system to quit, about 40 minutes after takeoff, was the ACARS, which transmits aircraft and engine performance data back to the parent airline. Fourteen minutes later the transponder, which broadcasts heading, speed, and altitude to radar controllers tracking the flight's progress, quit sending. In between, one of the pilots made the last known radio transmission, saying "good night" to a ground controller, probably as the flight was being handed off from Malaysian radar control to Vietnamese radar control.

This suggests to some that the two systems were deliberately turned off, one by one, and that the "good night" radio transmission had a more sinister meaning. But I think there are other possibilities. The ACARS sent a burst of data at 1:07AM. It was scheduled to send another burst at 1:37AM but didn't. In the meantime there was a 1:19AM voice transmission from the flight deck, followed by the cessation of transponder signals at 1:21AM. It could be that MA370 crashed at that point, or that it was completely electrically disabled from that point until the time it did crash, and that for whatever reason we simply haven't found the wreckage yet. I'm inclined to think that around the time the pilot or co-pilot made that last radio call, some progressive electrical malfunction -- an electrical fire, perhaps -- was underway, not yet detected by the crew. As for the pilot or co-pilot saying "good night" in a radio transmission, that's pretty standard, and I wouldn't read anything into it.

This "ping" thing we're all hearing about is a great mystery, and I'm more and more inclined to write it off as wishful thinking. According to some reports, part of the ACARS system, a part that was not turned off, continued to emit hourly identifying pings for seven hours after MA370 disappeared. The satellites picking up the pings, however, can't locate where the pings come from. They could have come from an airplane safely parked on the ground somewhere, or they could have come from an airplane in motion. They could have come from a point in the sea where controllers first lost track of the aircraft, or they could have come from points as far as 800 miles away in any direction (as far as MA370 could have flown with the fuel it had on board). Is some part of ACARS battery-powered? Could the pings have come from a floating piece of wreckage, automatically generated until the battery died? Maybe tomorrow or the next day authorities will deny that part of the story. Pings? What are these pings you speak of?

Okay, opinion time: I can't imagine any organization smaller than a first-world government being able to pull off hijacking an airliner, diverting it to some clandestine airstrip, and then hiding it from satellite surveillance, national authorities, and the local population for more than a week. Personally I think the airplane crashed into the ocean and we just haven't found the wreckage yet. Whether it crashed as a result of a hijacking attempt, deliberate action on the part of its crew, gross pilot error, or some sort of mechanical catastrophe, is simply unknown. We'll just have to wait and see.

On that note, I was crushingly disappointed in Rachel Maddow last night. She has been one of the most clear-headed commentators on the mystery of MA370, steadfastly sticking to the few known facts and relentlessly pointing out that everything else is speculation, a reliable and calm voice telling us to be patient, that the mystery will eventually be solved. And then last night she gave air time to the girlfriend of the single American adult passenger on MA370, a woman who believes the airplane is safe on the ground somewhere, the passengers held hostage but mercifully safe.

Oh, Rachel, that was Today Show stuff. I know you're an expert on what's good for your ratings, but that was unworthy. Shame on you.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Wow, a rare thing indeed. (26+ / 0-)

    Knowledgeable and insightful commentary that helps makes sense of the blizzard of reportage going on, while refusing to add to the mountains of unverifiable and sensationalist speculation out there.

    The kind of writing that makes DKos so valuable.  Thanks.

    "Trust me... I've been right before." ~ Tea party patriot

    by Calvino Partigiani on Tue Mar 18, 2014 at 03:49:20 PM PDT

  •  very interesting diary... tx for yr thoughts (8+ / 0-)

    RM said at the end of the interview, something like:

    "We hope that they are alive, as highly unlikely as it if"  or words to that effect.

    I thought it was a human interest interview, and I got the impression that she was commenting that it was beyond hopeful for the passengers to be alive.

    "The corporate state’s repression, now on the brink of totalitarianism, would with the help of Christie, his corporate backers ... become a full-blown corporate fascism.' http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_trouble_with_chris_christie_20140112

    by SeaTurtle on Tue Mar 18, 2014 at 04:02:33 PM PDT

  •  Rachael Isn't A Conspiracy Type Lady..... (5+ / 0-)

    She does her research.  Her guest has/had a relationship w/ the missing man, an American.  The other two Americans were toddlers.  It was nice to hear the woman's viewpoint.  Of course, she hopes he's still alive.  Understandable & rather poignant.  

    Thank you for an informative, experienced diary, pwoodford.  Hopefully, the next few days will provide some additional insight & answers.  

  •  Do we still think there was a delay between (5+ / 0-)

    the shutdown of the two automated systems?

    I believe Malaysia retracted the statement that the co-pilot said "Good night" after the first system shut down.  Instead, the first system was being pinged every 30 minutes, and didn't respond to the ping that came about five minutes after the "good night."

    Meaning, it could have stopped working at any point during the previous 30 minutes, and in particular it could have stopped working right when the second system stopped working - maybe three minutes after "good night."

    Your link to the fire explanation makes a lot of sense based on that...

    •  Yeah, I've seen a lot of the press (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Farugia, RiveroftheWest

      saying that the ACARS was switched off/conked out after its last transmission and before the transponder stopped working.

      The ACARS sent a burst of data at 1:07AM. It was scheduled to send another burst at 1:37AM but didn't.
      But that doesn't indicate failure to send before the transponder stopped. Could be failure any time up to 1:37 AM, including simultaneously with the transponder, as you'd expect with some kind of electrical or physical failure.

      Government and laws are the agreement we all make to secure everyone's freedom.

      by Simplify on Tue Mar 18, 2014 at 05:43:27 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  My theory: hijacking gone bad (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      churchylafemme, RiveroftheWest

      This has been my theory for several days.  Here is how it could have happened:

      1.  Flight attendants alert cockpit that a hijack has begun.

      2.  Pilots program in alternative flight plan to go back to Malaysia.

      3.  Hijackers gain access to cockpit.

      4.  Under duress, pilot says goodnight to Air Traffic control.

      5.  Pilot or copilot engage alternative flight plan.

      6.  Hijackers force transponders to be turned off.

      7.  Hijackers see flight has turned left, a fight ensues and something goes wrong.

      8.  Systems lost, pilots and hijackers out of commission, plane flies on on autopilot until it runs out of fuel goes down into Indian Ocean.

      Is this consistent with what we know?  I think too much is being put on the pilots.  Just because the Malaysian gov't is incompetent doesn't mean the pilots crashed the plane.

      Don't bet your future on 97% of climate scientists being wrong. Take action on climate now!

      by Mimikatz on Tue Mar 18, 2014 at 07:16:25 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Agree. (3+ / 0-)

      If ACARS transmits every 30 minutes, then you can't pin down the time of failure, and it could have been simultaneous with the transponder.

  •  Paul, you said what I had been thinking. (15+ / 0-)

    Fact of the matter is that no one knows, and we may never know, especially if it went down in the ocean.

    As for all the radio noises, could be anything....or nothing.  Early in such cases there is always a lot of speculation which has a tendency to become commingled with facts.

    We have to just wait and see. I don't waste my time with idle speculation, and conspiracy theorists drive me up the wall.

    Rudeness is a weak imitation of strength. - Eric Hoffer

    by Otteray Scribe on Tue Mar 18, 2014 at 04:35:11 PM PDT

  •  I've been saying something along these lines . (6+ / 0-)
    I'm inclined to think that around the time the pilot or co-pilot made that last radio call, some progressive electrical malfunction -- an electrical fire, perhaps -- was underway, not yet detected by the crew.
    http://www.dailykos.com/...
    Wiring fires can get going unnoticed and before anyone can react they can snowball . All sorts of fuses/breakers pop after wire after wire gets involved .

    "please love deeply...openly and genuinely." A. M. H.

    by indycam on Tue Mar 18, 2014 at 04:43:10 PM PDT

    •  That wouldn't effect the compass nor (0+ / 0-)

      the instruments connected to the pitot-static system. There were two highly skilled aviators on board. The entire panel must have been scanned at least a couple times a minute.

      One woman makes a din, two women a lot of trouble, three an annual market, four a quarrel, five an army, and against six the Devil himself has no weapon. -- Dutch proverb

      by Ice Blue on Tue Mar 18, 2014 at 08:42:37 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I'm thinking the compass would be a gyro , (0+ / 0-)

        electrically run . Have you ever worked on a system with a gyro ? I have . The owner could not even point out where the gyro was . He could not figure out why none of the gauges read out anything . He hired me to get it all working again and then tried to tell me how to fix it . He could not fix it himself but he thought he could tell me how to fix it . He was just another know it all blowhard who thought he was so smart . I charged him $2000. because he tried to be my boss .

        The entire panel must have been scanned at least a couple times a minute.
        "must have been" ? Do you know the stories of two pilots asleep ? Do you know the stories of the overshoot airport ? Do you know that failure to keep up on gauge readings is one of the common reasons planes crash ? One thing happens and the pilot/s gets distracted and fail to see the gauges .

        "please love deeply...openly and genuinely." A. M. H.

        by indycam on Wed Mar 19, 2014 at 07:49:02 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Aircraft have both. (0+ / 0-)

          But what do I know? I only have a pilot's license and studied aeronautics & astronautics. You worked with a gyro. You know better than I what it's like to fly an aircraft.

          One woman makes a din, two women a lot of trouble, three an annual market, four a quarrel, five an army, and against six the Devil himself has no weapon. -- Dutch proverb

          by Ice Blue on Wed Mar 19, 2014 at 09:02:36 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Could you fix it ? (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Jay C, RiveroftheWest
            You know better than I what it's like to fly an aircraft.
            If you say so , who am I to disagree .

            If you are a pilot ,
            then you already know that pilots don't scan the gauges as they should .

            http://www.cbsnews.com/...

            Two pilots of a British passenger plane both fell asleep while the aircraft was on autopilot, according an August incident report unveiled by U.K. media Thursday.

            The two pilots of the British-operated Airbus A330 initially took turns napping, but then both fell asleep, according to an report documented by a British airline regulatory body and initially provided to The Sun, a British tabloid.

            http://abcnews.go.com/...
            Two airline pilots fell asleep while cruising over Hawaii last February, flying past their destination toward open ocean for 18 minutes before waking up and returning for a safe landing, federal accident investigators revealed Tuesday.
            Perhaps my favorite Oops story ,
            the pilots are talking with cabin crew about a crash that happened because the flaps were not set for take off ,
            then they themselves took off without setting the flaps for takeoff and crashed . If the pilots had scanned the gauges as they should have , they would have noticed something was not right .

            "please love deeply...openly and genuinely." A. M. H.

            by indycam on Wed Mar 19, 2014 at 10:03:25 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks PW (5+ / 0-)

    Those controllers have quite a bit of sky that they are responsible for.  I suspect that they rely heavily on the automation to do their jobs.  In the US, hundreds of radars sweep the sky and their data is forwarded to a regional control center.  The operator gets a computer generated display of the data from the radars and the data from the transponder.  So he's not actually looking at a true radar screen.

    When I got to watch a Seattle Regional ATC guy do his stuff, he was focused on the air space over 24,000', North and east from Moses Lake to Spokane and up to Canada.  The system would flash A/C climbing or descending to 23,500'.   As the plane approached the boundary of his responsibility, he told them to contact the next operator and what frequency to use.  The conversations were short and sweet and generally included hellos and good byes.  Once it flew out of his area, the display went away.

    The simplest explanation is usually the best.  But I don't think it wouldn't have taken the resources of a first world government to pull off.  Good planning, lots of insider caliber knowledge and quite a bit of money might have make a conspiracy possible.

    “that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry.” Thomas Jefferson

    by markdd on Tue Mar 18, 2014 at 05:03:39 PM PDT

  •  I'm sticking with my theory . . . . (8+ / 0-)

    Orang Pendek hijacked the plane to Nepal so it could visit it pal the Yeti, who he hadn't seen in a while.

    They made plans to go out UFO-watching.

    In the end, reality always wins.

    by Lenny Flank on Tue Mar 18, 2014 at 05:10:49 PM PDT

  •  I'm impressed by the Wired story you (5+ / 0-)

    linked just below the squiggle. Thanks - sounds like good information and good thinking.

    •  Entered into the record re Wired: (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      alx9090, mamamedusa, Tinfoil Hat

      This comment on the linked Wired story should get some kind of award:

      I mean, it's obvious to me - as a guy who just glanced momentarily at the article, caught a few seconds of a news report on CNN and thought about it for maybe a minute tops - that the plane was commandeered by US-trained black-ops ninjas that were teleported into the cockpit using HAARP transmitters before it was flown through a Stargate where it travelled across time and space to crash into the South Tower of the World Trade Centre on September 11 as part of a CIA-NSA-KGB-whatever-the-Pakistani-version-of-the-CIA-is-called plot on the direct orders of Dick Cheney under the control of aliens from Alpha Centuri working with a secret cabal of global business interests. It's SO obvious, you guys.
  •  Any news from Inmarsat (4+ / 0-)

    about the pings preceding the final one, the one that gives us those two arcs of potential location? Strange that we haven't heard anything about those, given that they could provide at least some indication of trajectory.

    About the gap between two arcs, Ender was helpful in pointing out that it's because the overlapping coverage of another satellite (PDF) that didn't receive the signal eliminates that area.

    Government and laws are the agreement we all make to secure everyone's freedom.

    by Simplify on Tue Mar 18, 2014 at 05:48:36 PM PDT

  •  Malaysia Airlines link to (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cotterperson, RiveroftheWest

    official statements on Flight 370

    Government and laws are the agreement we all make to secure everyone's freedom.

    by Simplify on Tue Mar 18, 2014 at 05:55:55 PM PDT

  •  Gee, (3+ / 0-)

    the pilot's partner came across as a thoughtful person in a remarkable situation to me. In particular, I thought her comments about the state-controlled Chinese media and her loss of Internet connection were intriguing.

    "Let each unique song be sung and the spell of differentiation be broken" - Winter Rabbit

    by cotterperson on Tue Mar 18, 2014 at 06:08:50 PM PDT

  •  Well done (4+ / 0-)

    There's so little data we may never know what happened.

    If the pilot's good, see, I mean if he's reeeally sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low... oh you oughta see it sometime. It's a sight. A big plane like a '52... varrrooom! Its jet exhaust... frying chickens in the barnyard!

    by Major Kong on Tue Mar 18, 2014 at 06:48:44 PM PDT

  •  I've written several Diaries on this incident (3+ / 0-)

    But this, by far, is the best of any I've read on the matter.

    In all of my Diaries, I've included the passage below, because it is the only scenario that works with what we know so far:

    UPDATE #4 -- A potentially catastrophic incident reported on the same model Boeing 777-200 in Egypt




    Lib Dem FoP brings to our attention This Detailed Report:


    I offer this as another possibility rather than a set theory so that people do not focus entirely on a terrorist explanation.



    An Egypt Air 777 encountered a cockpit fire just before take off. This report on the outcome of the inquiry has some interesting elements:

    The photos in that article show a huge hole below the FO's window. What if this, or another case of an aircraft not complying with the plans in respect to another detail, cause such a fire at cruising height. Remember this involved the oxygen supply to one of the crew and was intense because of it. That would mean the fire could be maintained even at a height that would normally not support combustion readily.

    Such a scenario, possibly taking out the communications and avionics, would have had a devastating effect and could account for the lack of a mayday and attempts to return to land without notifying ATC.

    The link deserves a read.
    •  If it was a flying zombie plane: (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RiveroftheWest

      This just in:

      Maldives folk sight 'low-flying jet'

      Residents on the remote island of Kudahuvadhoo in the Maldives have reported seeing a "low-flying jumbo jet" on the day Malaysia Airlines (MAS) flight MH370 went missing.

      The sighting took place at 6.15am, almost five hours after MH370 lost all communications at 1.30am, reported Maldives' longest serving newspaper Haveeru.

      Eyewitnesses described the aircraft as having "red stripes" and was travelling North to South-East towards Addu City, the southern tip of the island country.

      "I've never seen a jet flying so low over our island before. We've seen seaplanes, but I'm sure that this was not one of those.

      "I could even make out the doors on the plane clearly," an eyewitness was quoted as saying.

      The eyewitness added that the aircraft made a loud noise, prompting several residents to come out of their houses.

      Haveeru also quoted Mohamed Zaheem, a councilor of Kudahuvadhoo, as saying that residents had raised the alarm about the incident.

      http://www.malaysiakini.com/...

      Same think happened about 2AM in a remote costal Malaysian village.
  •  Thank you, PW. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RiveroftheWest, northsylvania, Jay C

    A fine and balanced summation of what little is known to us so far. No drama, no hand wringing, just the facts.

    And yeah, I know tarantulas don't really act like that at all, so no snarking, this is the internet damnit!

    by itzadryheat on Tue Mar 18, 2014 at 07:07:35 PM PDT

  •  I have been scared to ask this question (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    drmah, churchylafemme

    Mostly because the answer could be horrific but here it goes.

    I have wondered if this is a dry terrorist run with someone having figured out how to override the auto pilot to cause the plane to divert and crash.

    If information flows out from the plane through a satellite. Then why could the reverse not be true, that information could be sent to the auto pilot (computer)?  If a new course was set then then why couldn't they destroy the rest of the rest of the plane's navigation system so that even the manual operation would be VFR . I assume that a computer even controls the fuel.

    If some group has figured out how to penetrate the controls and this was a dry run then no flight would be safe. You could fly them into the ground, a mountain or body of water.

    Thank you for your post.

  •  ELTs? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RiveroftheWest

    These devices are designed to function after undergoing very powerful deceleration and impact.  They begin to broadcast an emergency signal upon immersion or impact.

    I do not understand why there was no ELT beacon signal.

    I do not understand how a large aircraft either crashes into the ocean or disintegrates over water and doesn't leave a vast debris field readily discoverable by a multi-nation naval force.

    I know the place is big-I've been thru the strait about fifty times while droning back and forth between Diego and Clark, it's eight hours (maybe seven in a newer plane) between Singapore and Diego Garcia, and it's so vast it's hard to comprehend, even when yer in the middle of it...

    This is the most baffling aircraft disaster I can recall, it's like back when C-133s would take off from McGuire AFB, coast out on schedule, climb to cruise.....  and just DISAPPEAR. It happened at least twice, and the entire fleet wound up being junked as a result, it turned out that a fuel leak into a dry bay in the middle of the center wing box allowed fuel and fumes to accumulate around the base of the HF antenna which was located in the dry bay, the crew reaches their first reporting point, dial up Transoceanic on the HF, key the mike- and disappear.

    But modern stuff works better, a lot better.

    "Ronald Reagan is DEAD! His policies live on but we're doing something about THAT!"

    by leftykook on Tue Mar 18, 2014 at 09:57:53 PM PDT

  •  Some questions (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Jay C

    Like most, I guess, I am caught up in the sheer mystery of it all.

    Thanks for one of the more thoughtful and knowledgeable posts I have seen on this subject. I do have a couple of questions/thoughts I didn't seem to find in the post though and I was wondering if you had any thoughts on these:

    I have heard that the actual flight path was programmed into the autopilot (NYT: http://www.nytimes.com/...). Have you heard about this? Is this consistent with the pilots trying to reach a secondary airport?

    If the flight path was programmed in, and the pilots had become incapacitated, would the autopilot subsequently try to put the plane back on its original path to Beijing? Would the autopilot remain functional after another (presumably massive) electrical failure? (If so, maybe a northerly path is more likely than the southerly after all.)

    If back on track for Beijing, could the flight path have taken the plane over Myanmar, Thailand, and/or Laos, instead of more highly militarized areas (eg India, Pakistan, etc)? If it was flying waypoint to waypoint, would it be less likely to be challenged/investigated (cf Thailand's apparent dismissal of the wayward aircraft)? Could it have flown more slowly with higher fuel consumption and crashed before entering more sensitive airspace?

    Finally one possible sour note. I remain somewhat concerned about the exact timing of the transponder shutdown (I agree, it would be easy for the ACARS to have quit about the same time). If someone wanted to deliberately "go dark" this would be a pretty ideal time to do it, just after the handoff from Maylasia controllers, but before Vietnamese controllers picked up the plane. Coincidences are possible, but this is a pretty big one.

    I hope you will forgive my ignorance on these matters, but you seem like an excellent source to fill in some of my (probably rudimentary) questions. Thanks again for your thoughtful presentation.

  •  I think the lack of evidence (0+ / 0-)

    points to a massive cascade of mechanical failures and desperate attempts to save the plane.

    I'm living in America, and in America you're on your own. America's not a country. It's just a business.

    by CFAmick on Wed Mar 19, 2014 at 07:28:43 AM PDT

  •  What's the possibility that (0+ / 0-)

    whatever catastrophe happened, it happened just as the turn was being made and the plane flew in circles over the ocean until it ran out of fuel?  I'm not a pilot so haven't a clue here, but if there was an electrical fire unknown to the pilot/crew that took out the electrical system just after the last transmission and then as the pilot was trying to turn back produced fumes that knocked everybody out the turn would have been started and then never "straightened up" - so would flying in a circle over the water in the "handoff area" account for the disappearance while still emitting engine pings?  Thanks, bf

  •  Thank you, Sir (0+ / 0-)

    For probably a week I've been fighting to resist writing to urge you or the Major to weigh in on this.  Knowing that your superior understanding could best make sense not only of what is known but also the speculation made writing you almost irresistible.

  •  Air-Minded Article Index (0+ / 0-)

    I don't want to post link spam to my diary, so I'll put it down here in the comments instead: at the suggestion of colleagues at the museum I added an index of Air-Minded posts to my personal blog, where all my posts reside. There are many more aviation-related posts there than there are here at dKos, if any of you are interested in reading them.

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