Monday, March 10, 2014
Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 Disappearance
the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight 370 in itself is a very disturbing event, but not knowing what happened to the plane even more so. It has been mising for several days now and there is no sign of an aircraft or a wreckage. This is unusual, but not unheard of, especially when the plane was not under radar contact from ground air traffic control. The airplane was also not equiped with satellite communications data uplink (SATCOM), something more and more airlines are installing, on long range planes that travel vast distances between ground controllers. SATCOM allows messages, and aircraft performance data to be communicated to ground stations, either airline operations and maintenence or air traffic controllers. MH370 had to rely on HF radio to communcate with controllers and the last communication was with Subang Malaysia ATC, however at the time of disappearance they were nominally under Vietnamese ATC control.
What we do know is the last known position was over the South China Sea off the coast of Vietnam at 35,000 feet altitude. Vietnamese military controllers may have seen the aircraft attempting to turn back toward land, but this is not verified. There are issues with 2 passengers who may have been flying on stolen passports, which is disturbing, but I'd be hesitant to read too much in to this at this time. The captain had well over 17,000 pilot in command hours flying and had been with MAS for years. I don't know much about the first officer, except he was a very junior B-777 F/O.
The 24 hour media has been bombarding us with a lot of "experts" giving their "woulda, coulda, shoulda" analysis, and I'd advise to either ignore it or take it with a grain of salt. We do not know what happened to the plane. If for some reason the plane was either bombed, or came apart due to an explosive decompression, the debris field may be hard to find, as a lot of parts on a modern airplane would simply disintegrate. Also if for whatever reason the plane nosedived into the sea, there might be a very small debris field.
The Air India plane that was bombed over the north Atlantic back in the 90 was never recovered, and it took years to find and retrieve the flight data and voice recorder from the Air France plane that went down off the coast of Brazil. This is something to keep in mind when everyone wants everything to be solved in a 2 hour episode of 'Without A Trace".
At the request of all parties involved the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has been called in to the investigation. Having worked with them, I know that they are very good, methodical forensic analysists. They do not jump to conclusions quickly, and even in a fairly straight forward accident like the Asiana crash at San Francisco, which was undoubtably caused by pilot error, the final reports has yet to be released.
Finding this airplane may take a lot longer than the drive-by media is interested in and will soon move on to talking about lane closures on New Jersey roads, or some such nonsense that fits the 24 hour news channels' standard operating procedure.
I'll keep you updated here as more info is known.
UPDATE 1: There are now reports from the Malaysian Airforce that they tracked the airplane after it turned 90 degrees off it's flight path across the Malay Penninsula and over the Malacca Strait. They apparantly had radar contact briefly there, but the plane was as a much lower altitude. The aircraft then disappeared. This revelation begs to question, why did it take so long for the Malaysian military to acknowledge this info, while the search and recovery teams were wasting time searching the South China Sea? Obviously the MAF had this info from day 1 of the disappearance.
Both of he transponders had been turned off, What caused that? The only way to tor off power to the transponder is pull the appropriate circuit breaker in the cockpit. If a hijacking had been taking place, the pilots, with a flick of a switch could have sqwaked 7500 on the transponder indicating a hijacking in progress.
Was the cockpit door closed and locked? Apparently Malaysia Airlines has pretty lax security in that respect, as they often fly with the door open during flight. I have witnessed this personally when flying on them a few years ago.
There are still many more questions than answers. Again I'm hesitant to speculate as to why this airplane went missing. A hijacking or possible pilot suicide are among the possibilities, but until the aircraft is located, there is no way of telling, and the talking heads know exactly what I do, not enough to make an educated guess.
More as new data comes in.
UPDATE 2: The Malaysian military and civil aviation authorities have proven themselves as inept and ill prepared for an aircraft disappearance like this, and the Chinese government is understandably losing patience with them. Today a Chinese (spy?) satellite detected what might be debris from a crashed airplane and the Malaysian Air Force is sending aircraft to investigate it. Again, not reading too much in to this, the airplane had 8+ hours of fuel aboard, so this aircraft could be almost anywhere in Asia. I'm still not convinced that the plane crashed. I am still wondering why many of the passengers' cell phones are still ringing. Most of these were on the Chinese QQ network, and I would think that by now, those who were calling those phones would be getting a "subscriber can not be reached" message if the phone was under 600 feet of water.
The talking heads are all going through the woulda, coulda, shoulda pseudo-analysis on the various news channels, but an act of air piracy or hijacking is not out of the question. There are plenty of places to land an airplane in the often very remote regions of south and southeast Asia. Just a thought, but at least I'm not assuming all are dead and at the bottom of the ocean.
More as info comes in.
UPDATE 3: There has been a lot of chatter on the internet and on the network news about a Wall Street Journal article mentioning that engine data recorded aborad the aircraft and sent to Boeing and engine manufacturer Rolls Royce indicated that the airplane flew for 4 hours after loss of radar contact. My friend Ed Morrissey at Hot Air picked up on this along with the Malaysian authorities rebutal of this claim.
I'm skeptical that either Boeing or Rolls Royce has such info. First Malaysia Airlines did not buy the option that allows ACARS data to be automatically transmitted to the manufacturers. Second, the airplane was not equipped with SATCOM, which allows voice and data communication pretty much anywhere in the world. SATCOM is an expensive option and many airlines do not choose to install it. They rely on a VHF data link, which is strictly line-of-sight reception. Now at 35,000 feet, line of sight is a long distance (up to 150 miles), but the aircraft would have had to be within that distance of a designated VHF data receiver, and there are not that many in the part of the world where the airplane was flying.
Did somehow Boeing and RR get this data? They are not saying at this point, but the WSJ did some shoddy journalism by suggesting that these companies had the data, when even MAS is saying they don't have that data.
So the question remains, what happened to the plane? I don't know, and neither do the talking heads. There have been disappearances of aircraft ofver the years that were never resolved. Most recently, back in the 1970's a Boeing 727 disappeared near Iceland and was never recovered. Hopefully with the large scale international effort to find this airplane, it will be found. In the mean time, be skeptical of "reporting". The media has a very bad history of getting the story wrong time and time again.
UPDATE 4: Well here we are a week after the disappearance of the plane and all the over the top coverage of this, with all its talking heads hasn't found it. Well, they know about as much as me. NOTHING. India and Pakistan are no longer saying anything, and the US which has a significant naval air station on the tropical paradise island (not) of Diego Garcia has said nothing. What's not being said is as important or more than whats being said. Has this plane been tracked to a refuge for terrorists? Who the hell knows, I don't and neither does CNN. What's telling to me is that the chatter from countries in the region where the plane was supposedly tracked have been deadly silent. Diego Garcia is a major listening post for American intelligence in the region, and they don't usually talk about what they are seeing. India and Pakistan also monitor the region very closely.
I really have nothing to add other than stop watching and listening to all the talking heads spout off theories that might get ratings, but produce no information.
Stay tuned for more. This is far from over.
UPDATE 5: Everything you know I know by now. And CNN has denegrated into tragedy porn as far as I'm concerned. Shoving a microphone in a family's face ans asking "how does it feel not knowing what has happened to a loved one?" is disgraceful.
Also media is also keeps telling us that the area of investigation is off the coast of Australia. Technically they are right, but 1800 miles off the coast of a continent is not :off the coast". The analysts who have satellite images as well as aircraft in the area spotted stuff in the southern Indian Ocean. This is not 24/7 news, there are garbage patches through out the oceans.
Dear CNN, get back to news and quit this horrible death Kabuki you are playing out. How about reporting on the gun control advocate cum gun runner Leland Yee? Nothing there yet, eh?
Bottom line, this is an airplane that has been lost, and we don't really don't know where. It's a sad story, but there are better things to report on than this. When/if something shows up, it'll be news.
I've got nothing more to say here, other than I'm disgusted by the 24/7 ratings war over this tragedy.
And the beat goes on.