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Wednesday May 22, 2019

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Malaysia MH370; the theories discussed

It is now a week since Malaysian Airlines flight 370 went missing, and in the interim time we have been left with more and more questions - and not a single answer.

In the connected world we live in, it is virtually unthinkable that a 300 tonne aircraft with 227 passengers and 12 crew could simply vanish. As a result, the aviation community and the world at large has been left holding its breath.

Understandably, multiple theories and conspiracies have emerged, we examine the possibilities.

Pilot Error

It's been done before. Air France 447 in 2009 showed the world that pilots can still be placed in a situation that overwhelms the senses and training.

Pilots were blamed for the Air France flight 447 disaster in 2009. Investigators say the autopilot switched itself off after the speed sensors became blocked, and the pilots then steered the plane at too steep an angle before it stalled and crashed into the Atlantic, killing all 228 people on board.

In the case of MH370, the weather was clear and sunny. In such an instance, it is unimaginable that the crew could replicate AF447.

Catastrophic Breakup

We know that the last confirmed audio transmission sent by the aircraft crew consisted of a chirpy acknowledgement; "All right, roger that".

The crew made no distress calls, or announced any difficulty with the aircraft or its systems.

It is reasonable to deduce, that whatever happened to the aircraft likely came on suddenly, and without warning.

The Boeing 777 has a virtually flawless safety record, and with many millions of flying hours behind it. However Southwest Airlines flight 812 showed, even reliable aircraft can suffer from previously unimaginable failures, potentially with catastrophic failure.

In the case of MH370, experts are united in their belief this is a very unlikely outcome, but one that cannot be ruled out. If the aircraft broke up, it is likely due to external influence.

Terrorism

It has been widely publicised that at least two passengers were travelling on stolen passports. Whilst this may seem unusual, this corner of the world is essentially a hub for illegal migration.

Whilst the families of the two men have been quick to jump to their defense, this remains a strong line of enquiry.

An act of terrorism could have resulted in a very sudden, catastrophic outcome. This would also explain why the pilots never issued a distress call.

As of yet, there is no defined evidence of an act of terrorism, nor have there been any credible admissions of responsibility.

One 'Security Expert' is starting to discuss the possibility of a Cyber-Hijack, resulting in system failure - put simply, this is just not possible.

Hijacking

In the era of the locked flight deck door, hijackings have become difficult to plan and carry out.

It is certain, if any of the passengers had attempted to take control it is likely that the pilots would have had advance warning, and time to issue a distress call. Even if that became difficult, they could have broadcast their distress by changing their 'Squawk' code - the numbers used to identify the aircraft by air traffic controllers.

Even if the aircraft had been hijacked, traditionally this has been by groups and individuals with an ulterior motive - asylum seekers for example.

Was it shot down?

This would explain a lot of what we know. The aircraft vanished with no warning, and with no distress call.

Shooting down an aircraft the size of a passenger jet such as the Boeing 777 would leave a huge imprint of the accident however, parts and debris would be strewn across a huge area. Aircraft parts also float, plastics, fabrics and passenger luggage would all remain on the surface giving a good indication of the accident location.

At the time of writing, not a single item of aircraft or debris has yet been identified or recovered.

The radar providers of both the Malaysian and Vietnamese authorities have also stated they have no evidence of a missile strike.

Pilot Suicide

An unfortunate blot on the industry safety record, previous examples of pilot suicide have shown that pilots are not immune from psychological conditions that affect other areas of the population.

The Aviation Safety Network says there have been eight plane crashes linked to pilot suicide since 1976.

Egypt Air flight 990 in 1999 and Silk Air flight 185 in 1997 are both thought to have been caused by a suicidal or vengeful pilot, though the claims can never be fully confirmed.

But with flight MH370 there is nothing to suggest that either the pilot, Capt Zaharie Ahmad Shah, or First Officer Fariq Abdul Hamid had any motive to end their lives or those of the passengers on board.

Mechanical Failure

Engine failure, or other similar large scale mechanical failure is certainly a major line of enquiry. At least it will be if and when the aircraft wreckage has been recovered.

The Boeing 777 is however equipped with a real-time reporting tool based on ACARS. Similar to AF447, the Boeing would have sent text messages back to Malaysia Airlines engineering detailing systems failures.

Rolls-Royce had been quoted (or possibly mis-quoted) as staying they had streaming data from the aircraft for some 4 hours after the last known position.

If this turns out to be true, the aircraft could have covered some 1,500nm in that time. In any direction.

Decompression

Aircraft decompressions can happen in either of three ways; Explosive, Rapid and Gradual.

Explosive, such as after a major structural failure results in confusion and very rapid onset of unconsciousness for those on-board.

Rapid, such as the failure of the pressurisation system can result in the same outcome, but allows occupants significantly more time to obtain secondary oxygen.

Gradual, where the decompression is slow is the most troublesome. The symptoms of hypoxia can set in without warning.

Helios Airways Flight 522 in August 2005 failed to pressurise after engineers left the system offline, and the flight crew failed to notice it. The crew became hypoxic and blacked out during the climb out.

Weather

This is a mute point, the weather on the aircraft flight path was clear. It is believed that weather has played no part in the aircraft disappearance.

 

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