AVweb

« Back to Full Story

MH 370: Will The Simplest Explanation Be The Right One?

  • E-Mail this Article
  • View Printable Article
  • Text size:

    • A
    • A
    • A

In watching the wall-to-wall coverage of MH 370, Iíve been struck how, absent any information, most sources discussing this event want to assume it was the work of a rational person, that it was carefully planned and that there was some overarching goal. Those who believe the airplane was flown into Central Asia and landed, if they have a theory at all, suggest that perhaps Uyghur separatists planned and executed the seizing of MH 370.

Anything is possible, but the longer the investigation progresses with no verifiable facts, the more the speculation will be bent to suit what spare facts are available, hence the Central Asia theory. But what if itís just a lot simpler than that? What if this was just another example of a pilot committing suicide and taking an airplane with him? Itís not like there arenít any examples of this.

Letís run the list. In October 1999, Egyptair Flight 990 crashed into the Atlantic off Nantucket. The NTSB cited the cause as deliberate actions of the relief first officer, but Egyptian authorities rejected that, claiming the crash was due to mechanical failure, despite producing no evidence to support this.

In 1997, SilkAir 185† crashed in a river in southern Sumatra, killing everyone aboard the 737. Once again, the NTSB found the crash was due to deliberate action of the crew and once again, the local authorities denied this, saying the data available didnít support that conclusion.

In 1994, FedEx Flight 705 was nearly downed by a hammer-wielding deadheading pilot about to be dismissed for lying about his pilot experience. He hoped his family would benefit from a multi-million dollar insurance policy. A horrific, bloody brawl ensued on the flightdeck and the crew was finally able to land the airplane back at Memphis.

In 1964, a Pacific Airlines Fairchild was brought down after a passenger shot both crew members in a murder/suicide scheme. In the days before accident investigation grew to be as sophisticated as it now, investigators pieced together what happened in the airplane. Twenty-three years later, history repeated when a Pacific Southwest Airlines BAE 146-200 crashed as the result of a murder-suicide plot by a digruntled employee.†And of course, there are numerous examples of general aviation pilots using an airplane to commit suicide.

Could this be more likely than some other intent in the hijacking of MH 370? Who knows? The only thing Iíve heard that made undiluted sense to me was what former NTSB investigator Greg Feith told NBC news on Sunday. It may be quite likely that weíll never find this aircraft and by the time identifiable wreckage washes ashore somewhereóif it crashed at seaóit will be long since impossible to determine where it came from. Feith was involved in the SilkAir investigation, but if heís thinking suicide was at play here, heís too much the professional to say it.

The argument against suicide is to ask why the aircraft would continue flying for six or seven hours over what appeared to be a programmed course? That assumes the actions of rational person in the cockpit and since when are people commandeering airliners rational?

Maybe the Central Asia theorists are right. Maybe MH 370 will turn up in a desert wash in Turkmenistan with 239 parched but alive passengers. We can only hope, but history has tended toward simpler explanations.

Join the conversation.
Read others' comments and add your own.

Comments (32)

It's been interesting watching the coverage. As usual, the more professional people are, the less they tend to say. Originally when I ran Occam's razor over this I thought the simplest explanation was either a sudden catastrophic mechanical failure or an honest error. Now I'm leaning towards one disaffected person - either one of the pilots or someone hidden away somewhere. Maybe the pilot rest area is accessed from inside the main cockpit door? Couldn't easily google that so I gave up. I agree that sadly, the simplest explanation is someone with a death wish heading south until the juice ran out. Where-ever it went, if it flew on for 7 hours, it had to be completely intact and it had to been at altitude.

Posted by: John Hogan | March 17, 2014 2:03 AM    Report this comment

Given that MH 370 remained in the air for the additional six to seven hours after its last voice transmission, suicide by airplane seems way less likely than that the plane is on the ground in some area so remote even military satellites don't keep an eye on it.

But in either case the fate of the passengers is bleak - no demands for ransom or political statement by now would indicate that whatever the purpose of this incident, their well-being is/was the last item of priority during the course of events.

Posted by: Unknown | March 17, 2014 8:10 AM    Report this comment

I've been wondering, would it have been possible for one (or both) of the pilots to deliberately depressurize the cabin while they wear their face masks as a way to subdue the passengers? Perhaps that's why the plane apparently climbed to 43,000? This is all just speculation, of course.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | March 17, 2014 10:30 AM    Report this comment

Assuming it crashed in the sea, could the vast hydrophone network used to monitor submarines have picked up the data recorder pings (said to travel for some distance underwater)? If the Navy knows, they wouldn't show their cards immediately. This would only be a recovery operation. They would have to "help" someone else find it if not doing it on their own. Ditto for land based sensors, you can't let them know how much you know, at least not directly.

As for suicide, it seems unlikely, as why would you fly 7 more hours to crash unless maybe the pilot set the AP and then popped some pills to doze off. I'm thinking it will eventually turn up in Somalia or some other forsaken place...maybe in one piece or maybe not.

Posted by: A Richie | March 17, 2014 10:34 AM    Report this comment

If this was a hijacking, the scary scenario is that the pilot or pilots were involved to get this B777 to a remote location for refit as a nuclear delivery system. Convert the cabin and cargo holds for additional fuel, and this plane can fly at less than 500 feet under radar coverage to just about any target of interest. If this is the case, the passengers were likely dead after achieving altitude. How do you get rid of all those people on board? Depressurize the cabin for an hour and everyone is dead. Pilot(s) can be using pressure demand oxygen during this time. Those oxygen masks in the passenger cabin are not pressure demand and will not last long.

Also keep in mind that the intelligence community are likely controlling the media on information release. We won't get the real story until this is played out. Everything up to this point has been nothing but speculation on questionable "facts".

Posted by: Amy Zucco | March 17, 2014 11:00 AM    Report this comment

You're confused about the Pacific Airlines Fairchild in 1964. That was a suicidal passenger that shot the crew ( Julie Clark's father was captain). The incident you are thinking of was Dec 7, 1987, when a fired USAir ground employee shot the crew on PSA 1771.

Posted by: Bob Merritt | March 17, 2014 12:06 PM    Report this comment

At the risk of just adding more noise but no signal, I want to throw out a thought I had re: MH370's disappearance. What if this was a proof of concept attack? By that I mean, what if it was done as a field test of the capablility to hijack and control a fly-by-wire airliner, as a precursor to the use of multiple such airliners to commit one or more 9/11-like attacks around the world?

I'm not trying to demean anyone, but the incident involved a fully fueled long range fly-by-wire airliner, over a very remote area of the world, early in the morning, an airline which may not have been as vigilant as many, from a country which seems to have lax or limited and confused tracking and accident investigation processes.

Could one or more crew members have been in collusion with outside forces to carry out the attack by disabling certain aircraft systems and ensuring the best chances for success of the proof of concept attack? I realize my question and speculation may sound ridiculous to some. I submit it only so that people with a lot more knowledge than I can debate it and, hopefully, disprove it.

Tom

Posted by: Tom Hayden | March 17, 2014 12:58 PM    Report this comment

At the risk of just adding more noise but no signal, I want to throw out a thought I had re: MH370's disappearance. What if this was a proof of concept attack? By that I mean, what if it was done as a field test of the capablility to hijack and control a fly-by-wire airliner, as a precursor to the use of multiple such airliners to commit one or more 9/11-like attacks around the world?

I'm not trying to demean anyone, but the incident involved a fully fueled long range fly-by-wire airliner, over a very remote area of the world, early in the morning, an airline which may not have been as vigilant as many, from a country which seems to have lax or limited and confused tracking and accident investigation processes.

Could one or more crew members have been in collusion with outside forces to carry out the attack by disabling certain aircraft systems and ensuring the best chances for success of the proof of concept attack? I realize my question and speculation may sound ridiculous to some. I submit it only so that people with a lot more knowledge than I can debate it and, hopefully, disprove it.

Tom

Posted by: Tom Hayden | March 17, 2014 12:58 PM    Report this comment

There seems to be an assumption that the pilot(s) must somehow be in collusion. What happened to the old school notion of a hijacker forcing pilots to act under threat of harm - could explain the non-standard last radio response attributed to the co-pilot, (a veiled attempt to communicate that all is in fact not well, perhaps). Much is made of present day cockpit door security, but bathroom breaks and crew catering needs dictate that the door is at times unlocked and open.

Posted by: Unknown | March 17, 2014 2:53 PM    Report this comment

Bob, I'm not confusing the two incidents. And there were actually two, both similar. The one in 1987, which I forgot to add, was Pacific Southwest Airlines, the other was Pacific Airlines.

Both involved disgruntled employes.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 17, 2014 4:32 PM    Report this comment

I've not heard or read anything about the ELT activating. Wouldn't this indicate that the aircraft didn't actually crash? I'm not aware of the ELT control options that are available to the crew of an airliner but in the single and multi-engine aircraft I have flown the pilot doesn't have the ability to turn the ELT to an OFF position. Some aircraft have remote ELT controls in the cockpit but they only provide an ARM, ON, or RESET capability; not an OFF capability. In the aircraft I have flown the ELT can only be turned off at the ELT which is remote mounted and not accessible to the pilot.

Posted by: Doug Henkel | March 17, 2014 4:34 PM    Report this comment

The fly-by-wire hijack as a proof of concept has been on my mind for while. There are some difficulties with doing it for an airliner that Iran did not have when grabbed the stealth drone by spoofing: no ready made radio control input stream and no video camera out the nose. On the other hand, with an airliner, just like a drone, the pilot is sitting at a computer console making inputs, with those inputs then flying the airplane. Makes pulling and pushing on cables and pushrods seem downright lovable.

To do a hijack an input stream control stream is needed, so someone in maintenance would have to introduce a radio controlled computer either use the existing connection for test equipment, or by bypass the aircraft controls along a standardized signaling bus, probably by inserting a box at a connector. Then a flip of a switch by the remote hijacker at the correct moment and an automated hijack sequence would go into action, probably with no chance of the pilots regaining control.

I am speculating on method, for I don't know either the design of the aircraft or systems, or whether there are points where nearly all pilot-input systems can be compromised by a single box. But a databus has to travel aft from the cockpit, and that could provide vulnerable locations for a maintenance hacker, particularly if the databus is standardized with part numbers for connectors.

Whether or not this was a black-box hijack, it is time to be concerned, and to harden aircraft against the possibility. While hardening may be in place in some aircraft, I think that it should be done on any aircraft using a databus to communicate with control actuators.

I'm not in maintenance or even a commercial pilot -- this is pretty basic armchair theorizing done by a private pilot with a dormant ticket. But I am concerned.that if I can imagineer a method with so little information, professionals have worked out many more details. I can see in my mind's eye James Bond's foe in a coffee shop somewhere with a computer having a celebratory latte after having entered the start sequence command, while the target flight turns off all other radios, zooms to 45000' while dropping cabin pressure, throttles back to remain subsonic, and gently turns to a new heading...

Posted by: Unknown | March 17, 2014 5:29 PM    Report this comment

Neither of the two 406 ELT's going off? It's in Iran. Almost exactly seven hours flying time. Two Iranians with stolen passports, and "somebody" saying they were "defectors?" Who told us that? Them? The Iranians? Two young slender fighter pilot looking guys? Even if they really were defectors, what are they doing with stolen passports? Doesn't sound like they were up to anything righteous? Five hours to Beijing, at least two hours more of fuel equals seven hours. Look at a map, seven hours, the length of the engine pinging, is right to Iran, with maybe 15-30 minutes of fuel remaining. Who would hijack a plane and then not brag about it? Iran. It would go near the area where the pirates are operating off Somalia, etc. About twenty navies have ships there, including of course a lot of USA, Brit, French, Danish, etc., all well equipped with excellent radar. What (Who) would hijack an airplane and the US and allies know about it and not admit it, at least not for sometime? Iran. Just a WAG, but answer all the known facts. Oh Yes, the plane couldn't make it to 45,000 feet, and then down to 26,000 in about a minute. That sounds more like a depressurization. Just before they turned off the Transponders. At 35,000' the time of useful consciousness is about 30 seconds. If the "crew" or hijackers put on their quick don oxygen masks, turned off the oxygen supply the plane, depressurized, and then flew for a minute or two, everybody else on the plane would be dead. The only other possibility of someone living other than the "crew" would have been a cabin crew who was able to get to their walk around oxygen supply, in 30 seconds or so?? It's in Iran WAG

Posted by: BRYCE CAMPBELL DDS | March 17, 2014 9:52 PM    Report this comment

Bryce:

Why would the nation of Iran - or even just two Iranians - want a Malaysian jetliner?

-Yars

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | March 18, 2014 6:18 AM    Report this comment

This is all rather pointless discussion, the situation is unique, the available information is unreliable, misinformation is the norm and the speculation is just getting weird. I've been approached by any number of people saying, "You're a pilot, what happened to that plane?" My answer is, " Yes I am a pilot and I know a lot about aviation and airplanes but I know nothing about disappearing/stolen planes. Check with the National Enquirer." Well at least this thread hasn't degenerated to the " what's wrong with GA" or "the diesels are coming."

Posted by: Richard Montague | March 18, 2014 7:53 AM    Report this comment

this is a good theory... I posted it yesterday but it was not published by avweb... here is the link http://ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-1107409?ref=feeds/latest

Posted by: hussein dharsi | March 18, 2014 11:38 AM    Report this comment

I am a frequent visitor of this site, but it is becoming harder and harder to do so when it seems no one is checking their work for grammatical errors. Especially coming from the Editing Director, I expect better. This shows a lack of professionalism.

Posted by: Robert Kelly | March 18, 2014 11:44 AM    Report this comment

Hmmm...

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | March 18, 2014 12:54 PM    Report this comment

Best theory I've read so far. (No offense, Paul.) Simple and logical.

http://www.wired.com/autopia/2014/03/mh370-electrical-fire/

Posted by: Unknown | March 18, 2014 1:00 PM    Report this comment

Bryce you state with conviction "It's in Iran" - I am amazed at your inability to analyze issues. As for the purpoted "Iranians" - the interpol confirmed that they were seeking asylum after having spoken to the mother of the one of the young iranian in Frankfurt, unless you are telling us you know more than we have heard from Interpol and the rest of the propaganda generated by CNN and company?. And if we were to assume that you are right that the Iranians have it - the question that should arise is Why ?

Posted by: hussein dharsi | March 18, 2014 1:00 PM    Report this comment

"I am a frequent visitor of this site, but it is becoming harder and harder to do so when it seems no one is checking their work for grammatical errors. "

With hundreds of families and loved ones living in a torturous anguish, and the entire world on edge, it's understandable to want some levity.

Posted by: David Miller | March 18, 2014 1:34 PM    Report this comment

There are a lot of coincidences that support the stolen jet theory, which is where I'd settled. But electrical fire is a more plausible explanation -- and a lot less unsettling.

Posted by: Jerry Fraser | March 18, 2014 1:54 PM    Report this comment

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

Posted by: Torsten Jacobi | March 18, 2014 2:57 PM    Report this comment

The proposed fire scenario does not fit with the precedent set by Swiss Air 111. The 777 (fly-by-wire) has a known history of fatal software flaws. Interestingly enough, in August 2005 a 777 experienced a software-related upset flying between Australia and Malaysia. In 2008, an Airbus experienced a similar problem. Every manufacturer has software problems. Bombardier with the fly-by-wire rudder on the CRJ 1000 (high speed hard-over anyone?). Embraer. I could go on and on. The software is now the Achilles's heel. The FDR (if ever recovered) will be very interesting.

Posted by: SHANNON FORREST | March 18, 2014 3:39 PM    Report this comment

Dassault had a runaway trim problem on the fly-by-wire Falcon 7X. No problem - there's manually trim right? None. How about pulling circuit breakers? Can't - they're all electronic. Instead the pilots got to ride out the uncontrolled altitude oscillations and excursions. The fix? New software. Latent demons lurk behind these panels. The Cub looks better and better Paul.

Posted by: SHANNON FORREST | March 18, 2014 3:51 PM    Report this comment

The fire theory has a couple of other holes. First, the New York Times reported that the ACARS data revealed that the turnaround route was actively keyed in by someone. If done after a supposed fire, why would it intentionally take the airplane across Peninsular Malaysia back into the Andaman Sea? If done before the fire, why?

Second, why would a fire serious enough to take out all the comms, the ACARS data and transponder spare the autopilot and the ACARS datalink? Last, a fire that serious is unlikely to self-extuguish, as Swisair 111 showed.

But the electrical theory does pass the simplicity test.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 18, 2014 3:59 PM    Report this comment

Interesting about the Dassault Falcon. Runaway trim can happen for electromechanical reasons too. A friend of mine's father was killed in a Beech 1900 when a worn trim switch shorted closed and went to full trim. Don't think they had time to pull the breaker (if it had one); total loss of control ensued.

Posted by: A Richie | March 19, 2014 9:17 AM    Report this comment

Why are we not hearing more about the aircraft's cargo in connection with the "on-board fire theory" advanced? Li-ion batteries have a record of combustion if damaged. Records point to past fires in cargo containers being loaded aboard aircraft, or in containers about to load.

Posted by: Unknown | March 20, 2014 1:28 PM    Report this comment

Sorry Paul, but you are confused about the Pacific Airlines Flt 773 crash in 1964. The perpetrator in that case was a passenger who was a warehouse worker & had no employment history with any airline. Here is the link to the Wiki on that crash which has further links to the official accident report & contemporary news accounts:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pacific_Air_Lines_Flight_773

Posted by: Bob Merritt | March 21, 2014 9:51 AM    Report this comment

Bob, you keeping saying I'm confused and I keep telling you I'm not. I did add the Pacific Southwest crash, which occurred in 1987. Also clarified that it was passenger in both cases, but one was an employee.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 22, 2014 4:59 PM    Report this comment

I guess those who came up with theory that the plane is in some foreign country must be dissapointed that it did not pan out that way!.

My sincere thoughts, prayers and condolences to everyone affected by this tragedy.

Posted by: hussein dharsi | March 24, 2014 10:29 AM    Report this comment

Hi pal that was an amazing post. Good. click

Posted by: Dennis bauer | November 26, 2014 4:13 AM    Report this comment

Add your comments

Log In

You must be logged in to comment

Forgot password?

Register

Enter your information below to begin your FREE registration

« Back to Full Story