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MH370 Malaysia Airlines Best Theory Yet

3:08 PM

Previous photo of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 taken in 2011 by LAURENT ERRERA/AP 

Thanks to a veteran pilot, Chris Goodfellow, perhaps if people share + listen to his sound advice and logical theory, we may be able to find the plane and any survivors.

Mr. Goodfellow wrote his original G+ post here (that was later edited and presented, with his permission, on Wired.com) before new info. was released about the engines continuing to run for about 6 more hours and maybe ACARS being shut down before the transponder (and the crew not knowing that ACARS wasn't working). I've added his thoughts after finding out more info. at the bottom of this post.

From his 20 years of experience as a Canadian Class-1 instrumented-rated pilot for multi-engine planes, Mr. Goodfellow essentially believes that there was an electrical fire and the pilot of MH370 made that turn because he knew to go to the nearest and safest airport but ran out of time and crashed somewhere. 

"When I saw that left turn with a direct heading, I instinctively knew he was heading for an airport. He was taking a direct route to Palau Langkawi, a 13,000-foot airstrip with an approach over water and no obstacles. The captain did not turn back to Kuala Lampur because he knew he had 8,000-foot ridges to cross. He knew the terrain was friendlier toward Langkawi, which also was closer."

Mr. Goodfellow encourages everyone to look at Google Earth and type in "Pulau Langkawi" and compare the location of this airport in relation to the radar track heading.
Langkawi area from Google

"Take a look at this airport on Google Earth
The pilot did all the right things. He was confronted by some major event onboard that made him make an immediate turn to the closest, safest airport."

1st:
He says that the signing off of "Goodnight" is not unusual and signifies that everything was fine at that point. It's actually standard when you're handing off to a new air traffic control. If something was awry, there are so many signs pilots can send to each other to alert that they need help. 
Mr. Goodfellow notes: "A hijack code or even transponder code off by one digit would alert ATC that something was wrong. Every good pilot knows keying an SOS over the mike always is an option. Even three short clicks would raise an alert. So I conclude that at the point of voice transmission all was perceived as well on the flight deck by the pilots."
From CBC News
2nd:
The loss of transponders and communications makes sense to Mr. Goodfellow in a fire, because if you pull the busses during a fire, the plane would go silent. 

3rd:
If the pilot did ascend to 45,000 ft., flying at this altitude would be to try and balance the fire by seeking the lowest level of oxygen possible. Remember? 02 (Oxygen)+fire = KABOOOOOOOOM FIREEEEEE

His reasoning makes sense to me. 

Additionally, Mr. Goodfellow explains that when MH370 left Kuala Lampur, it would've had enough fuel for its original destination of Beijing + an alternate destination (he notes, probably Shanghai), + another 45 minutes of flying. This would bring the total air time to about 8 hours or a little more. The pilot already burned 20-25% of the fuel within the first hour from taking off and climbing to cruise, so when he made that famous turn, it was towards Langkawi with about 6 hours of fuel left to burn. 

"This correlates nicely with the Inmarsat data pings being received until fuel exhaustion.
The now known continued flight until time to fuel exhaustion only confirms to me that the crew was incapacitated and the flight continued on deep into the south Indian ocean."

Mr. Goodfellow adds that the plane was probably overcoming with smoke and just continued heading on autopilot until either it ran out of fuel or the fire destroyed the control surfaces and the plane crashed. He's surprised that no one interviewed has thought about this from a pilot's point of view--as in, if there's a problem, where would the pilot fly? Heading towards the nearest, safest airport of Pulau Kanglawi and then crashing somewhere along that route was his pilot's intuition. 
"I said...days ago you will find it along that route--looking elsewhere was pointless."

I am glad that people and news outlets are beginning to pay more attention to Mr. Goodfellow's very logical theory. Perhaps we will be able to find the plane and any survivors now thanks to his insight (if people listen to him and spread this word!).
STR/AFP/Getty Images

Please do not jump to any conclusions without being presented with evidence. Until there's evidence of hijacking or deaths, there's hope. 

Also, please don't joke about this subject--I've already heard several jokes from friends, and that's just very insensitive because somewhere, huge communities of people are suffering from this--how would you feel if this happened to your family+friends?

I highly recommend reading Mr. Goodfellow's original Google+ post, as well as the WIRED article, and his follow up thoughts (posted below) after receiving additional updates about MH370.

"We know there was a last voice transmission that from a pilot's point of view (POV) was entirely normal. The good night is customary on a hand -off to a new ATC control. The good night also indicates STRONGLY to me all was OK on the flight deck. Remember there are many ways a pilot can communicate distress - the hijack code or even a transponder code different by one digit from assigned would alert ATC that something was wrong. Every good pilot knows keying an SOS over the mike is always an option even three short clicks would raise an alert.

So I conclude at that point of voice transmission all was perceived as well on the flight deck by the pilots. 

But things could have been in the process of going wrong unknown to the pilots -
Evidently the ACARS went inoperative some time before. Disabling the ACARS is not easy as pointed out. This leads me to believe more in an electric or electric fire issue than a manual shutdown. I suggest the pilots were probably not aware it was not transmitting.

The next event is the turn to the SW in what appears direct Langkawi.
As I said in the first post the pilot probably had this in his head already.
Someone said why didn't he go to KBR on north coast of Malaysia which was closer. That's a 6,000 foot runway and to put that plane down on a 6,000 foot strip at night uncertain of your aircraft's entire systems is not an option. I would expect the pilot would consider ditching before a 6,000 runway if still above maximum landing weight which he likely was. 
The safest runway in the region to make the approach was certainly Langkawi  - no obstacles over water with a long flat approach. In my humble opinion this 18,000 hour pilot knew this instinctively.

Reports of altitude fluctuations. Well given that this was not transponder generated data but primary radar at maybe 200 miles the azimuth readings can be affected by a lot of atmospherics and I would not have high confidence in this being totally reliable. But let's accept for a minute he might have ascended to 45,000 in a last ditch effort to quell a fire by seeking the lowest level of oxygen. It is an acceptable scenario in my opinion. At 45,000 it would be tough to keep this aircraft stable as the flight envelope is very narrow and loss of control in a stall is entirely possible. The aircraft is at the top of its operational ceiling.  The reported rapid rates of descent could have been generated by a stall and recovery at 25,000. The pilot may even have been diving the aircraft to extinguish flames. All entirely possible.

But going to 45,000 in a hijack scenario doesn't make any good sense to me.

The question of the time the plane flew on.

On departing Kuala he would have had fuel for Beijing and alternate probably Shanghai and 45 minutes. Say 8 hours. Maybe more. He burned 20-25% in first hour with takeoff, climb to cruise. So when the turn was made towards Langkawi  he would have had six hours or more. This correlates nicely with the immarsat data pings being received until fuel exhaustion.

The apparent now known continued flight until TTFE time to fuel exhaustion only actually confirms to me the crew were incapacitated and the flight continued on deep into the south Indian ocean.

There really is no point in speculating further until more evidence surfaces but in the meantime it serves no purpose to malign the pilots who well may have been in an heroic struggle to save this aircraft from a fire or other serious mechanical issue and were overcome. 

I hope the investigation team looks at the maintenance records of the front gear tires - cycles, last pressure check and maintenance inspection. Captain or F/O as part of pre-flight looks at tires. Is there any video at the airport to support pre-flight walkaround? Any damage on pushback? A day after I wrote the original post a plane in the U.S. blew a tire in takeoff and the t/o was fortunately aborted with a burning tire.

 Hopefully - and I believe now it is a slim hope - the wreckage will be found and the FDR and VDR will be recovered and provide us with insight.  Until facts prove otherwise, I would give the Captain the benefit of respect and professional courtesy." --Chris Goodfellow

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