As the days continue to pass since Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 went missing, a number of theories have been put forward, ranging from a possible hijacking to somewhat more far-fetched ideas such as alien abduction. During this time, you can’t help but feel for the families of those involved and what they must be going through – it really must be awful; let’s hope that they will be presented with some definitive answers soon.
In the meantime, one theory that’s emerged more recently and appears to have gathered credence is that put forward by an experienced former pilot, Chris Goodfellow, on his Google+ page (and that’s subsequently gathered momentum on sites such as Reddit). His is refreshingly simple.
First let’s look at precisely what he says:
MH370 A different point of view. Pulau Langkawi 13,000 runway.
A lot of speculation about MH370. Terrorism, hijack, meteors. I cannot believe the analysis on CNN – almost disturbing. I tend to look for a more simple explanation of this event.
Loaded 777 departs midnight from Kuala to Beijing. Hot night. Heavy aircraft. About an hour out across the gulf towards Vietnam the plane goes dark meaning the transponder goes off and secondary radar tracking goes off.
Two days later we hear of reports that Malaysian military radar (which is a primary radar meaning the plane is being tracked by reflection rather than by transponder interrogation response) has tracked the plane on a southwesterly course back across the Malay Peninsula into the straits of Malacca.
When I heard this I immediately brought up Google Earth and I searched for airports in proximity to the track towards southwest.
The left turn is the key here. This was a very experienced senior Captain with 18,000 hours. Maybe some of the younger pilots interviewed on CNN didn’t pick up on this left turn. We old pilots were always drilled to always know the closest airport of safe harbor while in cruise. Airports behind us, airports abeam us and airports ahead of us. Always in our head. Always. Because if something happens you don’t want to be thinking what are you going to do – you already know what you are going to do. Instinctively when I saw that left turn with a direct heading I knew he was heading for an airport. Actually he was taking a direct route to Palau Langkawi a 13,000 foot strip with an approach over water at night with no obstacles. He did not turn back to Kuala Lampur because he knew he had 8,000 foot ridges to cross. He knew the terrain was friendlier towards Langkawi and also a shorter distance.
Take a look on Google Earth at this airport. This pilot did all the right things. He was confronted by some major event onboard that made him make that immediate turn back to the closest safe airport.
For me the loss of transponders and communications makes perfect sense if a fire. There was most likely a fire or electrical fire. In the case of fire the first response if to pull all the main busses and restore circuits one by one until you have isolated the bad one.
If they pulled the busses the plane indeed would go silent. It was probably a serious event and they simply were occupied with controlling the plane and trying to fight the fire. Aviate, Navigate and lastly communicate. There are two types of fires. Electrical might not be as fast and furious and there might or might not be incapacitating smoke. However there is the possibility given the timeline that perhaps there was an overheat on one of the front landing gear tires and it blew on takeoff and started slowly burning. Yes this happens with underinflated tires. Remember heavy plane, hot night, sea level, long run takeoff. There was a well known accident in Nigeria of a DC8 that had a landing gear fire on takeoff. A tire fire once going would produce horrific incapacitating smoke. Yes, pilots have access to oxygen masks but this is a no no with fire. Most have access to a smoke hood with a filter but this will only last for a few minutes depending on the smoke level. (I used to carry one of my own in a flight bag and I still carry one in my briefcase today when I fly).
What I think happened is that they were overcome by smoke and the plane just continued on the heading probably on George (autopilot) until either fuel exhaustion or fire destroyed the control surfaces and it crashed. I said four days ago you will find it along that route – looking elsewhere was pointless.
This pilot, as I say, was a hero struggling with an impossible situation trying to get that plane to Langkawi. No doubt in my mind. That’s the reason for the turn and direct route. A hijack would not have made that deliberate left turn with a direct heading for Langkawi. It would probably have weaved around a bit until the hijackers decided on where they were taking it.
Surprisingly none of the reporters , officials, other pilots interviewed have looked at this from the pilot’s viewpoint. If something went wrong where would he go? Thanks to Google earth I spotted Langkawi in about 30 seconds, zoomed in and saw how long the runway was and I just instinctively knew this pilot knew this airport. He had probably flown there many times. I guess we will eventually find out when you help me spread this theory on the net and some reporters finally take a look on Google earth and put 2 and 2 together. Also a look at the age and number of cycles on those nose tires might give us a good clue too.
Fire in an aircraft demands one thing – you get the machine on the ground as soon as possible. There are two well remembered experiences in my memory. The AirCanada DC9 which landed I believe in Columbus Ohio in the eighties. That pilot delayed descent and bypassed several airports. He didn’t instinctively know the closest airports. He got it on the ground eventually but lost 30 odd souls. In the 1998 crash of Swissair DC-10 off Nova Scotia was another example of heroic pilots. They were 15 minutes out of Halifax but the fire simply overcame them and they had to ditch in the ocean. Just ran out of time. That fire incidentally started when the aircraft was about an hour out of Kennedy. Guess what the transponders and communications were shut off as they pulled the busses.
Get on Google Earth and type in Pulau Langkawi and then look at it in relation to the radar track heading. 2+2=4 That for me is the simple explanation why it turned and headed in that direction.
Smart pilot. Just didn’t have the time.
To my mind, this sounds one of the most simple explanations, consistent with much of the information so far presented, but in an article written on the BBC website titled “An MH370 theory that was simple, compelling and wrong“, it’s being discredited.
So why? Well, the article draws first on the comments of Jeff Wise in Slate who writes:
“While it’s true that MH370 did turn toward Langkawi and wound up overflying it, whoever was at the controls continued to maneuver after that point as well, turning sharply right at VAMPI waypoint, then left again at GIVAL. Such vigorous navigating would have been impossible for unconscious men.”
I personally don’t think this discredits the theory at all. Could it not be that the pilots became unconscious and someone else on the plane tried to tackle the situation? That would be plausible and consistent with Goodfellow’s theory.
“Goodfellow’s theory fails further when one remembers the electronic ping detected by the Inmarsat satellite at 8:11 on the morning of March 8. According to analysis provided by the Malaysian and United States governments, the pings narrowed the location of MH370 at that moment to one of two arcs, one in Central Asia and the other in the southern Indian Ocean. As MH370 flew from its original course toward Langkawi, it was headed toward neither. Without human intervention – which would go against Goodfellow’s theory – it simply could not have reached the position we know it attained at 8:11 a.m.”
Once again, I would suggest this might be consistent with someone else having attempted to take to the controls, because the pilots were unconscious, in order to remedy the situation, thus changing the direction.
Finally, Greg Feith, a former National Transportation Safety Board crash investigator, told NBC News:
“Typically, with an electrical fire, you’ll have smoke before you have fire… you can do some troubleshooting. And if the systems are still up and running, you can get off a mayday call”.
I think a simple answer to that would be that, in an emergency, pilots may be forced to act first and talk later. It’s perfectly possible that the situation escalated so rapidly that they didn’t have time to make that communication and they were pre-occupied with addressing the problem as best they could.
For me, these are weak attempts to discredit Goodfellow’s theory. What are your thoughts? Do you see the theory as a plausible one or do you feel there are flaws in it? If it’s valid, it should presumably help those searching narrow down their search area quite significantly and hopefully provide the families with much-needed answers.