Speculations from a US Pilot on Malaysia Flight 370

My dad, who has been flying since the day he turned 16 and has been a commercial airline pilot for over 20 years for a carrier in the U.S., has the following opinion regarding the missing Malaysia Airlines flight:

“The government of Malaysia seems to be very guarded about the radar data. If they have modern radar for their military defense, they should have been able to have better tracked an airplane the size of a Boeing 777, or they are reluctant to share what they know completely with investigators. The US NTSB [National Transportation Safety Board] investigators along with Boeing are the best in the world, but I’m not sure Malaysia has been using them. If the same event had occurred within the US or even outside the US, but heading toward the US from international airspace with an airplane having no transponder on, like the Malaysian 777, it would have been intercepted and followed by military fighter aircraft to its point of impact or landing. Malaysia did not do this. If the radar return showing the airplane making a course reversal is accurate, and the transponder was intentionally turned off, it was most likely either hijacked or one of the pilots took self-initiated control of the airplane, either by force or both pilots were in it together. If they can track what they call the primary radar path (no transponder), far enough, hopefully they can find the ping from the bottom of the ocean. It will ping for about thirty days, after that it will be a tough find on the bottom of a big ocean, and may remain a mystery. There is a slight chance the pilots flew to a mystery airport somewhere in that part of the world, but it would be very difficult to hide a Malaysian 777 because there are only so many airports long enough for it to land at that would not have people there to observe, especially with the whole aviation world looking for it. Last month an Ethiopian airlines 767 flying from Addis Ababa to Rome was hijacked by its own First Officer while the Captain went to the cabin to use the lavatory. He flew the airplane to Switzerland and demanded asylum from Ethiopia. He was crazy. Years back an Egypt Air flight from JFK to Cairo crashed out of New York after the First Officer intentionally pushed the airplane nose over in a suicide maneuver to see Allah. This could have been the case with Malaysia if they were not hijacked. We will not know until they recover the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder. It may remain a mystery until then, unless they can find it. Very strange tragedy for those poor people on board.

On the theory the airplane was hijacked either by the crew or passengers, they may have gone on cockpit oxygen, depressurized the airplane, climbed up to 45,000 and killed all of the passengers. They would then not have had over 200 angry passengers to deal with. This would make
it more plausible to divert the airplane to a remote landing site and not have any passengers to deal with on landing like blowing emergency slides and exiting the airplane or getting away from the airplane undetected to call the world.”

My question to him: “Do all flights have the option of turning off their transmitters? Why would this option exist on a commercial flight?”

My dad: “This event will most likely change this option. There is really no reason to have the option to turn the transponder off from the cockpit unless you are [performing] covert operations, which no commercial airliner should ever be.”

Me: “Why might Malaysia be guarding their radar data? Do you suspect a benefit for them in protecting it from the world?”

My dad: “Possibly protecting their own regional defense capabilities. It’s a very volatile area. It is also a very disorganized investigation as well. In that part of the world, even though they have modern technology at their disposal, they do not have the experience and organization to conduct an aviation accident or incident investigation nearly as well as the US. They should be asking us for all the support they can get. It appears they are now, but should have from the beginning. We have the top people along with Europe. Also they were able to find Air France in many thousands of feet deep on the ocean floor in the middle of the Atlantic. If they can track the radar path close enough, hopefully they can find the ping. I just find it very strange that the primary radar track has been such a mystery. Either it’s very sketchy data to retrieve, or they don’t want to share its detailed capability. Just a hunch.”

Me: What do you think about the theory of the plane being re-purposed in the Pakistan desert for example? Is that a far-fetched theory?

My dad: It’s possible. You have close to three hundred people to contain. Some no doubt had global cell phones. Hard to contain them all, to such a degree. It only takes a second to grab your cell and transmit a call or text, unless it is very remote. Now what do you do with the people? No good options. There are evil enough terrorists to do this kind of act though. Look at 911. If the desert is remote enough, interesting theory.

Me: “What should part of the takeaway be from this tragedy?”

My dad: “Something the traveling public seems to be unaware of is the fact the US represents the largest segment of global air travel, but by orders of magnitude the lowest accident rate. Europe is a close second and it’s all downhill from there. United, American, Delta, Lufthansa, British Airways, Air Canada, Quantas, Air New Zealand, SAS, are tops in the world for all of the things that matter when it comes to safety. You may get better service on other airlines, but if I’m a passenger on an airplane with an emergency, whether it’s an inflight passenger medical, or a thousand other things that can go wrong, I would absolutely want to be on one of these carriers. Safety matters over service. When Asiana crashed a perfectly good 777 landing in SFO on a perfectly clear day because their pilots lacked adequate training on how to operate their airplane, there excellent cabin service had no relevance. As a passenger you cannot make the assumption that all airlines have the same level of safety. They simply do not. American, United, Delta, Lufthansa, Air Canada, British Airways, SAS, Quantas, and Air New Zealand have the best safety records. Upstarts like Emirates have the money to pour into their product from their government, and have advantages in this regard. US airlines are the most experienced in the world in dealing with non government support while maintaining a safety record the envy of the world. There seems to be little or no public appreciation for all they have been through and all that they have pioneered and continue to do so, in leading safety, all the while without government support. If Malaysian airlines operates their airline like they investigate incidents or accidents, I do not feel comfortable on flying them. They are representative of most of the aviation world outside of North America and Northern Europe.”

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2 thoughts on “Speculations from a US Pilot on Malaysia Flight 370

  1. Very interesting theories. Also, nice to hear such candid talk from someone who is an actual pilot. I’m curious though, I’d always considered JAL and Virgin to also be very good in terms of their pilots and safety record. Same with Southwest. If you look at the records Southwest has had fewer incidents than Delta. According to http://www.airsafe.com Southwest is one of the few airlines that has never crashed. Of course your father may have been talking specifically about international carriers in which case it makes sense he wouldn’t mention a domestic one like SW.

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