Life
by Brandon Wenerd on March 18, 2014

malaysia-airlines-projected-path

It’s been 10 full days since Malaysia Airways Flight 370 disappeared enroute from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. The fact that a giant Boeing 777 airplane can get “lost” in an era of “Find My Phone” and 24/7 GPS has made it without a doubt one of the most compelling aviation mysteries of the modern era. The theories of what happened to Flight 370 range from UFO abductions (Courtney Love doesn’t believe this, for the record) to asteroids vaporizing the aircraft to a hostile terrorist takeover, resulting in someone flying the massive plane under the radar to a remote jungle runway in central Asia. There’s even a maddening, batshit crazy illuminati theory that 4 out of 5 patent holders for electric car technology were on board, which would mean the remaining patent holder gets 100% of the wealth from the patent. Says the theory, the patent holder is Freescale Semiconductor, owned by Jacob Rothschild through Blackstone.

It’s Lost in-real-life, which is enough to scare the shit out of anyone jumping on an international flight any time soon.

Today, however, via Business Insider comes perhaps the most levelheaded theory of what could have happened to Flight 370. Writing on his Google+ page, a former pilot called Chris Goodfellow speculates how the plane could have disappeared:

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.

Brandon Wenerd

About Brandon Wenerd...

Brandon Wenerd is BroBible's senior editor, guru of @brotips, and director of strategic partnerships. He joined BroBible in the fall of 2009 after graduating from Penn State. When he’s not writing, Brandon enjoys fishing, Phish, Philly sports, Dewey Beach, supporting live music, hot sauce, and beer. E-mail him with post ideas and news tips: brandon@brobible.com.