Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Latest on MH370: Inmarsat says search was off target; Canadian ex-pilot blames Malaysian authorities for "bungled inquiry", suggests ulterior motive

Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 vanished on March 8th. Since then, we have learned very little about where it went and what happened to it. Speculation abounds. What we know for sure is that it never arrived at its destination. That's all.

The most probable answer to the question of what happened to MH370 is that it crashed. But where? The official line is that it crashed into the sea -- the Indian Ocean -- but a "premature landing" in the jungles of Malaysia, Thailand, Burma or Yunnan (the southwestern cannot be ruled out. So thick is the canopy of treetops in such places that it's nigh well impossible to see from the air anything more than a blanket of foliage.

The search at sea has concentrated on a small part of the southeastern Indian Ocean off the coast of Perth, Australia. Hopes were raised when "pings" were heard such as might be generated by the aircraft's black boxes. A thorough search by the Bluefin robot sub found nothing, nothing.

Now Inmarsat, the UK satellite company, has told the BBC that the searchers have been looking in the wrong place! Its scientists think the plane more likely crashed in a part of the ocean further to the southwest.

Inmarsat's communications with the aircraft are seen as better clues to the whereabouts of the lost flight than the radar data so far provided by Malaysian or other authorities. The hunt for the lost jet is currently taking a short break while ships map the Indian Ocean floor. When the search resumes, the Inmarsat "hotspot" will be a key focus.

But so too will a number of areas being fed into the investigation by other groups. Australian authorities are expected to announce where these are shortly. Walt is waiting to see if his suggestion that Diego Garcia be looked at will at last be heard. If not, well, I can only cast the pearls...

If they don't listen to Walt, perhaps the "authorities" will have some regard to the opinions of Christopher Goodfellow, a retired businessman and former pilot who lives in Florida. He is a graduate of McGill and Cornell universities and a former director of the Canadian Internet Registration Authority. In ‘A bungled inquiry’: 100 days after MH370 went missing it is clear Malaysia officials hiding information he blames Malaysian officials for mishandling the investigation and for hiding vital information. [You seem to have read the headline thoroughly. Ed.]

Mr. Goodfellow isn't big on the conspiracy theories, preferring to think that the loss of the aeroplane might have been the result of an accident. He wrote about this possibility before, "as a pilot with some knowledge of the issues defending two fellow pilots who were being much maligned and who could not defend themselves."

What is wanted, he continues, is full disclosure by the owners of Malaysian Airlines -- the Malaysian government holds a majority stake --of information about possible causes of such an accident. Mr. Goodfellow would like to know about the cargo MH370 might have been carrying. Walt has seen suggestions ranging from a large quantity of gold -- good reason for a hijacking -- to crates of mangosteens -- not such a good reason.

And what about failure to properly maintain the aircraft or correct deficiencies which caused at least one crash previously? Mr. Goodfellow refers to procedures by which aircraft manufacturers and regulators handle design flaws and other problems revealed by the operation of airliners. Service Bulletins issued by manufacturers, and Airworthiness Directives issued by regulators keep the industry informed.

The Boeing 777 has had its share of such notices. Two in particular are relevant to MH370: one involving a short-circuit in the hose feeding emergency oxygen to the crew, and one warning of possible rupturing of the aircraft pressure vessel due to the mounting of a satellite communications antenna.

The former was responsible for a well-documented accident (fortunately on the ground at Cairo) involving an Egyptair 777. The resultant fire destroyed the cabin and burned a hole through the plane, and would have been catastrophic if it had occurred in mid-air. The satellite antenna issue could also be fatal, tearing the aircraft’s skin and resulting in rapid depressurisation. It is time, Mr. Goodfellow says, for the Malaysian authorities to show that checks and modifications regarding these issues were complied with.

Walt agrees. And if the Malaysian authorities produce logs and records and reports showing that the plane was in tiptop condition, and carrying no dangerous cargo, so much the better, for such disclosure could only reinforce the theory that MH370 was hijacked and taken to parts unknown by ___________ ... you fill in the blank.

FOLLOW-UP - If you're following all the twists and turns in the MH370 saga, you must read "Aussie officials now say maybe MH370 WAS hijacked" (June 30th)

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