Welcome back. Round Two.
The captain did it. There was simply no one else on board that aircraft with the authority, the opportunity, an array of possible motives, and the knowledge to carry out such a perfect and, for want of a better word, elegant crime. Experienced, competent, trusted—in other words, the perfect villain.
During the aftermath, there was much discussion, mostly by the talking heads on CNN, along the lines of the traditional solidness, accountability, and trustworthiness of pilots, the professionals tasked with the safe handling of approximately 700,000 worldwide daily passengers. If true, how could this pilot do such a thing? they wondered. Aren’t pilots screened regularly for their mental state, etc.? Should this pilot not have been caught beforehand? The short answer is no. Pilots are people, certainly, and while they may act more responsibly then some other professionals in their daily lives, there is a very big reason for this. Let’s face some facts. After all the hours of training, the enormous costs, working your way up from “the minors” to “the Bigs,” being the newbie at the bottom of the seniority list, the simulators, the interviews, the psych tests, and the medicals, when the big bucks finally start to roll in, the vast majority of pro pilots avoid behaving in any manner that would jeopardize what is still viewed as one of the most sought-after professions in the world.
We all know there are exceptions to the rule, to the norm. The captain of MH370, the perpetrator in this theory, was either mentally unstable, seriously troubled by something, or a stone-cold murderer who then took his own life. There was a report that his wife had left him shortly before the flight and unsubstantiated rumours about mistress “issues.” An additional stressor may have concerned politics. Allegedly, the captain was very upset about the conviction and incarceration of the Malaysian opposition party leader, Anwar Ibrahim. The theory involves him calling the Malaysian prime minister using the aircraft satellite (SAT) phone after seizing sole control of the aircraft and demanding Ibrahim’s release (or similar) under threat of deliberately crashing the plane. We’ll never know for sure—one, two, or a combination of the three factors above could have contributed to his motivation. The possibilities are endless.
Whatever his reasons, he also wanted to cover up the crime. My guess is that he wanted to commit suicide while sparing his family the shame and enabling them to collect his life insurance. And unless evidence is found and proven otherwise, murder/suicide must be ruled out. Therefore, any insurance policy remains valid. I posit that this was a careful crafting of a successful crime by a troubled but determined soul.
The simulator in the captain’s basement was, in my opinion, a bit weird. For a newbie pilot, a flying enthusiast, a hobbyist, or a heavy jet-pilot wannabe, I could understand. But for a pilot with his amount of experience? Why? He may have used it to plan this event. But again, we’ll never know.
The flight originated in Kuala Lumpur. In most airlines, the captain will fly the first leg of any new “pairing” or planned sequence of flights with his assigned crew. A “pairing”, at least at my old airline simply meant the “pairing” of a crew with a series of planned flight legs that could span several days. A good one (and tiring!) that I well remember was Toronto-Heathrow, Heathrow-Ottawa, Ottawa-Heathrow, Heathrow-Toronto. It spanned six days and we were whacked when it was over.
The Captain taking the first outbound leg would be especially true at night, to an airport with which his F/O was unfamiliar or with any newbie on the aircraft. Usually, flight legs are flown alternately as a courtesy to both allow the F/O to gain flying experience and to share the load, but the captain can fly every leg of the trip if he wants to. It’s his airplane, and he’s lord and master of all he surveys, consigning his F/O to pulling the gear and flaps, working the radios and keeping the flight logs. By always flying the first leg of a new pairing, the captain sets the tone on the flight deck for how the show will be run. The routine works very well.
The flight departed and climbed on course for the five or six hour flight to Beijing. After the climb to altitude and level off (thirty to forty-five minutes after takeoff depending on weight and local air temperature), the F/O would call ATC to report that they were level at their assigned altitude. The captain would then call for the level-off check, a routine scanning of all the flight deck instrument and control panels done by the PNF (pilot not flying—in this case the F/O), making sure that all was where it should be, that the many sets of altimeters, compasses, airspeed indicators, etc. were set correctly and agreed with one other. They also confirm that the autopilot is doing precisely what it has been ordered to—level flight at a set speed and altitude on a programmed flight routing. All was well, but was about to change in dramatic fashion.
Happy 150th Canada! Have a great weekend. Until next week, over 'n out.
Welcome back. After promising to do this for some time, I've finally started. Below is the first installment in a series covering my theory of the disappearance of MH370. Even though it's now rather old news, the story is still compelling. Enjoy, and feel free to poke holes in it in the comment section. You may find it a challenge!
The Disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 (MH370)
Nine-eleven isn’t much of a mystery anymore. A devastating surprise attack on the United States, much death, destruction, and aftershocks to the world in general and the airline industry in particular. It changed everything in that it was the first instance since the Kamikaze pilots in the Pacific theatre of World War II that airplanes were used as manned suicide bombs in a coordinated attack. What follows is a theory about an event that is a lessor tragedy in terms of loss of life but, unlike 9/11, remains a mystery unsolved and unresolved to this day: the disappearance and loss of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370.
It takes the form of an opinion wrapped in speculation with some dramatization thrown in. Nonetheless, my theory remains, as do all others to date, speculation only. Since initially writing this shortly after the disappearance, the German Wings Airline murder-suicide tragedy occurred adding some credence to what follows. Also, a B-777 flaperon has been found, but it has not yet been determined how it separated from the aircraft or whether it is actually from MH370.
The disappearance of this aircraft and the presumptive loss of all souls on board is, in my opinion, the most compelling, tragic, and mysterious aircraft incident in history. Even more so than the famous Emilia Earhart saga because none of our modern tracking wizardry and technology made the grade and the villain (there is one) foiled the most sophisticated search equipment on the planet. If the passengers and crew were murdered in the way I am about to posit, then the security frenzy aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks must shoulder partial blame. Why? It is because of the (obviously flawed) airline flight deck security and access protocols. Whenever there is a team of two individuals who can both do the same task with equal competence, and both have the ability to physically isolate themselves from the other, then these kinds of tragedies are not only possible but they will continue to occur. As mentioned in my book “Flight Lines”, this type of crime cannot occur at El Al (Israel) due to their highly modified aircraft that physically separates passengers and flight attendants from the pilots with no possibility of contact for the duration of the flight. This also eliminates the possibility of (or the need for) one pilot isolating himself from the other as the pilots have their own lav and galley services. There are no lockable doors in their flight “suites” simply because there is no need for them. (But they have to fetch their own coffee!)
First, who did not do it and what did not happen.
All listed passengers and crew on board (and we can provisionally assume their families and extended families) were investigated and exonerated.
All Malaysian airport personnel, Malaysian Airline pilots, flight attendants, and ground personnel who had come within a country mile of the aircraft in the prior month were also investigated and cleared of any wrongdoing.
No groups or organizations—political, religious, criminal, family, rebel, partisan, terrorist, Chinese or Malaysian government rival factions—have claimed responsibility for the incident.
No ransom demand was ever made, ending speculation that the aircraft was hijacked and hidden away at some jungle airstrip.
The first officer was engaged to be married and could afford to do so thanks to his new and more lucrative position on the B-777. Any pilot recently engaged to be married and so new on such a remarkable machine would be excited enough about just doing his job and looking forward to his wedding day and a new life with his future bride. He would not be planning the crime of the century. It was not him.
Flight MH370 did not explode; if it had exploded, large pieces would’ve been found by now.
It did not catch fire; airplanes that have major fires don’t fly on unaffected for six hours and even minor fires cause frightened crews to head for the nearest strip of concrete as fast as they can go.
But, the most telling fact of all was the complete absence of distress calls; neither by radio, nor by data link nor by transponder. This fact is crucial, and quickly narrows the field of possibilities. If there was smoke, a fire, explosion, serious malfunction of any kind, or any attempts to storm the flight deck, any flight crew innocent of wrongdoing or complicity would’ve told somebody—anybody—that they were in distress. Crews and controllers also have transponder codes and plain voice radio code words that can surreptitiously convey duress or high-jacking to their ATC controllers. They didn’t use them because none of the above happened. This was an inside job.
Until next time, over 'n out.
Welcome back. In my first post, I stated that I may comment on this or that or put forward an opinion by way of this journal. Here's one for you.
During my career, I have read some awful news reporting about most things to do with aviation from the MSM. I get that they have to sell papers, that bad/sensational/scandalous news sells, you always hear about the plane crash, never about the successful landings...that never sells papers. As Don Henley famously sang "Give us dirty laundry!" But when "things aviation" reporting gets so sensational (and so wrong) it really annoys me.
Case in point. Just shortly after my first post, there came a breathless news report about some nut bar passenger who had tried to open an aircraft entry door in flight. The report, written by someone who knows nothing about it and probably in all innocence
(or maybe I should say in all ignorance) created vivid readers' "mind's eye" visions of horror as the door would burst open and the bad guy, the struggling flight attendants trying to stop him and the first 4 rows of business class passengers are sucked from their seats to scream and plummet to their deaths into the oceans below. Wow. Pure Hollywood eh? There are enough nervous flyers to go around thank you. This BS only creates more.
Some technical background; Airplanes are pressurized using sophisticated controls so that passengers can travel at high altitudes without the need for oxygen masks. We all know this. The actual process is very simple. Oceans of clean "outside" air are pumped into the aircraft cabin using engine power. This air is conditioned, cooled or heated as required using AC units, heat exchangers etc for passenger comfort. What pressurizes the aircraft is the rate that the air is let out. In other words, cabin pressure is maintained at a certain level by outflow valves (some are as big as man hole covers, the B-747-400 had two if I remember.) that slowly open or close as required to keep the pressure to a programmed schedule for maximum passenger comfort. The point is this. Aircraft doors are called "plug type doors" They do open out on the ground, but before they can do that they must open in. And at seven to nine pounds per square inch typical of a pressurized cabin at altitude, the math works out to about 2500 to 3000 pounds of pressure keeping that door in its place. Arnold himself could not budge it. It's pretty easy to pull an old rubber stopper out of a bathtub drain with a foot of water in it. Imagine the drain is 100 feet under water. Same principle as an airline jet "plug-type" door. Unless the airplane is almost completely depressurized, that door isn't going anywhere without a fight. Relax. Until next time, over n' out.