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.