Pilot Suicides: Fact vs Fiction

19 Sep 14 28 Comments

There’s been a lot of news reports about Ewan Wilson’s “breakthrough” that the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight 370 must have been a case of pilot suicide, specifically the Captain. The arguments in favour of this are poorly justified and Malaysia Airlines have already responded with a harsh rebuttal.

Malaysia Airlines slams authors for lies, falsehoods in book on MH370 – The Malaysian Insider

There is no evidence to support any of the claims made in the book, which is a product of pure conjecture for the purposes of profit by the authors and publishers.

Neither Wilson nor Taylor were involved in the investigation into the disappearance of MH370, yet they have offered an analysis beyond their knowledge and abilities.

They should both be ashamed of themselves for what is nothing more than a cheap and maligned publicity stunt.

One of the claims by Ewan Wilson which is making headlines is that he “found” five flights which he believes were also caused by suicidal pilots.

To clarify, to “find” these cases, you just need to go to the Aviation Safety Network, where there is a list of aircraft accidents caused by pilot suicide. ASN lists nine cases there but Wilson is clearly talking about commercial pilots carrying passengers. That leaves us with five cases, all totally documented.

Each of these five commercial pilots flying a scheduled passenger service is believed (by some investigating bodies, although not all) to have committed suicide, taking their aircraft and their passengers with them: an especially horrifying type of mass murder.

I considered this theory in The Mystery of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 but as this is currently in the headlines, I decided take a better look at the five cases in question.

1982: Japan Airlines Flight 350

The first example is at best a failed suicide although I’m not sure it’s fair to say that the Captain intended to kill himself or his passengers.

On the 9th of February in 1982, Japan Airlines Flight 350 departed nine minutes late for its scheduled domestic flight from Fukuoka to Tokyo. The aircraft, registered as JA8061, was a DC-8-61 with 166 passengers and 8 crew on board. The flight crew consisted of the 35-year-old Captain, the First Officer and the Flight Engineer.

The flight proceeded normally from there until the final approach.

08:35 Flight 350 was given clearance to land and the wheels were dropped and flaps set ready for landing.

08:44:01 At about two hundred feet above the ground, the Captain suddenly turned the autopilot off, pressed his controls forward and deliberately engaged the thrust reversers of two of the engines.

These means that he reversed the flow of the engines so that the exhaust is directed forward, which is used in combination with the brakes to slow the aircraft upon landing. Reverse thrust on a jet is always selected manually, usually immediately after touchdown. They are not normally ever used in flight and many modern commercial aircraft cannot use reverse thrust in flight.

The DC-8 was one of few aircraft designed to allow for reverse thrust in the air — some military aircraft have also been able to safely deploy thrust reversers in flight in order to increase manoeuvrability, however the Concorde and the DC-8 may have been the only commercial jets to allow this. On the DC-8, the thrust reversers could be fully engaged on engines 2 and 3 in flight once the gear was down but many (most?) airlines prohibit the use of in-flight reverse even when the aircraft is certified for it. The effect would be rapid deceleration and a rapid loss of altitude.

Passengers reported that the aircraft nose dropped suddenly.

The First Officer immediately pulled back on the stick and the flight engineer struggled to pull the Captain away from the controls. Japanese television reported that the First Officer shouted “Captain, what are you doing?” while the engineer fought to gain control of the thrust control lever. However, the lack of thrust put the aircraft into a nose dive and they were too close to the ground to regain control. Eight seconds later, the aircraft hit the water.

08:44:07 The aircraft crashed into Tokyo Bay 510 metres short of the runway threshold.

Twenty-four passengers died in the crash. Initially, it was reported that the Captain had been killed in the impact. However, soon after they discovered that he had discarded his uniform and had been picked up in one of the first rescue boats, telling rescuers that he was an office worker.

The news soon came out that he had been suffering from mental issues and had been put on leave for a year for for mental (“psychosomatic”) issues. After the event, his flight crew from the previous day reported that he had been acting oddly.

Troubled Pilot – TIME

The revelations that appeared in the Japanese press last week painted a chilling portrait of a pilot with a troubled psyche. There were claims that Seiji Katagiri had been suffering from hallucinations and feelings of depression. He once summoned police to his two-story house near Tokyo because he was convinced it was bugged, but a thorough search turned up no eavesdropping devices. On three occasions, his employers had urged him to see a psychiatrist.

The Captain was arrested for “professional negligence resulting in deaths” but was found to be not guilty by reason of insanity.

1994: Royal Air Maroc Flight 630

This was the most difficult of the cases to research as there is very little information online.

On the 21st of August in 1994, Royal Air Maroc flight 630 departed Agadir Al Massira Airport on a scheduled domestic flight to Casablanca. The ATR 42/72 twin turboprop, registration CN-CDT, held 40 passengers and 4 crew.

The aircraft departed at 19:00 local time and began its climb. About ten minutes after the departure at 11,480 feet feet, the aircraft suddenly entered a steep dive and crashed into the Atlas Mountains about 30 kilometres (20 miles) north of the airfield.

The investigation concluded that the pilot disconnected the autopilot and then deliberately flew towards the ground. The First Officer made an immediate call on the radio, screaming “Help, help, the Captain is…” but her call was cut off as the aircraft impacted the ground.

A statement at the time by the Transport Minister stated that the accident was “due to the deliberate will of the pilot who wished to end his life.”

The Moroccan Pilot’s Union originally disputed the suicide explanation stating that there was no evidence that the pilot was disturbed or had any grounds to kill himself. The cockpit voice recorder was published in France and apparently confirms the initial reports of the sequence of events. The final investigation report was meant to explain this more thoroughly but there is no copy of the report online. However, the union did not make any further arguments after their initial statement and there appears to be no remaining doubt that the Captain of the flight deliberately took control of the aircraft in order to kill himself and everyone on board.

1997 SilkAir Flight 185

The next case has been the subject of two investigations and considerable controversy. The timeline below is taken from the official report released by the Indonesian National Transportation Safety Committee.

On the 19th December in 1997, SilkAir flight 185 departed for its scheduled flight from Jakarta, Indonesia to Singapore with 97 passengers and 7 crew members on board. The aircraft was a Boeing 737-300 registered as 9V-TRF. It was less than a year old and the newest aircraft in SilkAir’s fleet.

08:37 UTC (15:37 local time) SilkAir flight 185 departed Soekarno-Hatta airport in Jakarta for an 80-minute flight to Singapore and began its climb out. The Captain was the Pilot Flying.

08:53 The aircraft reached its cruising altitude of FL350 (35,000 feet) and the flight crew was cleared direct to waypoint PARDI and told to report when abeam Palembang.

09:04:57 The Captain stated that he was going to go to the passenger cabin. Several metallic snapping sounds were recorded, which the NTSB believe were sounds made by the seatbelt buckle.

09:05:15 The cockpit voice recorder stopped recording

09:10:18 ATC informed SilkAir flight 185 that they were abeam Palembang and to contact Singapore Control when at waypoint PARDI.

09:10:26 The First Officer acknowledged this call. This means we have confirmation that the First Officer was in the cockpit at this time. No distress call was ever made or any sign given that there might be an issue with the aircraft.

09:11:33 The Flight Data Recorder stopped recording.

This was 6 minutes and 18 seconds after the CVR stoppage and approximately 35.5 seconds before the aircraft started its descent. Up to the point at which it shut down, the FDR showed no indications of unusual disturbance or other events affecting the flight.

09:12:09 Jakarta ATC radar recording showed the aircraft still in the cruise at FL350

09:12:17 Jakarta ATC radar recording showed that the aircraft had descended by 400 feet. The aircraft then went into a nearly vertical dive.

09:12:41 Jakarta ATC radar recording showed the aircraft passing through FL195 – in less than thirty seconds, the aircraft had descended 15,500 feet. That averages to 645 feet per second or 38,750 feet per minute.

A normal descent in a Boeing 737 would be around 1,500-2,500 feet per minute. After twenty four seconds, the aircraft began to disintegrate.

In less than a minute, the aircraft crashed into the Musi River. In the final seconds before impact it was travelling faster than the speed of sound.

There was no evidence of any malfunction which would explain why the recorders stopped recording nor why the aircraft would go into such a steep and fast descent. The radio continued to work, showing that there was not a general power failure in the cockpit. However, without the Flight Data Recorder, we have no definitive proof of what happened on the aircraft.

The Indonesian National Transportation Safety Committee reported that it could not determine a cause of the crash due to inconclusive evidence.

The NTSB held its own unofficial investigation. US investigators concluded that the recorders were intentionally disabled to hide a deliberate action to crash the aircraft, most likely by the captain who left the cockpit to disable the circuit breakers and then returned and manually held down the control inputs for nose-down flight at full speed.

1999: EgyptAir Flight 990

EgyptAir flight 990 was a regularly scheduled flight from Los Angeles to Cairo with a stopover in New York. The aircraft was a Boeing 767-300ER, registration SU-GAP, with 203 passengers and 14 crew on board.

On the 31st of October 1999, the flight departed JFK airport in New York at 01:22 local time as a scheduled international flight.

Again, the situation on this flight is convoluted and there were two investigations. Initially the Egyptian Civil Aviation Authority, who had jurisdiction over the accident, delegated the investigation to the NTSB in the US. The NTSB began their investigation but then proposed handing the investigation to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as their evidence suggested the aircraft crash was intentional rather than accidental. The Egyptian Civil Aviation Authority refused and the NTSB continued their investigation which continued to point to a deliberate action by a crew member. However, the Egyptian Civil Aviation Authority believed that the NTSB was not sharing information and stated that they often learned of the NTSB’s views in the press. The Egyptian investigators had access to the data collected by the NTSB and launched their own investigation which concluded that the crash was caused by mechanical failure.

This is the first accident ever where I’ve been unsure as to which report is the official investigation.

The general sequence of events on the flight is agreed by both parties and I have used both reports for reference.

01:26:35 EgyptAir flight 990 contacted New York Centre and continued to climb to FL230 as they flew out over the Atlantic.

01:35:52 EgyptAir flight 990 was cleared for a cruising altitude of FL330, roughly 33,000 feet above sea level.

01:40 The Relief First Officer suggested that he relieve the Command First Officer at the controls, stating “I’m not going to sleep at all. I might come and sit for two hours, and then…” that is, offering to fly his portion of the trip at that time. After some discussion and catty comments, they agreed that the Relief First Officer would get some food and then start his shift. The Relief Officer appeared to have taken the First Officer seat within the next few minutes.

01:41:52 An oceanic clearance was issued and acknowledged by the flight crew.

01:47:18 New York Centre requested that EgyptAir flight 990 change frequencies.

01:47:39 EgyptAir flight 990 changed frequencies and the Captain reported in with “EgyptAir ah, nine nine zero heavy, good morning” on the new frequency. This was the last transmission to ATC from the aircraft.

01:48:03 The Captain said to the Relief First Officer, “Excuse me [RFO nickname], while I take a quick trip to the toilet.” The Relief First Officer responded with “Go ahead please.”

After the Captain left the cockpit, sound was recorded in the cockpit which included human speech but it was not possible to identify who was speaking or what the words were.

01:48:34 A click and a thump was reported, followed by the Relief First Officer saying “I rely on God.”

10:49:45 EgyptAir flight 990 was cruising on a heading of 080 at 33,000 feet when the autopilot was disengaged, almost certainly manually and intentionally, as there was no aural warning. The aircraft remained in level flight for about eight seconds when the Relief First Officer said again, “I rely on God”.

01:49:53 The throttle levers were moved from cruise power to idle and an abrupt nose-down elevator movement was recorded. The aircraft pitched nose down and began a fast descent. The Relief First Officer repeated his statement of “I rely on God” another seven times.

01:50:06 The Captain returned to the cockpit and said “What’s happening? What’s happening?” The elevator movements continued and the aircraft began to pitch down.

01:50:08 The aircraft exceeded its maximum operating airspeed. The Relief Officer repeated again “I rely on God” and the Captain, “What’s happening?”

01:50:20 The aircraft descended to 21,000 feet and the elevator movements changed to a nose up direction, which the NTSB believes were the result of the captain making nose-up flight control inputs. The aircraft’s rate of descent began to decrease. That’s when the left and right elevator surfaces began to move in opposite directions. The aircraft’s elevator had split.

Up until this time, the elevator surface movements were slightly offset but consistent (that is, both were moved in the same direction at the same time). This is where the reports diverge: the Egyptian report concludes that the mechanical failure already existed before the aircraft left New York for Cairo and eventually caused the aircraft to go out of control. They state that the Relief First Officer disconnected the autopilot after observing some unusual movement of the column and throughout was trying to regain level flight. The US report concludes that the dive was initiated by the Relief First Officer and the resulting stresses on the aircraft, specifically the two pilots applying force on the control column in opposite directions, caused the elevator split.

01:50:35 At 16,000 feet, the Flight Data Recorder and the Cockpit Voice Recorder ceased recording. Radar recordings showed that the aircraft climbed again, this time to approx 24,000 feet and then entered a final dive into the ocean. During the dive, the aircraft reached an estimated airspeed of 0.99 Mach and experienced g-forces from +0.98 to -0.227 before it crashed into the ocean.

2013: Mozambique Airlines Flight 470

On the 29th of November in 2013, the regularly scheduled Mozambique Airlines flight departed from Maputo International Airport to Luanda, Angola with 6 crew and 28 passengers onboard. The flight progressed normally and the aircraft was in contact with Gaborone Area Air Traffic Control and cruising at 38,000 feet. Radar showed that the aircraft, an Embraer EMB-190, suddenly started descending at 6,000 feet per minute and then disappeared. The aircraft did not arrive at Luanda, where it was scheduled to arrive about 90 minutes later and there were no reports of unscheduled landings anywhere in the region of the route.

Search and Rescue teams found the wreckage in the Mbwabwata National Park the following day and recovered the black box with the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder. The Flight Data Recorder revealed that the aircraft had no mechanical faults. However, it also showed unexpected configuration changes in the cockpit.

A few minutes before the crash, the First Officer left the cockpit and went to the washroom.

The captain, alone in the cockpit, manually selected the aircraft flight altitude three times. He changed the flight altitude from their cruising altitude of 38,000 feet to 592 feet. The elevation around this time was over 3,000 feet, making the final flight altitude selection below ground level.

Then the auto-throttle was re-engaged. With the steep descent, the throttle level automatically retarded, setting the power to idle. The Captain manually selected the airspeed and set it to the maximum operating speed of the aircraft.

There was no evidence of accidental configuration. All of these actions displayed a clear understanding of how the automatic flight systems worked and with clear intent.

The autopilot was on and the aircraft hurtled to the ground. During this time, various warnings and alarm chimes could be heard sounding in the cockpit but the Captain did not appear to take any notice of them. Then there was the loud sound of banging on the cockpit door with demands to be let into the cockpit. The spoilers were deployed and held until the end of the recordings, proving that the aircraft was under human control as it descended at 6,000 feet per minute.

From the preliminary report:

All action observed from the recorders requires knowledge of the aircraft’s automatic flight systems as the entire descent was performed with the autopilot engaged. This displays a clear intent. The reason for all these actions is unknown and the investigation is still ongoing.

The aircraft crashed into the border area between Botswana and Namibia at high speed. There were no survivors.

The final report has not yet been published but if it is not complete by the one year anniversary of the accident, an interim report should be released with updates as to their progress.

Conclusion

Note that in every instance, if we accept that each of these was in fact an intentional suicide, the pilot chose to take control of the aircraft and crash it immediately. This is a huge contrast to Wilson’s theory:

‘Suicidal pilots killed 600 people’ says expert ahead of Birmingham event – Birmingham Mail

Mr Wilson believes that pilot Shah shut his co-pilot, Fariq Hamid, out of the cockpit on flight MH370, then shut off all communication and turned the aircraft around, veering off course.

He then depressurised the plane, and once the cabin crew and passengers’ oxygen had run out, they died from hypoxia.
The accident investigator believes that the pilot then made eight different course changes before finally allowing MH370 to fly on auto-pilot for the last few hours of its journey into the southern Indian Ocean.

The Australian Transport Safety Board published a report which is referenced as a part of the theory, because they stated that the final period of the flight appeared to fit the characteristics of an unresponsive crew/hypoxia event. However, the idea that the Captain was in control and deliberately disabled the passengers and crew in order to fly on autopilot until the aircraft ran out of fuel is quite a step beyond that and certainly not a theory that the ATSB, or any other investigating body, has put forward as viable.

The five pilot suicide/murder cases cited all show a clear course of action by the pilots: gain control of the aircraft and crash it as quickly as possible.

In no instance has a pilot ever tried to disable flight crew, cabin crew and hundreds of passengers and then fly the aircraft on autopilot until it ran out of fuel before gently guiding it into the water. It makes for a lovely Hollywood ending but in a real-world tragedy, it’s all plot and not enough facts.


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28 Comments

  • My compliments Sylvia. Very well put. Non-verified facts are clearly identified, you are clear, concise, factual and impartial.
    Chilling reading, though. I could never have done anything like it and fortunately very, very few pilots could.

  • Sylvia my compliments and you are correct that MH370 does not fit the profile of known or suspected previous suicide flights.

    Personally I would add that some serious question marks hang over Egyptair 990, Royal Air Muroc 630 and Silk Air 185 whether indeed these were pilot suicides at all?

    Electical failure or sabotaged maintenance of electrical systems in other incidents are known to have produced similar divergent, uncommanded manouveres.

    Similar non-suicide experiences:

    TAM Flight 8091 Miami to Sao Paulo on a 21 May 2009 ADIRU loss of data and autopilot disconnected.

    Northwest Airlines Flight NW8 from Hong Kong to Tokyo on a 23 June 2009 ADIRU loss of data and autopilot disconnected.

    Jetstar Flight JQ7 from Sydney to Ho Chi Minh City on 7 February 2008, suffered intermittent ADIRU power supply failure before disabling the unit.

    Qantas Flight QF72 Airbus A330, departed Singapore for Perth on 7 October 2008. Whilst cruising at 37,000 ft, an ADIRU failure led to the autopilot automatically disengaging (identical to Egyptair 990) followed by two sudden uncommanded pitch down manoeuvres.

    Qantas Flight QF71 from Perth to Singapore, on 27 December 2008. ADIRU failure forced an autopilot disconnection at 36,000ft.

    Qantas Flight QF68, Airbus A330 registration VH-QPA, from Hong Kong to Perth on 12 September 2006 crew suffered intermittent ADIRU power supply failure before disabling the unit.

    Alitalia Airbus A320-200 ADIRU failures from Milan whilst on approach to Heathrow on 25 June 2005.

    Malaysia Airlines Flight 124, from Perth to Kuala Lumpur on 1 August 2005, ADIRU fault resulted in violent uncommanded manoeuvres by the aircraft acting on false indications. Pilots had to disconnect autopilot and reduce altitude to fly aircraft by manually.

    Aircraft Manufacturers are in denial that there are serious issues with fly-by wire systems controlling aircraft and are on a binge of blaming pilots for what are really unresolved and unidentified engineering issues.

  • Simon, you are quite right. But I think Sylvia did not go that way, it will go too far into the realm of the unknown and outside the remit of her excellent article.
    Insofar as the blame game is concerned: this is I reckon as old as the time when air accident investigations started.
    If you are a manufacturer of aircraft or components, and you can wrangle it: call it “pilot error”.

  • A really excellent article, Sylvia, though as Rudy notes, it does make chilling reading. I agree with your conclusion that it’s unlikely Captain Zaharie used MH370 as a means to commit suicide. Aside from anything else, this was a man who clearly enjoyed helping others, who cared about people. I’m not a psychologist, but it doesn’t seem likely that he’d plan to take the lives so many others along with his own. Pure speculation on my part, I know! :)

  • Yes I understand that Sylvia’s remit is limited in scope.

    I am trying to put the case for the alternative explanation that electrical failure may have explained the loss of transponder contact and also ACARS before it re-booted at 18:25 UTC.

    If electrical failure led to a cockpit fire then that might also explain a change of direction and long flight on autopilot to the southern arc of satellite pings in the Indian Ocean.

    I note that the alleged military radar image of an aircraft flying through the Straits of Malacca shown at the Lido Hotel, Beijing does not come from a Thales Raytheon GM400 radar display and appears to have been a hoaxed image published by the Malaysian Government through PR consultant Ketchum.

    Suffice to say the facts do not add up to support a claim of pilot suicide.

  • I’ve seen a lot of discussion of that theory but I just can’t imagine a scenario where an uncontrolled fire takes out communications and knocks out the crew, and yet the aircraft happily continues on autopilot for hours.

  • Fair question Sylvia. Please allow me to step you through that?

    You might like to look up Wikipedia for Nigeria Airways Flight 2120, a Canadian charter DC-8 which took off from Jeddah with an under-inflated burning tyre. It quickly caused an intense cabin fire which melted through the hull.

    The difference with that flight was that it occurred at very low altitude. Had the same blaze occurred in the cabin of MH370 at 35,000ft as soon as the fire melted the skin of the Boeing pressurised air would have rushed out until pressure inside was equalised with extremely low air pressure outside. In the process that fire would flicker then die out from oxygen starvation leaving the aircraft intact on autopilot.

    Ho Chi Minh said they saw it disappear off their radar from waypoint BITOD which is northeast of IGARI.

    MH370’s transponder return stopped immediately after the turn was made to BITOD and speed was varied between 473kt and 471kt.

    This implies an electrical failure, not deliberate action. So put yourself in the place of pilots flying in darkness at 35,000ft. All their Nav Comms has blinked off. They were pointed at BITOD and being a wise old Captain Zaharie knew their route towards BITOD also continued to a radio beacon at Con Son Island where he could get a navigation fix to fly back to the bright lights of Singapore for an emergency landing.

    He has an ADF radio compass (VHF/DME) so he elects to keep flying to Con Son Island and there he will make a turn for the appropriate heading back to Singapore. Up to this point perhaps there is no awareness of a fire building in the avionics bay beneath the cockpit?

    The autopilot is designed to be uninterrupted by power surges. Zaharie inputs either waypoints for Con Son and then for Singapore, or else when they reach con son he inputs the new magnetic heading back to Singapore.

    They reach Con Son at 1:49am based on calculating the speed and distance back to IGARI, then as the aircraft turns in sight of an oil rig off the coast of Vietnam a fire breaks out in the cockpit. It is a huge inferno and in less than 30 seconds breaches a hole in the side of their fuselage. All the cabin air rushes out and maybe the pilots are badly burned. they have just 30 seconds of useful consciousness and fail to get oxygen masks on, or perhaps their oxygen masks have melted in the blaze?

    The aircraft turns towards Singapore with the autopilot faithfully holding the last heading given to it.

    It flies directly over Singapore with no transponder and simply isn’t noticed, thn continues across Sumatra over the Indian Ocean. From Con Son island it flies for another 5.5 hours exactly until fuel runs out.

    If you plot this scenario to a map fuel exhaustion on this precise heading runs out precisely where the last satellite ping was detected over the southern arc.

    That is an example how a plane could both suffer a fire at altitude and keep flying on autopilot.

    Hope that helps Sylivia? I do not believe for one minute in pilot suicide.

  • Simon, a few questions.

    1. Why, in your scenario, would Capt. Zaharie try fly to Singapore, which lies to the south of the route he was flying, rather than back to his base in Kuala Lumpur?

    2. If there was the kind of intense blaze you’re describing, hot enough to burn through the fuselage, then wouldn’t the flight crew oxygen tanks and pax oxygen canisters have ignited and caused a huge explosion?

    3. The aircraft made at least one other turn, to its final southerly direction, somewhere over the Straits of Malacca. How is that possible in your scenario?

  • Anna good questions:

    (1) the mountainous spine of Malaysia is the Titiwangsa mountain range with six peaks over 7,000ft. If you lost all your navigational instruments at night due to electrical surges would you really descend towards Kuala Lumpur surrounded by mountains, or towards Singapore which is brightly lit and relatively flat?

    (2) Not necessarily. I have seen photos of Egyptair 667 cockpit blaze at Cairo in 2011 and the ABX Boeing 767 cockpit blaze at SFO in 2008 and although both involved melted oxygen hoses feeding an intense blaze neither resulted in rupture of the oxygen cylinders. remember it would take less than a minute to melt through the hull and from then on oxygen deprivation would begin to extinguish the fire.
    I recommend that you Google images for both flights I have mentioned to judge for yourself.

    (3) I addressed this in an earlier post that the radar image which Malaysia claims showed MH370 in the Straits from military radar at Butterworth, was not the screen of a real Thales Raytheon GM400 radar. The image appears photo-shopped from a civil SSR radar screen, therefore a hoax.

    The so called satellite ping track (Burst Offset Frequency/BOF) is calculated by vector addition from MEKAR (north of Aceh). If the base assumption is based on a hoax radar image, then those like the Duncan Steel group who have tried to plot the path from Satellite pings have gotten it gloriously wrong.

    The BOF chart of INMARSAT data is itself discredited because the amplitude readings were inverted by retransmission of the data back to earth by INMARSAT and the Exner BOF chart which reverses the error is the only credible one.

    I do not know if you have followed Duncan Steel’s calculations but they can’t make a satellite ping track from MEKAR work by flying a magnetic heading on autopilot between 18:22 and 00:11 UTC because in the time elapsed the aircraft will overfly the southern arc on a magnetic heading by several hundred miles east of the Southern Arc?

    The autopilot could have done so by a great circle track, but only if there was a waypoint to fly to and there are no waypoints in the southern Indian ocean anywhere near the Southern Arc where it would have been at 00:11UTC

    I hope these explanations make some sense and I am happy to filed questions?

  • I should add Anna that my scenario is that MH370 flew towards Con Son island off the coast of Vietnam where it would have been in sight of the oil rig worker Mike McKay. Then initiated a turn on autopilot towards Singapore, but over flew that city as a ghost flight after suffering decompression caused by a cockpit blaze.

    My scenario rejects claims that MH370 flew west through the Straits of Malacca entirely.

    My scenario maintains it flew south from Con Son Island for 5.5 hours in a relatively straight line until fuel was exhausted.

    Incidentally there is almost no lateral distance between the satellite ping at 00:11 UTC and the partial ping at 00:19 UTC. This implies that one engine ran out of fuel first and that it descended in a spiral over one spot.

  • Assuming Simon’s scenario:
    Still an unexplained mystery is the apparently simultaneous loss of transponder return, total and instant crew incapacitation, simultaneously a total loss of communications and a (series of) of heading change(s) exactly in a position where ATC hand-over was supposed to take place between ATC centres in different jurisdictions, so a delay in resuming communications would not raise immediate concerns. Added to that there seems to even have been a possibly change of flight level. Yet after all that the aircraft appears to revert to a stable flying condition and remain airborne for many hours whilst avoiding all efforts to locate it.
    No effort to make a “Mayday” call, nothing, total silence.
    No, it does not make sense except that I still think that this was an extremely well-planned and executed hijack but yet something did not go according to the hijackers’ plans. Will we ever know ? Amelia Earhart has never been found and this aircraft

  • Not Correct Rudy:

    Simultaneous loss of communication & Transponder is caused by electrical failures.

    Pilot incapacitation is caused by a fire which also resulted from the same electrical problems starting a fire. melting the hull and causing decompression at 35,000ft.

  • Rudy perhaps you are unaware that the US Navy listening station VTBU-Rayong in Thailand did pick up a distress call from MH370.

    It was reported by the China Times newspaper on 8 March 2014. In the call pilots were heard to say they intended to make an immediate landing because their cabin faced disintegration.

    Tape recordings of this distress call were provided to Malaysia by the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur. On the basis of this distress call the sea between IGARI and Thailand off the coast of Cambodia near Thao Chu island were the subject of extensive searching.

    The NSA delcined to release those tapes to an FOIA request by Lawyer Orley Taitz citing Executive Order 13526 as the authority.

    You’re also discounting the fact MH370 made VHF contact on 121.5 MHz distress frequency with MH088 and JAL750 after 17:30 UTC whilst those aircraft were over Vietnam.

  • As for the alleged change of flight level Angus Houston is reported by the Malaysia Chronicle on 24 June 2014 stating that after experts of the the JAIC had reviewed radar tapes they can now dismiss claims that MH370 was ever seen climbing to 45,000ft making a U-turn and diving below 23,000ft at IGARI.

    In short the JAIC announced in June that this never happened and MH370 did not turn west.

  • I don’t normally comment on internet drivel, but I think Simon Gunson needs to tell us his expertise and experience before coming up with his fantasy theories. The same applies to all internet “instant experts”.

    I am a current 747 captain and hesitate to speculate on the cause of the MH370 disappearance, because it is almost inexplicable.

    Occam’s razor tells us that, when faced with multiple hypotheses to explain an observed phenomena, the simplest will usually be the correct. In this case, interference from within or without the cockpit seems to be the simplest hypothesis which explains the published data. Even so, that is speculation, albeit perhaps somewhat more informed than most.

    Mr Gunson, an ADF “radio compass” is not “VHF/DME” as you put it, it is an MF radio receiver linked to an automatic direction finding system. This bearing data may be displayed on both pilot’s Navigation Displays or an electromechanical RMI on the Captain’s side. I do not believe that any 777 ever had an RMI installed, although I stand to be corrected on that point. Even so, in your fire scenario (which I find fanciful in the first place) you state the the cockpit would have been dark with “all their Nav/Comms off”, yet somehow they would still have had ADF, which you erroneously refer to as “VHF/DME”. (DME is a totally different radio distance measuring system).

    How? How would it have been displayed? There is no provision to display ADF bearing information on any standby attitude indicator that I am aware of – even the latest ISFD’s fitted to the 300 ER’s don’t have it, so how would the pilots have had any data at all in your scenario? The RMI (if fitted) would be powered from the Main Standby Bus if Boeing followed the same electrical design philosophy for the 777 as the 747 (which I can’t say), but the main standby bus also powers essential Captain’s instrumentation. In other words, if we accept your scenario, it would have been a case of “one out, all out” as far as instrumentation was concerned. Much would depend on which electrical busses had failed, especially in a fly by wire aircraft such as a 777, but I find it the better part of impossible to imagine a scenario in which so much electrics had failed as to remove attitude and navigation data from the pilots yet left the autopilots, flight control computers and FMCs working.

    There is one thing I am sure of, and can say with the certainty of 12,000+ command hours on 747’s behind me and that is there is very little chance of any pilot, having found himself bereft of navigation and attitude data, at night, in a depressurisation scenario at high altitude, being able to control his aircraft to a safe outcome. Had your scenario occurred, the aircraft would almost certainly have crashed in the general vicinity of the “fire” scenario you describe, and almost certainly because of loss of control.

    Finally, you state the manufacturers are hiding things in relation to FBW accidents. There is a debate as to how much automation is a good thing, but I trust Boeing (at least) implicitly on the point of trust you raise. I have flown their aircraft for quite a while, so feel able to comment on that.

    Even so, the Egyptair aircraft was a 767, not a FBW aircraft. And it was pilot suicide, without any shadow of a doubt.

    Now, please tell us your expertise to substantiate your theories.

  • Brian, Sylvia’s blog doesn’t have a ‘like’ button, but if it did, I’d have clicked it multiple times throughout your rebuttal.

  • Brian Thompson re ADF v VOR/DME. Just like the Boeing 747 in the Boeing 777 it is known as the Radio Magnetic Indicator (RMI / RDMI). The same EFIS display can provide either function.

    http://forums.x-plane.org/?showtopic=60708

    To save listening to further pedantic arguments allow me to quote to you from Boeing’s Flight Crew Training Manual (FTCM) for the B777 at page 5:27:

    There… happy now?

    Regards your claims about Occam’s Razor, you confuse simple with simplistic.

    You have misquoted Occam’s Razor Brian.

    To apply Occam’s Razor correctly one must eliminate every explanation incapable of explaining ALL the observed phenomena as unnecessary explanations.

    Then whichever explanation that is left which explains all the observed phenomena must be correct however improbable.

    The truth Brian is that you cling to several disproven claims which actually add unnecessary complexity, the exact opposite of your simplest explanation fits.

    It is not the simplest explanation that fits, it is the simplest explanation WHICH fits.

    Here are some invalid layers of complexity which you rely upon Brian:

    One fact which you conveniently ignore is that on 24 June 2014 Angus Houston dismissed Malaysian Government claims that MH370 climbed to 45,000ft, performed a U-turn and descended westwards from IGARI at an altitude below 23,000ft (ie beneath the radar horizon).

    The JAIC team concluded this from studying radar tapes.

    Moreover the JAIC also deduced that the ACARS system logged itself back on following an electrical failure. You dismiss or fail to explain the electrical failure.

    The JAIC team also deduced from tracking satellite pings that MH370 never descended below 35,000ft, but flew in a straight line on autopilot, suggesting a depressurised cockpit. The only problem is that if MH370 flew around the north of Aceh then turned south at 18:25UTC it could not have intercepted the Southern Arc 5 hours 46 minutes later because flying on autopilot along a magnetic heading it would have been several hundred miles further east of the Southern Arc at the time of the final ping. It just cannot be flown from Aceh to the Southern Arc in the time elapsed at 35,000ft.

    You also conveniently ignore the fact the alleged military radar track from RMAF Butterworth’s military radar was actually a hoaxed image produced for the Malaysian Government by a Russian PR consultant.

    You conveniently ignore the fact the alleged radar track from Butterworth did not register two aircraft SIA68 and EK343 which were in the same vicinity at the same time Malaysia alleges MH370 flew through the Straits of Malacca

    You also conveniently ignore the fact that Indonesian military radar at Lhoksumwae also observed the same airspace in the Straits of Malacca at the same time and did not see the aircraft identified as MH370 by the Malaysian Government.

    Another issue which cannot be explained is how MH370 traversed the distance from IGARI at low altitude to Pelau Perak faster than the aircraft was capable of flying at low altitude?

    Anna cheap thrills get a life and when you know squat, let us all know by debating it.

  • Boeing 777 Flight Crew Training Manual regards use of ADF / VOR-DME:

    FCT 777 (TM)

    5.27

    During single FMC, or single DME or single GPS operation, in the event the single operational FMC, DME, or GPS fails during the FMC approach, there must be a non-FMC means of navigation available for a missed approach such as VOR/NDB raw data and/or radar, and there must be a non – FMC approach available. Failure of the remaining single DME need not be considered if GPS updating is being used.

    Checking raw data for correct navigation before commencing the approach may be accomplished by:

    Checking raw data for correct navigation before commencing the approach may be accomplished by:

    • pushing the POS switch on the EFIS control panel and comparing the displayed raw data with the navaid symbols on the map. Example: The VOR radials and raw DME data should overlay the VOR/DME stations shown on the MAP and the GPS position symbol should nearly coincide with the tip of the airplane symbol (FMC position)

    • displaying the VOR and/or ADF pointers on the map display and using them to verify your position relative to the map display.

  • A note: I do not tolerate bullying or insults on this blog. Heated discussion of a theory is fine. Asking for qualifications is also fine. Personal attacks are not fine.

    Insults, snide comments and questions regarding the ability to comprehend complex issues are personal attacks.

    For more information, I recommend this:

    http://whatever.scalzi.com/2012/09/18/how-to-be-a-good-commenter/

    I have left this comment thread open but if any further personal attacks are made, I will close it.

  • I think all I need to say in reply to this attack from Mr. Gunson is a little knowledge is dangerous.

  • Actually, no, I have to ask, again, for Mr. Gunson’s qualifications. Do please tell us – do you really get your theories from the virtual flying brigade?

  • Do you not think it is possible that Zaharie climbed to 45k feet to starve the fire (using his oxygen mask) and was then planning to return to a Malaysian airport but when he discovered he had accidentally killed all the passengers perhaps he couldn’t accept what he had done and then either killed himself or sat in the cockpit for all that time contemplating his actions? The pilot who operated the throttles in the Sioux City aircrash still greatly blames himself despite the fact that he actually saved a lot of people and without his actions no one on the plane would have survived at all. Guilt can make people act illogically…

    • I think it is possible.

      What strikes me about this is that climbing to 45,000 feet to starve the fire wouldn’t have killed his passengers. They would have been unconscious, for sure. With the fire, his priority would need to be to get the aircraft to ground, not check on the health of the passengers. I agree with your point about guilt but if he’s flying an aircraft with no radio and no instruments, I don’t see it as likely that the guilt would have had time to kick in.

  • Sylvia I stumbled across this article again in a Google search. Much time & water has passed under the bridge since & some thoughts have crystallized. Please forgive me for my intemperate passionate convictions in the past.

    Regards the climb to 45,000ft, quite apart from the fact that a climb to FL450 from FL350 would require at least 20 minutes, JACC had two Thales radar engineers review all available radar data & discounted this story as untrue in June 2014. There was no such radar sighting. Even with oxygen, OAT at FL350 was -44 degC so hypothermia would have taken out any rogue pilot in minutes at FL450.

    The Flight Computer on a B777 is programmed to disengage above FL431 so it is dubious someone could have flown above this by hand. I recall having read somewhere that the gross weight at IGARI prevented MH370 climbing above 39,000ft. Climbing would have required considerable fuel dumping and thus prevented MH370 flying another 7 hours.

    It seems fair to say the 45K claim made by Najib Razak at a Press Conference on 15 March 2014 can be dismissed as untrue.

    • Thanks for this. I have in a later post dismissed the 45k climb but it’s hard to cross-reference all the details. The simpler option would of course be to analyse whether the 777 could have got up there at all and I’m a bit embarrassed that that never occurred to me at the time.

  • The DSTG report (published by the ATSB) dated 3 December 2015 identified evidence from satellite signals of electrical failure prior to the SDU log on at 18:25 UTC. Malaysian Airlines (MAS) sent an ACARS signal to the crew at 18:03. The downlink advisory from INMARSAT advised MAS that the message could not be delivered and would be re-tried. INMARSAT automatically re-sent the message every 2 minutes again until 18:43 UTC.

    During that period the SDU came back to life at 18:25 but the ACARS signal still could not be delivered. Why not?

    If this was a rogue pilot disabling ACARS why go to the extra effort to disable the SDU?

    If this were a rogue pilot also why go to the extent of re-enabling the SDU at 18:25, for what reason?
    What purpose would that serve?

    At 18:39 MAS twice tried to place a SAT phone call with MH370. In the first call via Channel IOR-3730-21000; the SDU went through a self test protocol which entailed the exchange both ways of automated queries & acknowledgements. At the point in that exchange indicating failure of the Power Management test, the SDU dumped the incoming phone call.

    In the second attempt at 18:39 via Channel IOR-373E-21000; the SDU redirected the incoming call to the Cabin Communication System (misidentified by some as the IFE system). Re-routing of the call likely indicates failure of forward power relays. In any case the second call attempt was abandoned too.

    It is my contention that a rogue pilot may have engineered disabling ACARS, but once having disabled the SDU (an improbable action) was unlikely to have then enabled the SDU again at 18:25.

    Furthermore no rogue pilot could have plausibly disabled ACARS, re-enabled the SDU and then caused the automated failure of the SDU’s Power Management test. These factors indicate massive power failure beyond the actions of any rogue pilot.

    Furthermore loss of electrical power to the SDU before 18:25 means there was no power supplied to an electric heater for a temperature sensitive crystal at the heart of the Automatic Frequency Control Oscillator (AFC Oscillator). Thus the BFO Doppler values of the satellite handshakes around 18:25 to 18:40 were likely distorted by chilling of the AFC Oscillator, not necessarily by MH370 flying west.

    • Very interesting points for consideration here.

      Also, looking at the actual post above, I mention that every commercial suicide flight involved the pilot crashing the aircraft immediately, without delay. This was shortly before GermanWings which of course blew my theory to pieces. In retrospect, I think that the key difference is the locked and reinforced cockpit door which effectively buys time for the pilot.

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