The Latest Embarrassing Attempt to Prove MH370’s Pilot Hijack

22 Jan 16 13 Comments

There’s been a lot of excitement around Byron Bailey’s article, The case for pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah’s hijack of flight MH370. Once again, an apparent expert attempts to solve the mystery of Malaysia Airlines flight 370, this time by making it clear that Zaharie Ahmad Shah, the captain of the aircraft, must have hijacked the plane. Unfortunately, the article is big on rhetoric and small on facts.

The article starts with the question that torments us all.

The B777 is state of the art; probably the safest aircraft flying today. I know — I have many thousands of hours as captain on B777. How then could it disappear?

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He then blithely dismisses “all other theories” as impossible in a single paragraph and tells us that there’s only one option left.

Really, that right there is a good hint to stop reading.

Apparently, he’s known this for quite some time and if we don’t believe him, well, there’s another pilot out there who says says the same thing.

Soon after the revelation that MH370 flew for more than seven hours to the southern Indian Ocean, I realised only an accomplished pilot could have managed this feat. The ATSB has ignored information coming from sources that should be considered expert.

Simon Hardy, a former British Airways B777 captain, wrote a book that almost conclusively identifies Zaharie as responsible for the hijack of MH370 and its flight to the southern Indian Ocean, which likely ended as a controlled ditching as per Boeing flight manual procedures.

Now I know that this is pedantic, but I don’t think you can accuse the Captain of hijacking the aircraft that he is in command of. But let’s accept that Bailey and Hardy both mean that he maliciously diverted the aircraft and carry on.

Bailey cites a number of supposed facts in order to bolster his solution to the mystery plaguing us all. The emphasis was added by me.

The aircraft suddenly turned westward over the South China Sea and flew a precise track — revealed by analysis of Malaysian military radar — across northern Malaysia. It avoided Thai military radar, then turned, after circling Zaharie’s home island of Penang, to the northwest up the Straits of Malacca and around the northern tip of Sumatra, avoiding Indonesian military radar, and eventually headed south.

Analysis of Malaysian military radar revealed the aircraft had climbed to 45,000ft as it tracked across northern Malaysia. The only reason for doing this would be to incapacitate passengers and cabin crew by hypoxia. Only pilots’ masks have selectable pressure breathing capacity.

When the flaperon was analysed by Boeing, the manufacturer said, along with US aviation safety consultant John Cox, that it had been broken off in a lowered position, consistent with the theory MH70 had made a controlled ditching into the sea. The ATSB initially said damage to the flaperon was consistent with a high-speed dive after flame-out. Later the ATSB changed tack to say damage to the flaperon still supported the flame-out theory but showed the aircraft glided uncontrolled to a soft landing on the sea (hence no debris). Really?

Please don’t be taken in by these arguments because quite simply: the “facts” that Bailey presents, specifically the phrases that I have bolded, are simply not true.

In a surprise move that is quite frankly a relief, the Australian Transport Safety Board has issued a press release to put to rest these issues once and for all.

Correcting the record

An article, The Case for Pilot Hijack by Byron Bailey, appearing in the 9-10 January 2016 edition of The Weekend Australian, contained significant inaccuracies and misunderstandings about the ATSB’s role in the search for MH370. Many of those inaccuracies were repeated in subsequent items both in The Australian and other media outlets. It is important that the ATSB corrects the record.

They first, of course, dismiss the claims that the ATSB has a specific agenda or that they have rejected the possibility that a person took control of the aircraft.

They go on to deal with Bailey’s complaints that the ATSB is releasing “strange stuff” and not taking key evidence into account. The response to this is pretty simple.

The ATSB is not in charge of this investigation.

The ATSB is not investigating this accident although they are sharing any information they discover.

An aircraft investigation is headed by the country where the wreckage was discovered. In a case like this, where the wreckage is missing (ignoring for a moment the flaperon), then the investigation is lead by the country of registration: in this case, Malaysia.

Now Malaysia invited the ATSB to support the investigation, along with the American NTSB and the British AAIB. This is a logical thing to do, because those three investigative bodies have a lot of experience and an amazing track record when it comes to accident investigations. In addition, Boeing, Inmarsat and Thales have specialists who have been invited to the investigation by the Malaysian government. The key fact here is that the investigation is the responsibility of Government of Malaysia and it does not show Bailey in a good light that he implies that the ATSB are investigating.

Malaysia Airlines flight 370 never circled Penang.

The aircraft passed the island of Penang, absolutely. But the idea that the aircraft circled Penang so that the Captain could say his final farewell to his birthplace was dreamt up by some journalist and continues to be circulated despite no evidence of any such action. The aircraft’s routing was still being tracked by Malaysian military radar at that time. That radar data shows that the aircraft never circled the island but simply flew past it.

The aircraft was not capable of flying at 45,000 feet at the speed recorded.

There was a lot of excitement when the radar data was published that showed that Malaysia Airlines flight 370 climbed to 45,000 feet and then down again. There was a lot less media coverage when the radar return was proven to be wrong.

The Malaysian military radar did record values from 5,000 to 50,000 ft. These were subsequently found to be inaccurate and so were disregarded by the search strategy team. The speed throughout that section of the flight was consistent with maintaining approximately FL 300 (or 30,000 ft). At the known weight of the aircraft, flight at 45,000ft would not have been possible at the aircraft speed reflected in the radar data.

Boeing have not made an announcement that the flaperon had broken off in a lowered position.

I have no idea where Bailey even gets this one from. He lists three different statements about the flaperon which don’t appear to have ever been uttered. The flaperon is still with the French who have not released any results of their investigation. Boeing have not made any public statements regarding the state of the flaperon. The ATSB never stated that damage to the flaperon supported the flame-out theory.

None of these things happened.

The ATSB release ends on a very clear note.

The ATSB has neither the authority under international agreements nor the need for the purposes of its search to make statements about why the aircraft disappeared. The successful completion of our search, based on sound analysis of confirmed data and using the best people, equipment and techniques, is still the best chance of arriving at an answer to the mystery of MH370’s disappearance.

Here’s the conditions on Go Phoenix, one of the search vessels, taken last year in the southern Indian ocean. The two blue shipping containers on the deck are portable workspaces for the members of the search team.

This is not the working environment of people who don’t give a damn.

Everyone would love for this mystery to be solved; especially every person involved in any way in the search and the ongoing investigation. To imply otherwise is, quite frankly, bizarre.

No one is claiming that the aircraft couldn’t have been the victim of hijack or a malicious diversion. The thing to remember is that it is one possibility out of many.

It’s frustrating for all of us to not have any answers. It’s coming up to two years since the airliner and all of its occupants disappeared. We want answers.

But to claim you know The Truth and everyone else just isn’t listening? That’s just one step away from putting on a tin foil hat. When you justify that theory with rumours that have already been proven to be false…

Well, all I can say is, I guess that’s another B777 captain and “journalist” whose work I won’t bother to be reading in the future.

13 Comments

  • Hear hear !

    Sylvia, you did a lot of research, that is very evident.
    Your version has no “conclusion” and that is right. This still is very much an “open” case, not an “open book” !

    Personally, but this is also no more than guesswork, I believe that the aircraft has been hijacked. I also believe that the hijack was very well prepared and executed but after that something may have gone wrong.

    Did a person or persons unknown on board try to overpower the hijackers?
    Did the hijackers kill the pilots and get killed themselves? Perhaps leaving the control of the aircraft in the hands of someone who was not familiar with operating a large airliner with computerized navigation systems?

    So many questions and so very few answers.

    You restricted your comments to what could be extracted from reports of experts. Journalists are generally in the main interested in writing what sells their newspaper.

  • PS:

    If the comments like these reflect your flying, then “Flying like a woman” would be a compliment !

  • Unfortunately the investigation & search efforts are dysfunctional. The JIT Committee chaired by Malaysia has come to conclusions which are incompatible with conclusions reached by the ATSB.

    Analysis of end of flight in June 2014 suggested fuel starvation after hypoxic flight. More recent analysis of the SDU log on attempt at 00:19 in December 2015 also suggested double engine flame out. The same December 2015 report further concluded from the 18:25 log on and a missed satellite handshake at 18:03 that there had been prolonged failure of the Left AC Bus relay since before 18:03.

    The failure of a circuit tie breaker to close and permit power from the Right IDG generator implies both Main AC relays failed prior to 18:25 and MH370 was powered off the Standby Transfer Bus relay.

    That is an important point. The Standby Transfer Bus relay can power one of three autopilots to continue following a simple magnetic heading, but the Standby Bus was not capable of powering either of the AIMS cabinets which are only powered by Right or Left Main AC relays. All Boeing 777 navigation capabilities reside in AIMS. If AIMS was disabled then MH370 could not have flown a complex course around Penang then precisely intercepting waypoints VAMPI & MEKAR before 18:25.

    Even a conscious rogue pilot could not have navigated such a course with AIMS disabled. My friend Sakinab Shah eldest sister of pilot Zaharie Shah has read your article Silvia.

    She scoffs at the nonsense claim that MH370 made a low sentimental pass over Penang telling me their family grew up in a poverty stricken ghetto and only had negative attachments with the place.

    Zaharie did not attend the trial of Anwar Ibrahim. He did not hold radical jihadist beliefs. Zaharie had Irish American relations whom he loved and respected. Zaharie condemned the Boston Marathon bombings. He offered condolences to the victims on Facebook. Neither was Zaharie suicidal. Sakinab shared a dinner with Zaharie two weeks before the fateful flight and he was in a jocular upbeat mood, planning a family holiday in Italy.

    ATSB and the Malaysian JIT group need to reconcile their inconsistencies. An aircraft disabled by massive electrical failure to both Main AC Bus relays could not have navigated the alleged Straits detour. Neither could a hypoxic aircraft have flown anything other than a straight line south. Ergo the satellite data supporting a flight west must be in error. Electrical failure would rationally explain the spoofing of satellite data values.

    What it does not reconcile is the alleged radar sightings. It could be that the radar sightings are fabricated false claims. Somebody needs to explain, was it or was it not an electrical failure?

    If so, then MH370 flew relatively straight and flew further south than the seabed search location.

  • Simon,
    You are making very valuable comments. The largest airliner I have flown was the BAC 1-11, not one but two generations removed from the B777.
    Essentially “steam-driven” so I can only project my own knowledge and experience on what happened in the ill-fated flight MH370.
    It is easy to make suggestions that can be interpreted as false accusations, but I cannot find anything like that in Sylvia’s article. She is a writer / journalist but also a pilot and is doing her level best to come up with the truth or, if the real story contains unknowns, she usually is objective.
    Sylvia, quite rightfully, bases her comments on official reports and findings. So consider the following:
    A B777 is a very large aircraft. Disappearance of a 777 does not go unnoticed. Some wreckage has been recovered that has been identified as belonging to a 777. So it is reasonable to assume that the aircraft went down in the general vicinity. This would seem to contradict the theory that the aircraft, with crippled electronics, continued on a straight course.
    Sylvia already dealt with the (false) theory that the pilot made a low pass over the village of his birth.
    The story that the pilot himself was the hijacker to me seems more the result of hysteria surrounding “Islamic terrorism”. The large majority of Muslims are peaceful, law abiding people who do not in any way or form espouse terrorism and without strong evidence or at least indications of previous “jihadist” sympathies it is an insulting slur on this pilot’s memory. He does not deserve it and Sylvia makes it quite clear that she does not believe it, either.
    So after all, this still seems to leave as the most likely scenario a (possibly botched) hijack.
    I quite agree that the various bodies that are involved in the investigation do not appear to be working very well together. A bit like “too many cooks spoil the dinner”.

    • Rudy I don’t discount your experience with the BAC-111. In many respects aircraft of that era required a pilot to do more real flying. I have experience of an even older breed the Carvair and some experience with the B737, but like you am an old timer. I was not attacking Sylvia per se, just responding to the article.

      There are a number of assumptions about the route MH370 flew based on a load of false evidence which I do attack. Once one has discerned enough falsehoods from Malaysian sources, it becomes an inescapable conclusion that Malaysian press media have repeatedly conjured up false claims from an unnamed äir force spokesman and these have been adopted as the official line without any independent scrutiny. No radar tapes have ever been released. Electrical failure & hypoxia entirely disqualify the radar evidence as false. This is my challenge. The seabed search area based on flawed satellite assumptions is not valid.

  • Oh, by-the-way:
    Some people (not necessarily on this forum) are voicing the opinion that the aircraft may have lost pressurization without the crew noticing. This theory assumes that the pilots would have been overcome by hypoxia and passed out.
    A scenario which is unlikely in the extreme:
    Usually warnings will go off when the cabin pressure, dropping, will equal 10.500 feet. Depending on the type of aircraft, but usually it triggers the master warning as well as an aural warning.
    Any airline crew will be trained to deal with such a situation and besides, at a cabin altitude between FL 100 and FL105 there is more than enough time to act. When I was flying a Cessna 310 we routinely cruised at those altitudes without pressurization and without additional oxygen – for hours at a time. Once, flying over Eastern Europe (before the break-up of the Soviet Union), we were ordered to “climb to and maintain FL 5000 meters”. Which is 15.000 feet. When I protested ATC brusquely told us that if we did not comply “you will see MIG very close”. We did not know what the MIG would do, but we were not going to try and find out, so we cruised for over 1 1/2 hours at FL 150 without oxygen and without pressurization. And did not come to any harm. Admittedly, I do not smoke which may have helped but even so…
    For a well-trained airline crew to ignore a master warning and not take appropriate action is unthinkable. Besides, in that case the autopilot and avionics would have continued to function normally and the flight would have been picked up by radar sooner rather than later.
    I myself have had a rapid decompression twice.
    The first time at FL 370, the second time at FL 390.
    We had plenty of time to react. It scared the living daylights out of the passengers, but insofar as we, the pilots, were concerned it was a bit of a non-event.
    So, whoever was trying to come up with the “hypoxia” theory: anything is possible of course but in my considered opinion it can be discounted..

    • Rudy, I believe the opposite, that the decompression was relatively sudden, but happened during a fire emergency in the Avionics Bay (MEC). Rather than suggest they ignored decompression I suggest they were distracted by a fire & power failure before a sudden decompression and then lost consciousness before they realised there was also a decompression situation. That is one explanation. Another is that there was a fire in the avionics bay that compromised use of their oxygen masks. In a fire would you breathe oxygen?

      If you have not yet read the accident report of united Airlines Boeing 777 reg N786UA at Heathrow Airport, please do so. It makes sobering reading. That aircraft suffered a fire to electrical switching gear below the co-pilot’s seat which set ablaze insulation with molten metal splatter. It appears the Boeing 777 was designed to respond to smoke in the MEC by opening vents and ventilating the compartment. When this happened at Heathrow the draft created by ventilation fanned a small blaze. In the space of just 42 seconds before power supply was shut down, the fire had almost melted an escape path directly through the fuselage skin. Imagine yourself confronted with some sort of electrical fire/power failure and alarm bells, After identifying the cause one would naturally silence the alarm just to think. Perhaps since decompression was not initially identified in the ECIAS alert attention would have switched to disabling the power systems & troubleshooting. Without any fire suppression in the MEC the fire was not going away. I suggest perhaps it started with just a small pressure leak but once established any fire would have played like a blast furnace against the skin.

      This could explain how massive electrical failure before 18:25 translates to evidence of a hypoxic flight south, that the two are linked by electrical fire and decompression.

  • As a corollary to my above speculations that hypoxia was linked to massive electrical failure by fire & decompression, people will naturally respond that fire would have destroyed the aircraft.

    Not so, naked flame just like a person passes out at 35,000ft after a short period due to oxygen starvation. having done the deed & caused decompression a fire would self extinguish at such altitude.

  • These tragic events speculated upon by people who should know better will be repeatedly “used” as a source of cashing in with no respect for the industry, the people who were lost or the modern day pilots/aircrew. I say let the deceased rest in peace, let todays Pilots and aircrew do their jobs in peace and above all let the relatives have some peace. Don’t even think about a shallow attempt to justify Mr Byron Bailey to defend the indefensible. I would simply ask you to STFU about something you have no idea about and are just cashing in.

    • Anniversary and the deadline for the final report are both in a couple of weeks. I expect it’ll get a lot worse before it gets better.

  • I had the pleasure of meeting some of Zaharie’s relations. The night before MH370 went missing he went out with friends to a fan club for a famous Malaysian singer, Mila Jirin.

    On the night he left for work his housemaid Nur Hiyati carried his overnight bag out to the crew van and as she walked back to the house she saw Zaharie hug his wife goodnight and then kiss her on each cheek. They were affectionate. His wife left the house that night to stay with friends because she got lonely whenever he was away. They were not fighting. Zaharie was expected to bring a return flight back the next day.

    The phone call was made from the cockpit to his wife. He called her.

    I publish this so that others may share the real facts.

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