#MH370 Is it in the Southern Indian Ocean? Then why no Mayday call? So easy to do…

Sky News reports that the search for MH370 in Central Asia has proved fruitless and the investigators are concentrating more on the Southern Indian Ocean.  See http://www.ndtv.com/article/world/missing-malaysian-plane-assumed-in-southern-indian-ocean-source-497374.  This is an area the size of Australia and the Australians are leading the way.  Apparently, the aircraft may have been detected by Australian military radar and the military are rather tight-lipped about their detection capabilities:

Quote:

Kuala Lumpur:  Investigators probing the disappearance of a Malaysia Airlines jetliner with 239 people on board believe, it most likely flew into the southern Indian Ocean, a source close to the investigation said on Wednesday. (Searchers draw blank in southern search for Malaysia plane)

An unprecedented search for the Boeing 777-200ER is under way involving 26 nations in two vast search “corridors”, one arcing north overland from Laos towards the Caspian Sea, the other curving south across the Indian Ocean from west of Indonesia to west of Australia. (What if the missing Malaysia plane is never found?)

“The working assumption is that it went south, and furthermore that it went to the southern end of that corridor,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. (Malaysia appeals to neighbours for sensitive military data)

The view is based on the lack of any evidence from countries along the northern corridor that the plane crossed their airspace, and the failure to find any trace of wreckage in searches in the upper part of the southern corridor. (Why didn’t missing jet passengers use their cellphones?)

China said on Wednesday it had not yet found any sign of the aircraft crossing into its territory. (China rules out terror ties among its citizens on jet)

Malaysian and U.S. officials believe the aircraft was deliberately diverted perhaps thousands of miles off course, but an exhaustive background search of the passengers and crew aboard has not yielded anything that might explain why.

Flight MH370 vanished from civilian air traffic control screens off Malaysia’s east coast at 1:21 a.m. local time on March 8 (1721 GMT March 7), less than an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing. (Why do airplane transponders have an ‘off switch?’)

Investigators piecing together patchy data from military radar and satellites believe that someone turned off vital datalinks and turned west, re-crossing the Malay Peninsula and following a commercial route towards India.

After that, ephemeral pings picked up by one commercial satellite suggest the aircraft flew on for at least six hours, but it is not known for sure if it went north or south. The data from the satellite placed the plane somewhere in one of the two corridors when the final signal was sent at 8:11 a.m.

Last week, a source familiar with official U.S. assessments said it was thought most likely the plane flew south, where it presumably would have run out of fuel and crashed into the sea.””

Given the absence of other information, all possibilities have to be investigated.  Initially, terrorism was suspected but the crew and passengers appear to be spotless in that respect.  However, this scenario raises a serious question.  Why did the crew deactivate the transponder and ACARS whilst still saying that everything was OK to ATC?  There is always the possibility of a cockpit fire which may have been electrical (but given the level of integrity of these systems, deeply unlikely) or caused by a tyre fire (but no brake on the nosewheel, so where is the ignition source?).  Ok, let’s consider a cockpit fire without asking why.  Surely, the first thing the crew would do is for one to deal with the emergency and the other to send out a Mayday call.  It doesn’t take long and would be required to get ATC assistance in landing at the nearest available airfield (Chris Goodfellows’ Pulau Langkawi diversion scenario*: http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2014/03/18/mh370_disappearance_chris_goodfellow_s_theory_about_a_fire_and_langkawi.html).  This explains the turnback by the crew but not the lack of communication unless the electrical fault affected the radio, transponder and ACARS.  I still think the lack of a Mayday call is the Achilles heel of this scenario.  It takes seconds and could even have been done by mobile phone if the radio wasn’t working.

The problem with this scenario is that we may be looking at an unknown catastrophic technical failure of the kind that we aviation safety regulators regarded as a thing of the past.  I really hope that’s not the case but, if there’s no sign of the aircraft in the north, it is starting to look like a possibility.  The other problem is that, if the aircraft is there, then all hope is lost.  My thoughts are with the families of the passengers and crew; they may never know what caused their loss.

*Here’s Chris Goodfellows original post (though sometimes the link doesn’t appear):

 

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