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#MH370 theories and the future January 2016

A couple of excellent stories in today’s Australian. These are complemented by other aspects of the affair of #mh370. The Christine Negroni story has some relevance in this, but should be evidenced by the @MikeChillit research.

The early evidence bears a good re-look as well.

The importance of insurance in this and previous accident, such as #pelair must be remembered.

Of course, #atsb and the black box should not be left unmentioned.

In the case of #pelair, almost six years elapsed before it was the proper subject of recovery. And #atsb knew where it was on the submerged aircraft and where the submerged aircraft was located.

And it was 2015 when the flaperon surfaced in the eastern Indian Ocean.

  • Byron Bailey The Australian

The search is over and the champagne corks are popping in Kuala Lumpur as the Malaysian government has dodged a bullet: as efforts to locate MH370 have been suspended, evidence from the cockpit voice recorder and data flight recorder will not become available.

We now know where the Boeing 777 is not. The hi-tech sonar equipment employed by the Fugro search vessels can detect objects less than 2sq m so a 170-tonne wreckage longer than 60m almost certainly would have been found had it been in the search area.

This area was based on the theory of an unresponsive pilot, which had absolutely no evidence to support it, and I am still waiting for an explanation from former transport minister Warren Truss why this was so.

I was informed 2½ years ago of the confidential deleted information obtained from pilot Zaharie Shah’s home computer simulator. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau dismissed this as a practice flight by a highly competent pilot with 18,000 hours of experience. As if!

The report I saw was a flight plan with six defined waypoints, with the final waypoint deep in the southern Indian Ocean at latitude 45 degrees south and zero fuel.

The interesting fact is that MH370 actually flew the first four waypoints as it tracked over northern Malaysia and up the Straits of Malacca to the turn point north of Sumatra, obviously under pilot control, when it turned south to head deep into the southern Indian Ocean, so why was a search not conducted along that final track?

In January 2015, Simon Hardy, a former British Airways pilot with, like me, thousands of hours in command of 777s, informed the ATSB that MH370 could not be within 30 nautical miles of the seventh arc on which it was basing its search. The Times contacted me for verification of Hardy’s calculations. Again, the ATSB was dismissive of input from experts. So we have the nearly three years of wasted effort searching in an area pushed by the ATSB and its supporting cast of armchair experts, who have never flown a jet airliner, based on the bizarre theory of an unresponsive pilot.

This theory is totally at odds with the views of proper experts — highly qualified airline pilots and overseas crash investigators — who contend that a responsive pilot was in control until the final turn south, after which only speculation is available.

The families of the deceased have every right to feel very angry at this farcical saga.

Byron Bailey is a former RAAF fighter pilot and trainer and was a senior captain with Emirates for 15 years, during which he flew the same model 777 as Flight MH370.

 Search for Flight MH370: the riddle remains, the anger deepens

Six months ago, the man hired to lead the $200 million underwater hunt for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, Paul Kennedy, blurted out he thought maybe he wouldn’t find it, because the Australian bureaucrats who hired him were working on the wrong theory.

When he made the remarks in July, Kennedy, the project director of the Dutch-based Fugro marine survey group, had spent the better part of two years meticulously guiding the search for the Boeing 777 in a band of very deep water in the southern Indian Ocean, often in very rough seas.

The 120,000sq km target zone had been chosen on the basis of complex analysis led by the Australian Transport Safety ­Bureau of satellite tracking data, other calculations and one big assumption.

That assumption was that by the end of the flight, no one was flying the plane, the pilots having become “unresponsive”, perhaps losing consciousness through lack of oxygen due to decompression of the aircraft at high altitude.

The ATSB’s “ghost flight” theory was that the plane had flown on autopilot from, perhaps, its last turn south, then plunged down suddenly in a “death dive” after running out of fuel.

In that unguarded chat in July with the Reuters news agency, Kennedy unwisely said what he really thought: since the aircraft had not been found in the target zone, maybe MH370 captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah had hijacked it and flown it to the end, gliding it after fuel exhaustion to take it out of the ATSB’s defined search area.

“If it’s not there, it means it’s somewhere else,” he said. “If it was manned it could glide for a long way. You could glide it for further than our search area is, so I believe the logical conclusion will be, well, maybe that is the other scenario.”

On Tuesday, Fugro Equator hauled up its torpedo-like autonomous underwater vehicle — an unmanned miniature submarine with sonar imaging equipment that can zip around on its own — for the last time. And that was the end of the search for MH370.

Kennedy’s words were prophetic: “It’s somewhere else.”

That conclusion comes nearly three years after MH370 disappeared. It deviated on a scheduled flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, 2014, flying back over Malaysia to the Andaman Sea and then south, with its radar transponder turned off and no radio communications.

Kennedy might have wondered if the search should instead have looked farther south and west, where commercial airline ­pilots estimate it would be had, as they believe, Zaharie flown the aircraft to the end and taken it farther and possibly off the main track south to thwart its discovery.

Or maybe Kennedy thought the search should be switched to an area farther north that some aerospace engineers, satellite experts and other professionals calling themselves the Independent Group, who analysed the data of their own accord, thought was a promising alternative.

Separately, scientists at the Euro-Mediterranean Centre on Climate Change in Italy did a drift modelling study matching where debris from MH370 had washed up on the coast of Africa against ocean currents to try to work out where the aircraft came down. Those scientists also found that the area to the north of where Kennedy was searching was a promising place to look.

Just last month, the ATSB held a confab in Canberra bringing together a panel of international experts in data processing, satellite communications, accident investigation, aircraft performance, flight operations, sonar data, acoustic data and oceanography.

GRAPHIC: Mystery of Flight MH370

They reanalysed the satellite tracking and other data, and also had a new drift modelling study courtesy of the CSIRO. The group came to same conclusion the Independent Group and the Euro-Mediterranean people had reached many months earlier: the next place to look was north, and the experts identified a new 25,000sq km target zone.

But the political will to continue the hunt is gone. “We need to have credible new evidence leading to a specific location before we would be reasonably considering future search efforts,” Transport Minister Darren Chester said on Wednesday, defending the decision by the governments funding the search — Malaysia, China and Australia — to “suspend” it. “MH370 may remain as one of aviation’s greatest mysteries.”

Those in the ATSB leading the search privately told victims’ relatives they are keen to continue the quest. But the Malaysian government, which under international law has prime responsibility for the investigation, is thought to be quite happy to call it quits.

Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai said this month, “The aspiration to locate MH370 has not been abandoned.”

But cynics suggest Malaysia would be happy for the mystery of MH370 to not be unravelled, because it would look bad if it turned out a Muslim Malaysian pilot had flown 238 people of various nationalities to their deaths.

This is especially so given one avenue of speculation is that Zaharie might have meant it as a ­political protest against the government’s alleged persecution of opposition figure Anwar Ibrahim, a distant relative of whom Zaharie was a supporter.

Critics of the search remain vocal in their belief the ATSB chose the “ghost flight” and “death dive” scenario over the “rogue pilot to the end” theory to avoid embarrassing Malaysia.

The ATSB insists the decision was based on the best analysis of the information available. No control inputs were detected in the flight route on the long last leg south, and the ATSB claims satellite tracking data shows MH370 was in rapid descent. A study of a flap from the aircraft that washed up determined it was probably in the retracted position, suggesting it was not lowered, as a pilot would do if ditching under power.

Pilots and air crash investigators take issue with each ATSB premise. Commercial airline pilots point out that aircraft are normally flown on autopilot except for takeoff and landing; had Zaharie been alive throughout the flight, he would likely have kept it on autopilot until he took it to the ocean at the end.

Inmarsat, whose satellite track­ed the aircraft, has quietly let it be known the data cannot measure altitude, only relative changes. And former US airline pilot and senior air crash investigator John Cox has told Inquirer: “I do not believe there is sufficient data in the Inmarsat data to draw any conclusion on the rate of descent.”

Another top international air crash investigator, Canadian Larry Vance, remains convinced the pattern of damage on the trailing edge of the flap shows it was deployed in a controlled ditching.

But even if it was retracted, Vance says, that’s where it would be if Zaharie had glided the aircraft after fuel exhaustion, because without the engines running there is not enough hydraulic power to lower the flaps.

He also says had the aircraft come down in a fast dive, the two bigger pieces of debris, the flap and a flaperon, would not have been mostly intact, as they were found, but smashed into pieces.

“They conducted a very professional search, but unfortunately they started with incorrect assumptions,” Vance says of the ATSB approach. “There is solid evidence that the aircraft was intentionally ditched, but they went with a high-speed dive scenario.”

Chester this week said any decision to resume the search would primarily be up to Malaysia. That gives the families of the victims, whose international support and lobby group is called Voice 370, very little hope.

“Malaysia from the very beginning seemed a reluctant, unwilling participant in the search,” says KS Narendran, a Voice 370 spokesman and Chennai-based business consultant whose wife Chandrika Sharma was on MH370.

In a statement following the suspension of the search, Voice 370 made a critical point: if you don’t want to hunt for something unless you know precisely where it is in advance, it means you’re not going to hunt: “Expecting to determine the ‘precise location of the aircraft’ before continuing the search was at best an erroneous expectation and at worst a clever formulation to bury the search.”

Not everyone is sure MH370 will never be found, though.

John Goglia is a legend among air crash investigators. The American started as an aircraft mechanic, was a union delegate in accident investigation teams for more than 20 years, ran his own aircraft service company, and was the first and only licensed aircraft mechanic to be appointed by the US president to the National Transportation Safety Board.

Goglia was one of the key investigators of mysterious crashes of Boeing 737s in the US in the 1990s, where they just fell out of the sky with the rudders stuck all the way to one side, or “hard over”, as it is known.

After two years of experiments and theories, investigators reached a dead end, and the investigation was all but abandoned. But here and there, sometimes informally and in their own time, experts continued to analyse the possibilities, and another two years later an explanation was found, related to a rare combination of low temperature and tiny particles in the rudder hydraulic system. Design changes were made, and the problem fixed.

Like the 737 rudder hard over mystery, work behind the scenes on solving the MH370 puzzle will continue, Goglia says: “The work on the investigation will not stop because the government of Malaysia has given up.

“There are other people who have a vested interest in what happened to that aircraft, the most prominent of which is Boeing.”

Goglia doesn’t think Boeing is going to hire a ship to continue the underwater search, but expects the company’s experts will continue to analyse the available data.

A Boeing spokesman says the company “provides experts who assist on site as well as many more within the company who … are called upon to contribute.”

The fascination, sometimes to the point of addiction, with the MH370 riddle will stay with those directly involved, but also the informal army of professionals. “It’s the human element that brings it all together,” Goglia says.

“Every single one of the investigators around the world … are part of a community. They take it personally when they can’t figure out what happened.”

Additional reporting: Amanda Hodge

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