Saturday, March 08, 2014

Aviation Update

Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 is lost and presumed down somewhere along it's route from Malaysia to China.  The aircraft was last reported by flight trackers to be flying at a cruise altitude of 35,000 feet after leaving Kuala Lumpur. The incidences of aircraft disappearing in cruise flight are few and far between, so there is obviously concern--not only about where it is, but how it disappeared. 

Reports say a mayday was not issued, which could suggest a catastrophic failure, however the pilots always have to fly the plane first so it doesn't always indicate a sudden loss.  The last large airliner lost at cruise was Air France 447, over the open Atlantic in 2009, but it encountered a large thunderstorm complex. Did the Malaysia aircraft encounter any weather?

It appears the answer is no.  Here's a satellite page from the CIMMS satellite unit in Wisconsin that shows Southeast Asia.  By the time the aircraft would have transited the area (approximately 1840Z March 7) there was no precipitation that would have affected an aircraft at 35,000 feet.  Turbulence is another matter, but it's harder to spot on satellites.  However, modern passenger aircraft are rarely taken down by severe turbulence.  Had they encountered something bad it's likely they could have made contact before disappearing, unless the shear was so bad it ripped off a wing or tail surface or the crew made some kind of speed correction that resulted in a stall.  But that's beyond my pay grade.

In any developing story there is conflicting information, which has been noted already in this one.  First reports said the aircraft was over Vietnam and had possibly flown out over the South China Sea.  Indeed, the Chinese were searching there.  Later reports said the aircraft was over the Gulf of Thailand--reports this morning say an oil slick has been spotted south of the Vietnam coast.  The only problem with that seems to be time--if the early reports were true.

Those early reports from Malaysia Airlines said the aircraft disappeared off radar about 2:40am, or 1840Z, which would be 2 hours into the flight:
Flight MH370 lost contact with air traffic controllers at 2:40am local time (5:40am AEDT) on Saturday, just over two hours into what should have been a six-hour journey.
Airline tracking site Flight Aware showed the aircraft off Kuala Lumpur at approximately 1640Z, 12:40am Malaysian time or 11:40am EST.  If that's true the aircraft should have made it further north than the Gulf of Thailand based on flight histories.

Now reports this morning are backing up that time up to about 1:30am.  When looking at Flight Aware tracking, the tracking stops shortly after leaving Kuala Lumpur.  Here's a comparison graphic with yesterday's flight on top of the same flight run 2 days ago..

Flight Aware uses ADS-B info to plot these tracks.  Their updating isn't constant and their coverage map shows many gaps in this area, so the precise location is far from certain. Data from another popular tracker, Flightradar24, also suggests a disappearance south of Vietnam.  However, looking at the previous run of MH370 it was over the South China Sea by 2:30 to 3:00am local time.  Whether all of this is just standard news media time zone confusion or something else is unclear, but the fact we are dealing with two communist governments here should probably be noted. Case in point:
The plane "lost all contact and radar signal one minute before it entered Vietnam's air traffic control," Lt. Gen. Vo Van Tuan, deputy chief of staff of the Vietnamese army, said in a statement.
How convenient.

If you're thinking of China and that new ADIZ (Air Defense Identification Zone) and some military hanky-panky, that ADIZ was established in the East China Sea.  It doesn't appear the aircraft got that far north and off-course to the east.   The Chinese don't have an expanded ADIZ in the South China Sea yet--but they want one.  There are a lot of details we don't know at the moment.

As to terrorism, officials have smartly not ruled it out yet (as they normally do within hours with most other crashes/events).  China just suffered a big attack and they are no more adored by Islamist radicals than America. Going back into history, Ramzi Yousef planted a micro-seat bomb on Philippine Airlines flight 434 in 1994.  He planted it under a seat on the first leg to Cebu; got off, then the timer-bomb exploded on the leg to Tokyo. Had it been successful PAL 434 would have also disappeared at sea but the damage didn't cripple the flight and the pilot made a heroic emergency landing in Okinawa.   Here's a brief summary of how Yousef, who was already an international fugitive wanted for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing at the time, managed to get on an airplane to plant the bomb:
Authorities later discovered that a passenger on the aircraft's preceding leg was Ramzi Yousef.[3][4] He was later convicted of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.[4] Yousef boarded the flight under the fake Italian name "Armaldo Forlani",[2] an incorrect spelling of the name of the Italian legislator[5] Arnaldo Forlani.
In what may just be a weird coincidence, the Italian passenger on the manifest of MH370 has contacted authorities to confirm he wasn't on it; that his passport had been stolen months ago in Malaysia.  Now Daily Mail is saying there was another phony passport.  That's a classic terrorist tactic.

If it was terrorism it's likely a group would want to take credit, unless they are waiting until confirmation. Even without confirmation it's likely that worldwide aviation authorities are maintaining a heightened sense of awareness at the moment.

MORE  3/8/14

Words can do this no justice. 

Meanwhile, Maguire cautions on making a leap to terrorism based on the use of stolen passports without a baseline of how often this occurs.  Had he been reading his own comments more closely he might have noticed the resident pilot commenter who flies cargo said the Chinese scrutinize his passport thoroughly every time he enters their country, even if he's doing a turnaround hop at the airport without leaving the aircraft.  Of course that doesn't account for people the Chinese might want to ignore, for whatever reasons.

And those whatever reasons must include the international drug/criminal trade, which just lost a huge kingpin in Mexico when the Sinaloa Cartel boss was hauled in.  Was there a disruption in the force strong enough to cause something like this?   Assuming this crash was not mechanical-related.  Space debris is another possibility, although it has to be considered the farthest outlier, however it was mentioned during the TWA800 investigation.   

MORE  3/9/14

The focus now seems to be on the Gulf of Thailand.  Apparently the 2 versus 1 hour flight time discrepancy has been cleared up by explaining that 2:40am local was when the Vietnam controllers considered the flight missing, but 1:30am was when it disappeared from radar.

The hour delay is maybe a little weird, or maybe not depending on their ATC protocols. If the transponder stopped working and all comms were lost, AND the Vietnamese couldn't see a 'primary target' on their radarscopes (radar data point without the corresponding text information they normally have associated with it) they would likely immediately consider the aircraft either crashed or crippled to the point it had fallen below radar coverage.  The fact there were no radar returns is different than them thinking there was an electrical system failure in the aircraft---the radar should see them anyway.

Vietnamese controllers would have been calling other aircraft in the area to relay instructions or figure out what was happening, or get a visual on a possible crash site.   Wonder if their ATC tapes can be released?  They have to speak English, by the way--it's the international language of commercial aviation.

As to the report that Malaysian officials wanted Thailand to check their west coast along the Andaman Sea, as if the aircraft might have made a big loop to the west after having dropped below radar coverage, well it sounds far-fetched but such depends on the minimum altitude their radars can view.  Surely the Malaysian and/or Thai military have defense radars that would scan pretty low and be able to see traces of a massive Boeing 777.  Also, one would think at least a passenger or two would have tweeted for Facebooked someone knowing things were going wrong after the sudden descent.

ABC News has a fairly decent list of possible causes (of course they left off TWA800 with the spark in the fuel tank), which included a military shoot-down.  That's probably something no government in the region would want to own up to initially, choosing to wait for years as an investigation chugged on.  At this point just random speculation and of course zero comfort to those with loved ones on the flight. 


Debbie said...

Seems the number of stolen passports increased from 2 to 4, people who checked in but did not board the plane possibly 5, Iranian purchased tickets with cash, changed flight after purchase ... something is hinkey.

Right Truth

A.C. McCloud said...

Gotta admit the Iranians look bad. One way tickets, claimed they were going to visit their parents and settle in Europe. If so, why use stolen passports? What would they have to hide?

Could be innocent, though. We don't know how much fraud might be an everyday occurrence in some of the 3rd world with respect to aviation.

Sure going to spawn a lot of wild speculation. If I dig hard enough I know I'll find one about Mossad planting this to derail Obama's peace talks, etc.