The missing Malaysia Airlines jet's abrupt U-turn was programmed into the on-board computer well before the co-pilot calmly signed off with air traffic controllers, sources tell NBC News. The change in direction was made at least 12 minutes before co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid said "All right, good night," to controllers on the ground, the sources said.
The revelation further indicates that the aircraft's mysterious turnaround was planned and executed in the cockpit before controllers lost contact with Flight 370. But it doesn't necessarily indicate an ulterior motive.Let's take a step back. The ACARS is a plain text message, in code of course, that doesn't need 10 days of translation to interpret. So it's a certainty that Malaysian Airlines--and probably the government--knew all about this westward course correction on day one.
Granted, officials did mildly hint at the turn a few days after the disappearance, all while 40-60 assets were frantically searching an area they almost certainly knew didn't contain the airplane. Also keep in mind that early on the Malaysians were saying the ACARS data didn't show anything unusual before it was cut off. They are hiding something, but whether it's something sinister is hard to know. There are going to be lots of deceptions from many governments over this mystery, mostly for national security and to protect tourism.
Anyway, let's continue foolishly assuming the updated info out of Malaysia is close to true. If indeed the FMS system was programmed to change course BEFORE the First Officer (FO) signed off with ATC it would appear to rule out terrorism almost completely, which might be convenient, seeing as how they could have ruled it out the day after the crash, but of course that would have implicated their pilots. But perhaps the trickle of information--and the trend--is how the Malaysians are going to reach the truth. Drip by drip, hoping the story subsides a bit before the real embarrassing stuff comes out. Yes, silly.
This new information seems to set up three possibilities. One, a mechanical issue the pilot was dealing with and trying to solve but hadn't yet, leading the FO to calmly sign off with ATC so as not to alarm anyone. Then suddenly all hell broke loose. Still possible, although it's hard to think the aircraft would have kept flying for 5-7 more hours unless it was the Payne Stewart slow decompression leak, where everyone just goes to sleep. Yet the Malaysians seem to be saying more course corrections were made after the aircraft passed the Malay peninsula and some available airports. That doesn't make sense. Besides, crews would be reporting something to a local airport or Malaysian center controllers if they were dealing with a problem and still in control. They would want emergency services on standby upon landing.
Speaking of ATC, it would be nice to hear or read the transcripts from Malaysian, Thai and Vietnamese ATC regarding this flight. Were they talking about the plane's disappearance? When the transponder blinked off were they asking other aircraft in the area to be on the lookout? What was said?
Possibility two, the FO had taken over the plane already, with the captain incapacitated, when he calmly replied to ATC in an effort not to draw suspicion. He wasn't on oxygen presumably, or the voice would have sounded muddled and no mention of this was made by the Malaysians. So we can infer that even if the captain was taken out the passengers were still alive and unaware at this point. But there's a problem with a one-man operation. It was at this point forward they say the ACARS was turned off--but only two minutes later! IF we presume that it requires going under the floor to the E&E bay then the FO could not have possibly done that in such a short period, unless the hatch was already unlocked.
At this point other electrical systems (such as a WiFi or airphones) were also presumably switched off before the plane zoom-climbed to over 40,000 feet, because otherwise somebody might have tweeted it. Perhaps this was the point the oxygen was shut off, causing the masks to drop and panic to set in. The sudden ascent combined with a lack of pressurization would have knocked out the passengers. However, some flight attendants might have gone for their emergency oxygen packs. Could they have accessed the cockpit? Maybe, unless something was placed in the way or they were taken out.
But again, the E&E hatch is in the forward galley outside the cockpit door. If the FO was himself going down there, then suddenly the masks dropped or electrics went off, and he was still outside the cockpit getting out of the hatch one would think a flight attendant would have been nearby and inquired as to WTF.
Finally, possibility three--the captain and the FO were in cahoots. They stole the plane and headed west, working together to change course, talk to ATC and turn things off. Protocol suggests the captain flying would have commanded a new course waypoint change in the FMS, so if he didn't he was likely not available. If he did, and if the FO made the last contact with ATC, this new information certainly makes it look like both pilots were working together. Yes, the captain could have been in the bathroom, but it's hard to believe he wouldn't have felt a course change and wondered what the heck was happening. Presuming someone had to descend into the E&E bay to turn off the ACARS, it doesn't make sense for the pilot to have still been alive if the FO was acting alone.
Amazingly it has taken ten days to get this pretzel wound in a different direction to almost completely rule out terrorism, using information known on day one. There's still an outside, outside chance it was terrorism or something beyond pilot control. Was there a person sitting in the 'jump seat' with the crew? If so, perhaps he was part of the gang, which included other passengers or persons hiding in the bay. Of course for this to be true one of them would have to have been holding a gun on the pilots when the FO issued his calm "goodnight" presuming it was his voice on the air and the turn was already being executed. Seems a lot farther fetched.
eyewitnesses in the Maldives said they saw a low-flying plane with a red stripe that morning. This is strange timing of course, since it's not like a time warp exists there to where it couldn't have been reported a week ago or more. But eyewitness testimony isn't always reliable. Even when it is it might not mean what the viewer thinks it does. Take for instance the oil rig worker who saw the 10 second fiery light in the sky on the night of the disappearance. Maybe it happened, just as he said. Maybe it was a fireball meteor. He never said he saw a plane.
But certainly, if any of this new breaking info is remotely true the focus is now squarely on the pilots, either one or both. We've heard all about the captain and his politics. We haven't heard much about the politics of the FO. Were they at odds? Did the junior man owe his livelihood to a government official the pilot hated? What is the motive?
The bad thing is we may never know, even if the airplane is located and cockpit voice recorder (CVR) is intact and analyzed. We have been told the aircraft flew for up to 5-7 hours; however:
A CVR, installed in aeroplanes of a maximum certificated take-off mass of over 5 700 kg for which the individual certificate of airworthiness is first issued on or after 1 January 1990, should be capable of retaining the information recorded during at least the last two hours of its operationWhich is one reason a crazy suicidal pilot might want to fly for more than 2 hours after taking over an aircraft. Either that, or an excuse the crazy Malaysians (or others) might be using to cover something up.
No matter what new information comes out some lingering questions remain. Such as, why did the Malaysians allow search and rescue over areas they knew didn't contain the aircraft? They had the ACARS data from day one, showing the turn. They had radar data. Or why haven't we seen any transcripts out of the nearby air traffic control facilities? What were the controllers saying that night when MH370 failed to appear on its route? Were the Malaysians or Vietnamese frantically trying to hail the aircraft on radio, or did they just shrug?
Back and forth we go. Now the CEO of Malaysia---after the debris field in the South Indian Ocean turned up empty--is saying the jet was carrying lithium ion batteries after all. I suspect this will become tonight's coverage theme on CNN, alongside the newest theory gleaned from some old guests on the Art Bell show.
Whether the lithium batteries caught fire or not their presence still doesn't seem to explain the course correction made right before the aircraft was 'handed off' to Vietnamese ATC (the transcript was released today) with no mention to Malaysian ATC that they were either in trouble or returning. It also doesn't explain the 5-7 hours of satellite pinging on the Inmarsat box. In other words, the box remained powered and operative during the entire 7 hours while we are to believe the transponder and ACARS became in-operative. A fire in the cargo hold wouldn't likely burn up everything but the Inmarsat box. Based on the UPS 6 crash it also likely wouldn't have allowed the aircraft to remain intact for 7 hours. Things seem to be right back at square one.