Sunday, March 23, 2014

MH370 Again

A few items of interest to chew on.

One, the transcript.  Hot Air goes over the final few minutes and finds some possible curiosity about the First Officer's (FO) sign off, 'alright, goodnight'.  Technically it breaks standard ATC protocol as to reading back instructions.  And it could be an indication something was happening or about to happen in the cockpit, as Jazz Shaw says.  But chances are if you listened to 100 ATC tapes of hand-offs from one sector to another, one control area to another, or one country to another this kind of thing would occur a few times.

I'd like to go back into the transcript a little further than where Hot Air started:
00:46:51 MH370: KL ATC, this is MH370
00:46:51 ATC: MH370 please climb to flight altitude 250
00:46:54 MH370: MH370 is climbing to flight altitude 250
00:50:06 ATC: MH370 climbing (sic) to flight altitude 350
00:50:09 MH370: MH370, climbing to flight altitude 350
01:01:14 MH370: MH370 remaining in flight altitude 350
01:01:19 ATC: MH370
01:07:55 MH370: MH370 remaining in flight altitude 350
01:08:00 ATC: MH370
01:19:24 ATC: MH370, please contact Hu Chi Mihn City 120.9, good night
01:19:29 MH370: All right, good night.
Notice the double reporting of being at FL350 (flight altitude 350).  MH370 reports FL350 at 01:01, then 6 minutes later, reports it again. Malaysian ATC acknowledges both with a simple "MH370". Why report it twice?  Was it because the pilots were distracted or perhaps a little foggy/loopy due to a slow-developing cabin pressure problem?  A slow leak is what got the crew of Payne Stewart's aircraft--they didn't realize they were becoming hypoxic fast enough to don their masks, so everybody went to sleep and the plane kept flying until it ran out of gas.

That kind of scenario would fill in some blanks here.  The FO read their altitude twice, then broke protocol on the last transmission because he was about ready to pass out. This would also explain why no passengers reached for the airphones--they were all about to pass out as well--or had. 

But that doesn't explain why the ACARS and the transponder were turned off.  Again, if the experts are correct about pulling a breaker to disable ACARS that would have to happen below deck and likely could not have been done by a captain about to pass out, or for any other reason imaginable.   The disabling of the comms on the aircraft doesn't seem to line up with a slow cabin pressure leak unless the leak completely blew out shortly after the last transmission causing explosive decompression and damaged the electrical system to where ACARS and the transponder blinked off.   But hold on--Inmarsat continued getting pings from their main hub box in the aircraft for 7 more hours, which would require power.  So that dog doesn't seem capable of hunting. 

As to the transcript, one thing that doesn't make much sense is the disclaimer on the bottom that says it's based on a Mandarin version of an English language transcript. Where did this come from, the Chinese?  Can they be trusted to take an English transcript, convert it to Mandarin, then correctly back to English? Let's see the actual English transcript as it occurred, since it was spoken in English.  And with sound.

Without sound it's impossible to tell whether the double reporting--the ones at 01:01 and 01:07, sounded unusual along with the sign-off. Did the FO's voice tone change from his first contacts to the last few?  That would be significant.

Meanwhile, as analysts point to more possible floating debris for searchers to chase, Daily Mail reports on a possible strange cell phone contact with the pilot before they took off:
The captain of missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 received a two-minute call shortly before take-off from a mystery woman using a mobile phone number obtained under a false identity. It was one of the last calls made to or from the mobile of Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah in the hours before his Boeing 777 left Kuala Lumpur 16 days ago.
Investigators are treating it as potentially significant because anyone buying a pay-as-you-go SIM card in Malaysia has to fill out a form giving their identity card or passport number.
Potentially significant or even nefarious, or maybe just an indication the captain was a horn-dog who liked women, which might explain why his wife had allegedly taken herself and the kids out of the Kuala Lumpur home a day before.  There may have been divorce considerations in play to explain the James Bond behavior of the phone/call. 

As to the latest fog of shifting information, today we are being told there was nothing unusual with the scheduled ACARS automatic status report at 01:07am. Earlier we were told that the new way points were programmed into the FMS computer prior to that report, based on that very same 01:07am ACARS.  From CNN:
Before 1:07 a.m.: Route change believed programmed into computer Investigators believe a change in flight plan was programmed into the plane's guidance system -- though not yet executed -- by this time, a senior U.S. official who was briefed on the investigation told CNN. This belief is based on data that was transmitted 12 minutes before the pilots' last voice communication, the official said.
Today it's a different story:
3. Update on ACARS transmission a. The last ACARS transmission, sent at 1.07am, showed nothing unusual. The 1.07am transmission showed a normal routing all the way to Beijing.
This sounds weird, but completely typical for this event. If true the significance might be that it brings back a mechanical explanation again, ie, if everything was normal at 01:07, and even normal at 01:19 when the FO signed off, but the ACARS and transponder went off sometime between then and 01:37 (the next scheduled ACARS auto report) then maybe something catastrophic occurred. Maybe the captain made one last valiant attempt to get the plane back to Malaysia by changing the way point before passing out and before everything turned off.  But we're back to square one with the Inmarsat box remaining powered for another 7 hours.  Just bizarre.

Meanwhile it seems to be a race between the Chinese and western countries to find debris first.  Surely there is some international tension in that setup.  

No comments: