Monday, June 30, 2014

Aviation Update

Back to the MH370 mystery. Some interesting things have tumbled out over the past week or so.

One, a story suggesting that Captain Shah is now the prime suspect.  To support this new claim they reference some files evidently erased from his computer hard drive that showed he practiced landing on a remote island the southern Indian Ocean.  Gee, and after the Malaysians and some media outlets made a point to say the FBI had found "nothing sinister" on his hard drive back in March, which tended to shift focus away from the crew.

The new claim:
Investigators have previously refused to “clear” the captain’s flight simulator of suspicious activity, and it now appears they found evidence of routes programmed to take a plane far out into the Indian Ocean and practising landing using a short runway on an island.
So what exactly did the FBI say many moons ago after thoroughly searching the hard drive?  Well, searching their hard drive produces a big fat nothing.  And it's difficult to find anything in print from an official FBI source detailing their analysis of the hard drive(s), despite Director Comey telling Congress in late March that it would be released soon

The closest appears to be this NY Times report where an FBI spokesman was quoted, not as supporting the 'nothing to see here, move along' characterization used by the Malaysians, but basically saying nothing.   The "nothing sinister" appears to have come from an anonymous source.  The FBI spokesman didn't clarify the record and left the door open (bold for emphasis):
As the search in the Indian Ocean continued, the flight simulator and hard drives that the pilots of Flight 370 had at their homes appeared to be a dead end, yielding few clues that shed any light on whether they deliberately diverted the missing jet, according to two people briefed on the investigation.  They spoke on the condition on anonymity because they did not want to jeopardize their access to secret information.
Malaysian authorities seized the devices early in their inquiry and, after initially keeping American officials at a distance, turned to the F.B.I. last week for help in analyzing them.
The Malaysians were particularly interested in learning what it was that the captain of the flight apparently deleted from the simulator. The F.B.I.'s spokesman, Michael Kortan, said the bureau would not discuss what it had found on the hard drives because the investigation was continuing.
Apparently it's still continuing.  But the "nothing sinister" meme overtook the narrative for several months until just recently. Such flim-flams are par for the course on this case but they can be explained perhaps as media misinformation perpetrated by authorities designed NOT to cover up a conspiracy, but to get suspects to act.  Or it's a conspiracy. Or they are covering for something.   

Another possibly weird thing is this claim in a new Daily Beast article on the mystery attributed to the president of Emirates Airlines:
Nobody wants to know the answer to this more than the airlines that operate fleets of Boeing 777s. For example, the largest operator of 777s is Emirates, based in Dubai. Its president, Tim Clark, is not happy with the conduct of the investigation.
He told Aviation Week: “There have been many questions unanswered or dealt with in a manner that is unacceptable to the forensic nature of the inquiry. “Something is not right here, and we need to get to the bottom of it. I need to know how anybody could interdict our systems. This aircraft was disabled in three primary systems. To be able to disable those requires a knowledge of the equipment which even our pilots in Emirates don’t have. Somebody got on board and knew exactly what they were up to.”
Emphasis added again to point out that even some aviation professionals are flummoxed at this investigation and also to point out the return of a theory posed in the earliest stories on the event where it was speculated that somebody would have to physically go down into the comms compartment under the floor of the cabin to turn something off. That added a level of complexity was allowed to gradually disappear over time yet the Emirates guy is still offhand mentioning it.  Is he not keeping up?  Or does he get his information from somebody other than Anderson Cooper? 

Finally--and this may have been answered at some point in the blizzard of expertise--why haven't they taken a similar B777, fueled it up as MH370 was, then retraced the hypothetical flight path. They could turn off the same internal systems and let it go 'dark', then fly west of Thailand into the Indian and take a left southwestward for a few hundred miles and see if the satellite pings match up with Inmarsat's data.

Clearly they would only need a few data points to establish a fit. Maybe they could fly another leg northwest and compare just to make sure.   The NTSB has been known to do this many times.  No need to go very far one way or the other as long as they got a few pings. Just a thought.

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