Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Aviation Update

Obviously the leak to the New York Times has taken front and center in the reporting about Germanwings 4U 9545.   It's certainly a game-changer, if true (it appears to be single-sourced).  If true, some questions come to mind.

The first question is "who".  The second is "why".  Who and why would someone feel the need to leak to the New York Times about what's on the voice recorder?  Looking for clues in the Times article, one finds the initial description of the source:
A senior military official involved in the investigation described...
Not a lot to go on there.  As to who, it's a military person, we don't know if male or female, but "senior".  We don't know from which military.  Speculation would say the Germans, French and Spanish would have military presence, and perhaps the US and UK as well.

The next question is why. Did they leak with the blessing of their fellow investigation team members or the governments involved? Or did they leak precisely because of those governments?   Did they do it out of respect for the victims and their families, or was it BS to further some kind of cause? 

The story of the CVR has been a little strange since so far. They found it very quickly, the day of the crash, but that's not necessarily a mystery since the terrain involved was barren and the weather was good.  It's evident by looking at the crash photos that the plane impacted and threw out debris downrange and up the mountainside, including part of the tailplane section where the black boxes are located.  So they had a general area to canvas. 

Pictures were quickly shown of the mangled unit, but the data cylinder looked to be in half decent shape, and indeed early reports said they expected to get some info from it.  Then early today a report circulated on pilot forums that someone had already listened to the CVR and talked of a possible cracked windscreen.

That coincided with reports that the CVR was badly damaged, suggesting they might not find much.  In the afternoon the lead investigative agency--the French BEA--said there were some usable sounds but it could take months and months of analysis before conclusions could be drawn.  They did say the plane flew all the way to the ground and there was no decompression, ie, no cracked windscreen.

Now this evening we get this leak, which if true provides some important added context to the BEA's a few "useful" sounds but completely destroys their contention it could take months of analysis to find a cause.

The panel of experts on CNN this evening, with the exception of Richard Quest, was troubled by this revelation because it clearly brings several nefarious scenarios into play. One, suicide. And this doesn't need to point to Islamic terrorism or any other extremism (which was typically ruled out by a political figure before all the investigators even reached the scene).  There are several maddening cases in the past of pilot suicide for a variety of reasons, which very recently could have occurred with MH370.

The more famous occurrences include EgyptAir 990, PSA 1771, most likely SilkAir 185, with Fed Ex 705 an attempted suicide that happened here in the Memphis area in 1994 and would have resulted in a 9/11-like crash dive into the package sorting hub years before the GWoT began with the deliberate destruction/suicide of four passenger jets in New York and Washington.

But a locked out pilot also brings in terrorism.  Sudden Jihad syndrome might explain EgyptAir 990. And it might not even be a pilot.  Was another crew member in the cockpit during the other pilot's bathroom break?  United States protocol requires this arrangement.  If so, who was it?   And what are the names of the pilots?

We still don't know the actual causes of several mysterious crashes of late, including Air Algerie 5017, Ethiopian 409, Afriqiyah 771, Yemenia 626, MH370, and AirAsia QZ8501.  We don't know what triggered the battery fire on UPS flight 6 out of Dubai.  Most of these crashes were investigated in full or in part by the BEA.

As goofball Quest said, there's a gnat's chance it could have been a medical issue that incapacitated the pilot flying just as the other pilot left to visit the bathroom--assuming a crew member didn't enter the cockpit.  For that reason the FDR is now the most critical piece of the puzzle because it can determine whether the inputs to descend in an orderly manner without a course change were coming from the Airbus flight computer or a pilot overriding it.   

And wouldn't you know it--they initially said the FDR was found early today but that it was torn up and the memory card wasn't there.   Then at the afternoon press conference the BEA said that the FDR had not been found at all.  Then, as the BEA was sleeping, a leak came out, which was non-denied by Lufthansa. We'll see what the BEA says tomorrow and wait to see if they are followed up with another leak after bedtime.

MORE  3/26/15

So the leak was true.  BEA played a bit fast and loose at their presser yesterday by saying it could take months of analysis to determine a cause, claiming to have not listened to much of the recording before coming out to face the media.  Which is strange.  Why not listen to all of it before coming out?  They obviously listened to all of it in making the statements made today.  Was that the reason for the Times leak?

Whatever the reason many will now consider this case closed.  First Officer Lubitz was a cold-blooded mass murderer, on to the next disaster.  But some will want to know how he could have done what he allegedly did.  In searching around, nothing reported so far suggests any reason for a mass murder.  They say he was stressed out back in 2009 when he was getting into the flying business?   Surely he's not the only one.  Good thing all stressed-out pilots don't fly into mountainsides. 

But the authorities are taking pains to rule things out.  After having ruled out terrorism before all the investigators arrived on scene, French authorities are still ruling out terrorism after having learned it was sabotage and not 'an accident':
It is unclear what Lubitz's motivations were, but officials are slowly ruling out terrorism. "According to the current state of knowledge and after comparing information that we have, Lubitz does not have a terrorist background," German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said on Thursday.
A "terrorist background"? You mean his father wasn't a founding member of the Baader-Meinhoff Gang? Or he had no recent trips to Afghanistan or Pakistan? That doesn't rule out a sudden conversion in the least.

The investigation will not be complete until more is learned about 1) his girlfriend--what does she know? Were they still together or had there been recent trouble? 2) What were his finances? Was he in serious debt? Gambling problems? Was he struggling in any other way? 3) What was his religious background? Was he a practicing anything? 4) Who were his friends? What have they said? Had any Germanwings flight crew members or flight attendants had any issues with him?

Only after these background questions are answered will there be any chance of actually understanding the motivation here.  Finding the FDR might also help.


If it's not Richard Quest it's (emphasis added):
Lubitz was not known to be on any terrorism list, and his religion was not immediately known, Robin said.
As if governments or Lufthansa would let Lubitz keep flying around if he was on 'a terrorism list'. That's so grotesquely stupid it's almost beyond belief.

As to his religion, seems kind of important to know before ruling out terrorism.  What if he was Jewish?  Would that change mainstream coverage?

MORE  3/28/15

AP reports that the French pilots union has filed a lawsuit in their country over the leaking of information to the press.  The initial NY Times leak was seemingly the crucial leak that opened the dam, because that occurred immediately after the BEA said it could take months and months of analysis to determine a cause.  The question is who leaked--we know it was someone from somebody's military--and why.  

Meanwhile, rumors persist over Lubitz' medical condition and state of mind.  We know he was treated at a hospital in Germany shortly before the fateful flight, but not for depression.  We also know he made what appears to be an impulse purchase of two Audi automobiles for himself and an unnamed girlfriend a week before the crash. 

As to the girlfriend, the Daily Mail reports that a "former" girlfriend said he was troubled and once mentioned he would be "remembered forever" or thereabouts, which she didn't think was worthy of disclosure until after the event.   That was evidently not the same girlfriend he bought the Audi for, although according to the story the car offer was rejected.  This brings in the possibility of another breakup, which could have been a triggering event. 

Another rumor floating around is that he was gay and struggling with it, but that seems to be about as solid as rumors reported in some conservative blogs that he recently converted to Islam.  Perhaps some in the pilot community would rather see the jihadi explanation than a psychotic act of selfishness and murder, but this will end up wherever it ends up.  Events such as these are going to happen in a free society, just like mass shootings and other atrocities.  The final question is how much freedom the public is willing to give up in an attempt to prevent future occurrences. 

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