Saturday, October 31, 2015

Aviation Update

Another passenger jet falls out of the sky at cruising altitude.  This is getting a bit weird.

Weird or not, the loved ones of those lost on Metrojet flight 7K-9268 deserve a factual investigation.   Lots of speculation now as in every aviation disaster--early claims of terrorism by the terrorists should be taken with a grain of salt until more facts are established.  That said, claims by officials should also be scrutinized for accuracy.  They may be lying (for a variety of reasons) or just bungling the facts.

For instance, there is already confusion about the final minutes of the flight.  Many news sources are reporting something similar to this:
Ayman al-Muqadem, an Egyptian official with the government's Aviation Incidents Committee, said air controllers lost contact with the plane’s pilot after he radioed that the aircraft was experiencing technical problems and that he needed to make an emergency landing.
At the same time the Egyptian "Civil Aviation Authority" has said that communications were normal until the moment the aircraft disappeared off radar scopes, giving no indication of any technical issue. 

The above is very easy to confirm since it should be available on ATC voice tapes. It will also be on CVR recordings and we know both CVR and FDR were recovered. The distinction is critical in this case since it could mark the difference between sabotage or terrorism, ie, the plane suddenly disappeared as in the MH17 shootdown case, or a plane having issues and in crippled flight, trying to find a place to land before catastrophic failure occurred.

At any rate, this does not appear to similar to a TWA-800 type event since the aircraft was confirmed to be at an altitude where only sophisticated anti-aircraft systems can go as with MH17. If the plane was shot down using such a system it was either inadvertent or something very troubling.  But there's a ways to go before anyone should be reaching such a conclusion based on open source info.

SPEAKING OF 800..  11/2/15

Here's an interesting comment in a WaPo article on the doomed flight:
Modern planes don’t usually fall apart in flight, barring an explosion caused by a bomb or missile..


This is now being reported:
CBS News' national security correspondent David Martin reports a U.S. infrared satellite detected a heat flash over the Sinai at the time the Russian plane went down. The data is still being analyzed in an effort to determine what caused the flash. One possibility is a bomb, but an explosion in a fuel tank or engine as the result of a mechanical failure is also possible.
Since it almost surely has to be associated with the jet it would seem to rule out a sudden structural failure of the hull due to the old tail-strike repair, as some in the aviation business are guessing.   It also seems to line up with the video shown by ISIS propagandists.   At the same time, it doesn't completely rule out a mechanical issue.  An uncontained engine failure could blow parts out of the turbine and perhaps cause some kind of flash of heat, especially if it somehow caused a fuel fire.

That said, if the ISIS video is real then why would someone be randomly photographing a passing jet at over 30,000 feet?   It's not as if the photographer heard something and began filming (since the speed of sound would prevent that anyway) or saw something and began filming (video shows a jet before a small explosion).  

These questions can probably be easily answered by analyzing the aircraft debris for explosive residue and performing autopsies on the victims.  Whether this analysis comes out anytime soon is another question entirely.  It may depend on the conclusion.  Lots at stake for Egypt, Russia, the airline, the victims' families, and perhaps regional security.   

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