Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 – My thoughts

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Being without any news of your relatives is indeed painful - Photo: themalaymailonline.com

Being without any news of your relatives is indeed painful – Photo: themalaymailonline.com

Saturday the 8th of March 2014; Malaysian Airline MH370 departs from Kuala Lumpur International Airport at 16:41 GMT bound for Beijing. On board, 227 passengers mainly from China and Malaysia together with some from Canada, US, Russia and others. The crew members, 17 in total were all Malaysians. Then, around one hour from takeoff (17:30 GMT), all contacts with the plane is lost. Not so unusual as it often happens if planes are out of the reach of radars, but they reappear on the screens afterwards. But MH370 never reappeared again.. 2 days.. 4 days.. 6 days.. It’s now one week from the incident and still no news from the aircraft. A huge search and rescue operation was started, teams from Malaysia, China, Vietnam, U.S, Indonesia, Taiwan. Singapore, India (infogram of those participating in search operations at the end of article – Taken from Wall Street Journal) among others came in using the best of their available resources including but not limited to spy satellites. Till now, no plane was found. Rumours of sightings, beliefs of hijacks and crashes and lots of crazy ideas have been running around the world with each and everyone trying to bring his/her explanation to what happened. Added to what some are saying that phones are still ringing, and that users are online on messaging platforms, beliefs that the pilot committed suicide or that the plane’s coms were deliberately switched off too was not spared. On the authorities’ side, some say that the plane turned back, others are talking about the possibilities of going in the whereabouts of the Pakistan border while others are convinced the plane went somewhere in the Indian Ocean (Some said it even landed in Mauritius; News denied by the Airports of Mauritius). But with all that’s going on the mainstream media, all the resources and efforts put into the search of that plane, all the speculations over the matter, how come the flight has not yet been found? Is the plane still airborne? Is the plane still in one piece? Are the passengers still alive? and the ultimate question.. will Flight MH370 ever be found? Here’s a little about my thoughts of the incident, possible explanations of some facts; What could have happened? What can be done and unfortunately, worst case scenarios.

EDITS:

EDIT #5 – 24 March 16:18 GMT

Plane declared “lost in the Southern Ocean” and that “none of those on board survived” according to a statement published by Malaysian Airlines. Search will continue, but officially the plane has been declared “lost” backed by satellite data of the ‘pings’ from the airplane. Experts say that now the hunt for the Flight-date recorder and Cockpit Voice Recorder (commonly known as ‘blackboxes’). This can be a long wait; 2 years in the case of Air France Flight 447.

EDIT #4 – 24 March 17:13 GMT

Statement from Malaysian Airlines regarding the “loss of the plane”.
http://www.malaysiaairlines.com/my/en/site/dark-site.html

Malaysia Airlines MH370 Flight Incident - Media Statement 24

Malaysia Airlines MH370 Flight Incident – Media Statement 24

 

EDIT #3 – 24 March 16:50 GMT

Malaysian Prime Minister, Najib Razak, declaring Flight MH370 “lost in the Southern Indian Ocean” at a News Conference in Kuala Lumpur, three weeks after the lost of contact and disappearance from radar screens of the Boeing 777-200ER bound for Beijing – Video : Associated Press

A text message was also sent by Malaysian Airlines to the waiting families announcing the ‘loss of the plane'; “Malaysia Airlines deeply regrets that we have to assume beyond any reasonable doubt that MH370 has been lost and that none of those on board survived… we must now accept all evidence suggests the plane went down in the Southern Indian Ocean.”

EDIT #2 – 23 March 23:25 GMT

Exactly like I said: “Flight 370 changed altitude, flying as low as 12,000 feet after making sharp turn. http://cnn.it/1fSIli7 #MH370 #CNN
@IrshaadAbdoolMarch 23

EDIT #1 – 22 March 12:05 GMT

#MH370 disappeared from radar screen because it was “falling”.Becauseonly transponders can show altitude data;which was switched off #MH370
@IrshaadAbdoolMarch 22

Let us first look at some technical stuffs related to aviation and communication technologies that may be related to our article.

1. The plane

The aircraft was a Boeing 777-200ER bearing registration mark 9M-MRO. Designed to carry 282 passengers, the plane was delivered to Malaysian Airlines on the 31 May 2002, and has accumulated 53460 hours of flight (in service). It has never been involved in any major incident and has had a Maintenance ‘A-check’ on the 23rd of February 2014. (‘A-check’s include a general external inspection of the structure for evidence of corrosion, damage, deformation or missing parts.) Boeing 777 airplanes are defined as those having one of the best almost flawless safety records among commercial planes.

2. The Cockpit’s crew

Zaharie Ahmad Shah, the flight captain, 53 and of malaysian nationality, joined Malaysia Airlines in 1981. He’s accumulated 18365 hours of flight experience. Zaharie was also a certified examiner that was authoried by the Malaysian Civil Aviation Department to conduct simulator tests for pilots.

Zaharie had 27-year-old Fariq Abdul Hamid as first-officer on that MH370 flight. Fariq has been working for MA since 2007 and has since then accumulated 2763 hours of flight experience.

The house of both the captain and the first officer was raided by police. There were claims by an Australian lady who said that Mr.Fariq once invited her and her friend to sit in the cockpit.

3. Transponder

Transponders are devices found on board aircrafts that report their identification when they receive a radio-frequency interrogation usually from Air Traffic Controllers. These are used to label planes on the screen of the air-traffic controller. The identification code is assigned by the controller and changed by the pilot from the transponder’s dash (“Squawk 1234″, pilot switched code to 1234, plane labelled as 1234 on the screen”). Transponders CAN be switched off, meaning that you would see a plane indication on the screen but it will not have no label for registration.

Officers working on MH370 investigation say that the way the transponder stopped responding showed that it has been deliberately switched off.

4. Radar

Radars use radio-waves to sweep areas around it and report of the speed, position and altitude of objects in its line of sight. The dish emits a pulse that hits the object and bounce back to the radar antenna. The time between the sending pulse and the receiving one is used to calculate the distance and position of the object. Planes usually cannot escape the pulse of radars except those stealth planes whose body has been designed and coated with a material and absorb/refract the pulse and thus remain ‘invisible’. Second possibility is by flying very low (below the line of sight of the radar). This method was used by the NAVY seals in the alleged raid and killing of Bin Laden in Pakistan last year. They flew very low to escape Pakistani radars and reach the target location.

MH370 was out of sight of shore-borne civilian radars after leaving the malaysian coast.
An unidentified plane was captured by military radars.
Radar data show that MH370 turned back; flew over Malaysian and headed north-west.

5. Engines’ self-reporting systems/plane’s self-reporting system

The Engines’ are designed to send regular data to their manufacturers HQ regarding their health and performance. Planes too send data about the status of almost everything (reports say even faulty toilet) through satellite to the airline company’s HQ. For that, the company must subscribe to a service provider to be able to benefit from such system. If the company is not subscribed, the plane can just simply ‘ping’ (small pulse similar to humans’ “Hey, Am here!”) the satellite but no data link would open for transfer of data.

Reports say that MH370 pinged satellites for a long time well after the loss of contact with ground. The company responsible for the satellite can only record the pings but cannot have any information about the location of the plane.

6. Black-boxes and their ‘pinging’ capabilities

Black-boxes are actually the Cockpit-Voice-Recorders and the Flight-Data-Recorders and they are not black, they are painted in a reflective orange colour. These devices as their names say, record sound from the cockpit (from the pilots’ headset and a microphone in the middle of the cockpit for ambient sound) and record flight parameters and all instructions sent to instruments on board. These boxes are designed to withstand crashes (impacts of up to 3400 times the force of gravity), intense-heat (2000 degrees celcius) and are waterproof. Another interesting fact, is that they emit radio signals upon coming in contact with water and so for 30 days until the battery dies out.

Let’s now look at the talk-of-the-town and try to explain them.

1. Lost contact with airplane

– DATA/VOICE: This could be the result of damage/powercut to communications systems, preventing the crew to communication with ground and vice-versa. Still, the plane can be seen on the radar screens with its identification too.

– INFORMATION: Powercut/damage to transponder can lead to loss of information regarding to altitude, heading, speed and identification of the aircraft.

– RADAR: Being invisible on radar screen can occur when the plane is out-of-sight of the radar either being out of the range completely or flying below the radio-beams.

2. Phones ringing

Calling a phone and hearing it ‘ringing’ does not always mean that the other phone is up and running. Service providers often put the generic tone playing until the other party takes the call. But also, it can mean that the mobile phone is still on and that it has automatically switched into roaming mode.

3. Online on QQ

Some family members of the passengers reported that their relatives are ‘online’ on QQ, chinese online messaging service. Well, everbody’s claiming that, but nobody is reporting whether the messages are being delivered (same as the double-ticks in WhatsApp). I am not that foolish to say that they need to look whether the other party will reply though.. What could explain the fact that they are online, is that maybe before the whatever incident that happened online, they were using the messaging service and so, they were ‘Online’. And when The Incident happen, the mobile did not have the time/connection to synchronize back to the server that they are now offline. In fact, these systems work likewise; the mobile application send regular status messages to the server saying whether the user is Online – using the application – , Typing – typing a message to some user – , or Offline – not using the application. Last seen is calculated using the timestamp in the server database whereby the server logged Online for the last time for a particular user –

What could have happened?

1. First, its good to note that on board flight MH370, there were 20 experts in Electronic Warfare. A possible scenario could have been that a carefully planned attack was carried out. A group will attempt to enter the cockpit and force the pilot to deviate from its original flight plan and head somewhere else, and at the same time the communication systems will be overidden to stop it from contacting ground and sending information.

2. Ignoring the fact that the plane changed heading, it could have been brought down by a ‘micro-burst’. A micro-burst is like a downward jet of air that blows randomly during thunderstorms and it is strong enough to slam a plane to ground.

3. Hijack whereby the transponder was switched off after being forced by the hijackers and the latter landed the plane on some strip of land in the surroundings close to the hijack location so as to avoid the rescue planes that would be initiated. Do not forget that the disappearance of MH370 was announced hours after loss of contact!

4. Destroyed by a missile. Some are pretending that a missile would leave a radar-signature and thus could not have been used. Well, if there are planes that are ‘stealth’ can fly without appearing on radar screens , why can’t there be missiles with such properties?

What can be done?

1. Track the plane on archived satellite images from spy satellites. (On the Home version of Google Earth, we are able to view archived images, it’s difficult to think that defense authorities and spy agencies do not have satellites with live view and/or archive of what happened on every inch of the globe.)

2. Send high-power signals over the search areas so that if ever the phones are somewhere, they could respond back. This is similar to RFID technology, whereby the circuit even without a power source attached to itself, it sends data when queried using an electromagnetic pulse that triggers its circuit to work and send the string of data stored in its memory. This method is not new as it has been used to track targets before (even if there mobile phones were turned-off). Once the mobiles are emitting and trying  to connect to the cells’ base stations, we can try to locate the phone through triangulation of signals.

3. Look for possible landing sites in the surroundings that can be used for the landing the plane. Private landing strips and long-stretches for sure must be found in the surroundings.

Conclusion

For sure the plane is not air-borne now. Or if it is, it should have been refueled somewhere secretly. With such a colossal team looking for it and finding nothing, chances that the plane has crashed at sea are very-low. The search should now concentrate on the possibilities of hijack.

Points to ponder

1. What if the plane was landed and hidden on an airplane carrier?

2. Entering an airspace illegally can sometimes be like signing your death warrant. There were claims that MH370 flew over Malaysia before changing heading towards the North-West. Where were the Airspace Intrusion Detection Systems? Where were the military radars? ..

3. What if the plane has being found but no news of it has been leaked.

Participating in the search

Countries participating in the search for Flight MH370 - Wall Street Journal

Countries participating in the search for Flight MH370 – Wall Street Journal

 

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About irshaad

Irshaad is from Mauritius and a student in Information Systems Engineering in Turkey. Social, geeky, tech-lover and everything that's linked to technology; he's in it. Not exactly 'Jack of all trades' but he likes to try and test each and everything he comes across. His personal page: irshaad.me