Thursday, March 27, 2014

MH370: Final Update

[A final compilation of news stories. M'sia has concluded that the plane is lost at sea, specifically the southern Indian Ocean. However their incredible history of contradicting themselves will mean some family members will still hang onto hope.

But perhaps for others, there will be closure. They can start to grieve properly. And then, they can get on with their lives.

And one final theory.

This will be the final update until the plane has been found, or there are concrete evidence of where the plane has gone down.

Where is MH370? This is the visual data from Bloomberg.]

MH370: ‘No survivors’


PEARCE AIR FORCE BASE (Australia) — Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak said yesterday that further analysis of satellite data has confirmed that the missing Malaysian airliner went down in the southern Indian Ocean. The announcement narrowed the search area but left many questions unanswered about why it flew to such a remote part of the world.

Experts had previously held out the possibility that the jet could have flown north instead, towards Central Asia, but the new data showed that it could have gone only south, said Mr Najib.

Mr Najib appeared eager to bring closure to the families of the passengers on Flight MH370, two-thirds of whom are Chinese. The families have grown increasingly angry about the lack of clear information about the plane’s fate.

The Boeing 777, with 227 passengers and 12 crew members on board, was headed from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing when it disappeared on March 8.

The aircraft’s last known position, based on the analysis, “is a remote location, far from any possible landing sites”, Mr Najib said. “It is, therefore, with deep sadness and regret that I must inform you that, according to this new data, Flight MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean.”

The new analysis of the flight path, Mr Najib said, came from Inmarsat, the British company that provided the satellite data, and from the British air safety agency. The company had “used a type of analysis never before used in an investigation of this sort”, he said.

Shortly before the Prime Minister spoke, Malaysia Airlines officials informed relatives of the missing passengers and crew gathered at a hotel near Kuala Lumpur, and sent text messages to those who were elsewhere.

The hunt for the missing plane has focused on the southern Indian Ocean area in recent days and an Australian naval vessel searched there yesterday after a military surveillance aircraft spotted what was described as possible debris from the missing jetliner.

Mr Najib said the Malaysian authorities would hold a news conference today to give further details about the satellite data analysis and other developments in the search.

After a number of false sightings over more than two weeks of search efforts, Australian officials were cautious about what the crew of a Royal Australian Air Force P-3 Orion aircraft had spotted as they combed the search area yesterday.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott told Parliament they had reported seeing two objects, “a grey or green circular object” and “an orange rectangular object”, in an area about 2,500km south-west of Perth in western Australia.

But later yesterday, Australian authorities said all search aircraft had finished their missions for the day without making any further sightings.

The objects spotted by the Australian plane were different from the possible debris reportedly seen during the first search flights by two Chinese Air Force Ilyushin IL-76 aircraft yesterday. The crew of one of the Chinese planes, which had a reporter on board, spotted “suspicious objects,” according to official Chinese news agency Xinhua.

Australia, China and France have said that satellite images have also indicated objects floating in the search zone, an area roughly consistent with a southern flight path calculated from “pings” emitted by equipment aboard Flight 370 and picked up by a satellite for more than seven hours after ground controllers lost contact with the plane.

Finding the plane’s flight recorders, or black boxes, will be crucial to determining what may have caused the plane’s disappearance. The devices are designed to transmit signals to help searchers locate them, but searchers have only about two weeks left to find them using this method before the devices’ batteries run out.

The Malaysian government has been less vocal lately about any findings from the police inquiry into the people on board the missing plane, including Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah and the junior pilot in the cockpit Fariq Abdul Hamid.

Investigators and officials have said the plane’s extraordinary trajectory, veering far off course just after its last radio contact with the ground, and the fact that its transponders stopped working at about the same time appeared to involve actions by someone experienced in aviation.

Malaysian Defence Minister and Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said yesterday that the police had interviewed more than a hundred people, including relatives of each pilot.

Mr Hishammuddin also confirmed that the plane was carrying wooden shipping pallets. One of the objects reportedly sighted in the Indian Ocean was such a pallet, but they are very commonly used and one in the ocean could have come from a ship.

Malaysia Airlines Chief Executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said yesterday that the plane was also carrying about 20kg of lithium batteries, which can be a fire hazard in certain circumstances. But he said the batteries had been handled and packaged so that they were deemed “non-hazardous” under civil aviation standards. There was also some fruit and radio equipment in the cargo, he added.

[There are contradictory reports that there were 200 kg of Lithium batteries, instead of 20 kg. Again, inconsistencies. Exaggeration?  Or deliberate distortion?]

Mr Yahya did not directly answer a question about whether the full cargo manifest had been given to Australian investigators; that was a matter for the investigation team, he said.

The New York Times


Malaysia Airlines ‘deeply regrets’ conclusion that MH370 ended in southern Indian Ocean


KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia Airlines said it “deeply regrets that we have to assume that MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean”.

In a statement shared with family members of passengers and crew of Flight MH370, the airline said it would continue to provide assistance and support to family members.

“The ongoing multinational search operation will continue, as we seek answers to the questions which remain. Alongside the search for MH370, there is an intensive investigation, which we hope will also provide answers,” the airline said.

Here is the statement in full:
Malaysia Airlines deeply regrets that we have to assume that MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean. As you will hear in the next hour from Malaysia’s Prime Minister, new analysis of satellite data suggests the plane went down in the Southern Indian Ocean.
On behalf of all of us at Malaysia Airlines and all Malaysians, our prayers go out to all the loved ones of the 226 passengers and of our 13 friends and colleagues at this enormously painful time.
We know there are no words that we or anyone else can say which can ease your pain. We will continue to provide assistance and support to you, as we have done since MH370 first disappeared in the early hours of 8 March, while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
The ongoing multinational search operation will continue, as we seek answers to the questions which remain. Alongside the search for MH370, there is an intensive investigation, which we hope will also provide answers.
We would like to assure you that Malaysia Airlines will continue to give you our full support throughout the difficult weeks and months ahead.
Once again, we humbly offer our sincere thoughts, prayers and condolences to everyone affected by this tragedy.



MH370: Plane ended flight in southern Indian Ocean, says Malaysia PM


KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 ended its flight in the southern Indian Ocean based on fresh data from a UK satellite company, Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak said tonight (March 24).

Mr Najib said British satellite company Inmarsat and the UK Air Accidents Investigation Board (AAIB) had used a new system to calculate MH370’s flight path.

“I was briefed by representatives from the United Kingdom AAIB today and Inmarsat, who had performed further calculations on their existing data,” Mr Najib told reporters.

“They had used a new type of analysis which had previously never been used before in an investigation like this,” he said. The analysis concluded that MH370 flew along the Southern Corridor and that its last position was in the middle of the Indian Ocean, West of Perth.

“This is a remote location, far from any possible landing site,” said Mr Najib. “It is therefore with deep sadness and regret that I must inform you that, according to this new data, flight MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean,” he said.

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 vanished from civilian radar screens less than an hour after take-off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing with 239 people on board on March 8.

Families of passengers of the missing Malaysian airliner have been told that the plane ended its journey in the southern Indian Ocean. Mr Najib urged the media to respect their privacy during this “diffult time”.

No confirmed sighting of the plane has been made since, but much debris has been found in remote waters off Australia which might be part of the missing plane. AGENCIES

Here is the full statement:
This evening I was briefed by representatives from the UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB). They informed me that Inmarsat, the UK company that provided the satellite data which indicated the northern and southern corridors, has been performing further calculations on the data. Using a type of analysis never before used in an investigation of this sort, they have been able to shed more light on MH370’s flight path.
Based on their new analysis, Inmarsat and the AAIB have concluded that MH370 flew along the southern corridor, and that its last position was in the middle of the Indian Ocean, west of Perth.
This is a remote location, far from any possible landing sites. It is therefore with deep sadness and regret that I must inform you that, according to this new data, flight MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean.
We will be holding a press conference tomorrow with further details. In the meantime, we wanted to inform you of this new development at the earliest opportunity. We share this information out of a commitment to openness and respect for the families, two principles which have guided this investigation.
Malaysia Airlines have already spoken to the families of the passengers and crew to inform them of this development. For them, the past few weeks have been heartbreaking; I know this news must be harder still. I urge the media to respect their privacy, and to allow them the space they need at this difficult time.

9 Things That Didn't Happen to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370

The evidence is mounting that a deliberate action by someone on board caused the diversion and disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. But over the past week and a half since the plane vanished, as contradictory information came in from various sources, people floated plenty of crazier ideas about the plane's fate.

By Joshua A. Krisch
Popular Mechanics

March 18, 2014

Iranian Terrorists Stole (or Blew Up) the Airplane 

You can't blame the United States for hearing about a missing jumbo jet and immediately thinking "terrorism." Only hours after MH370 went missing, rumors began to circulate that two Iranian nationals aboard the flight had been traveling with stolen passports, as did speculation that these passengers pointed to an Iranian terrorist plot.

Now it looks as if they were just two guys traveling with stolen passports. Interpol investigated both travelers and did not find any evidence that linked them to a terrorist group. As Ronald K. Noble, secretary general of Interpol, told The New York Times, "The more information we get, the more we are inclined to conclude it is not a terrorist incident."

The Passengers are Safe ... and Taking Calls 

Perhaps the saddest—and eeriest—Flight 370 theory is that the passengers are safe but unable to answer their cellphones. When the airplane first went missing, several of the passengers' families announced that their loved ones' mobile phones rang repeatedly, instead of going straight to voicemail. Add that to reports that the passengers' instant messaging accounts remain online and active, and some began to suspect that the passengers were alive, albeit with spotty Internet access. [the Horror!]

Although we'd like to believe that the 227 souls aboard MH370 are alive and well, the phantom cellphone theory has been effectively debunked. Even if a phone is completely destroyed, a few rings on the caller's end are fairly typical while the network searches for a connection, Jeff Kagan, a wireless analyst, told NBC News.

Chinese Satellites Found the Wreckage 

One of the most promising leads so far was the rumor that Chinese military satellites had spotted the wreckage. This news spread like wildfire last week, only to fizzle just as rapidly. Malaysian officials announced that the Chinese images did not contain signs of debris, and that search planes have already scoured this region of the South China Sea, to no avail.

The World's First Cyber Hijacker Is in Control 

This week a theory has gained traction that a malicious hacker infiltrated the airplane's electrical system, echoing earlier claims by Hugo Teso, a technology consultant who announced last year that he could theoretically disable an aircraft with a cellphone.

It's a wild theory, and one that would fundamentally change how we view cyber security. But the FAA vehemently denies that a hacker could gain control over a passenger jet. "The hacking technique described during a recent computer security conference does not pose a flight safety concern because it does not work on certified flight hardware," the FAA said in an official statement it released.

A Meteor Hit the Plane

CNN raised the possibility of a meteor strike after noting that a meteor had been reported in the area around the same time that Flight 370 took off. The odds of a meteor taking out an airplane are pretty slim, and, ironically, the odds of being hit by a meteor are less than the odds of dying in a plane crash.

Just Another Zionist Plot

Unaware that they were citing a satirical post, conspiracy theorists have been promoting the theory that Israeli intelligence blew up Flight 370. Snopes caught on and debunked the rumor, but that didn't stop some people from taking to social media to prove that the Mossad had performed yet another vicious (if not terribly covert) assassination.

Missing Engineers and Their Invisibility Cloaks 

Amidst tired conspiracy theories that point fingers at the Illuminati, aliens, and the Mossad, one novel take on the missing flight caught our attention. Last week skeptics discovered that 20 of the missing passengers on board Flight 370 were engineers at Freescale Semiconductor, a technology firm that develops components for military aircraft weapons systems. The resulting conspiracy theory: MH370 is cloaked, as part of either a wacky publicity stunt or a very sophisticated terrorist plot.

Although stealth technology could theoretically render an airplane invisible to radar, we're not convinced. Business associates often travel in groups, and Freescale Semiconductor has issued a statement expressing grief over the loss of its 20 employees.

An Elaborate Insurance Fraud

When a house catches fire, insurance companies investigate for signs of arson. But when a plane goes missing, how many insurers cry foul? Last week Malaysian officials investigated the insurance policies of each passenger on board MH370, searching for signs of recently purchased life insurance as a motive for suicide.

Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu Bakar has not ruled out an elaborate insurance scheme, although we have no indication that any one passenger is suspected. While Malaysia claims to be examining all leads, we are fairly confident (read: hopeful) that one passenger didn't murder some 240 people to collect on his life insurance policy.

Obscure Airborne Chinese Martyrs 

Days after the Malaysian Airlines flight went missing, the Chinese Martyrs' Brigade claimed responsibility. No one had ever heard of the Chinese Martyrs' Brigade, so officials were skeptical, but the brigade's menacing email sent to Chinese journalists read, "You kill one of our clan, we kill 100 of you".

Malaysia's minister of transportation, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, told reporters that "there is no sound or credible grounds to justify their claims."

Mar 25, 2014

Mystery of MH370 'may never be solved', say aviation experts

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - Even if searchers are able to miraculously pluck Malaysia Airlines flight MH370's "black box" from the depths of the vast Indian Ocean, experts say it may not solve one of aviation's greatest mysteries.

Planes and ships with state-of-the-art tracking equipment are hunting for any trace of the passenger jet, which Malaysia said crashed into the forbidding waters after veering far from its intended course.

They face a huge challenge locating the Boeing 777's black box, which holds vital clues to determining what caused the plane to vanish after it took off from Kuala Lumpur en route to Beijing on March 8.

But experts believe the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder may not yield answers on the riddle of how and why the plane changed its path an hour into the flight, and embarked on a baffling journey to the southern reaches of the Indian Ocean.

The data recorder details the aircraft's path and other mechanical information for the flight's duration, and "should provide a wealth of information", US-based aviation consultancy firm Leeham Co said in a commentary.

But the cockpit voice recorder - which could reveal what decisions were made by those at the helm and why - retains only the last two hours of conversations before a plane's demise.

That means potentially crucial exchanges surrounding the initial diversion, which took place halfway between Malaysia and Vietnam, will be lost.

"Clearly, it won't reveal anything that happened over the Gulf of Thailand - this will have been overwritten by the end of MH370," it said.

Leeham added that it also remains to be seen whether the cockpit recorder will contain anything pertinent about the plane's final two hours, when it is believed to have either ditched or run out of fuel.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said on Monday that flight MH370 had gone down in the Indian Ocean with its 239 passengers and crew, citing new satellite data analysis.

But its exact location and the circumstances of its diversion remain a mystery. No distress signal was ever received.

Three scenarios have gained particular traction: hijacking, pilot sabotage, or a sudden mid-air crisis that incapacitated the flight crew and left the plane to fly on auto-pilot for several hours until it ran out of fuel.

Malaysia has said it believes the plane was deliberately diverted by someone on board.

But with the travelling public and aviation industry hanging on every twist in the drama, no firm evidence has emerged from the Malaysian investigation to support any of the theories circulating.

British aviation expert Chris Yates said that even if the black boxes are found, "it seems unlikely that we will get that answer" of why the plane ended up thousands of kilometres off course.

"We still have no idea as to the mental state of the pilot and co-pilot, we have no idea if somebody managed to get into the cockpit to seize the aircraft, and we've certainly had no admissions of responsibility since this whole episode started," he told BBC television.

"It is a mystery like no other."

Debris has been sighted far off Australia's west coast but an international search effort has been unable to retrieve any for confirmation, and wreckage could have drifted hundreds of kilometres from where the plane crashed.

"As investigators, we deal with physical evidence and right now we don't have any physical evidence to work with," Mr Anthony Brickhouse, a member of the International Society of Air Safety Investigators said.

The batteries powering the locator signal of the black boxes will run out in less than two weeks.

A US device capable of detecting that signal even on the ocean floor was being sent to the scene, but weather and treacherous sea conditions have hampered the effort to pinpoint the black box location.

Mr Paul Yap, an aviation lecturer at Singapore's Temasek Polytechnic, said that if the black box is not found, "chances are we are never going to find out what really happened".

"With the new satellite data, I think we can say it is a chessboard," he said of the wide search area.

"The question now is to find which grid on that chessboard to focus on, where the black boxes are."

Mar 18 2014

Malaysia’s Sinister Timeline for Flight 370 Unravels

Government officials now admit the data system and transponder quit communicating after the pilots said things were OK. That means they didn’t lie.

The official Malaysian account of the last contacts made to and received by Flight MH370 is unraveling. As it does, the sinister interpretations of what happened in the cockpit of the Boeing 777 become less persuasive.

We return to the all-important timeline. Originally, the Malaysians said that the last words from the cockpit—from the copilot, “All right, good night”—were spoken to air traffic controllers as the airplane left Malaysian air space at 1:30am.

This week, that timing was significantly changed to 1:19 a.m.—significantly because it meant that the airplane’s transponder, which identifies the flight and confirms its position, stopped operating at 1:22 a.m., after the voice message and not before. As long as it seemed that that calm voice contact was concealing an already-initiated plan to render the 777 invisible, the flight crew were made to look like prime suspects.

Now the chronology has become even more slippery. This time the issue is the other umbilical link between the airplane and the ground, its Aircraft Communications and Addressing Reporting System (ACARS). Malaysia Airlines Chief Executive, Ahmad Jauhari Yahya confessed to a news conference in Kuala Lumpur late Monday that it was now unclear when the ACARS system had been disabled.

Earlier, Acting Transport Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein had said that ACARS contact was lost at 1:07am, before the last words from the cockpit.

Amazingly, the airline chief now admits: “We don’t know when the ACARS was switched off.” It had, he said, worked normally at 1:07 a.m. but failed to send its next scheduled signal at 1:37 a.m.

Bearing in mind the daily muddle and contradictions of these press briefings, this new picture needs carefully to be parsed.

The New Timeline
1:07 - ACARS ping
1:19 - “All right”
1:22 - Transponder quits
1:37 - no ACARS ping
There is, for example, the big difference between “disabled” and “switched off.” The first could mean that a technical failure could have caused it to stop working. The second means a deliberate act by human hand. You don’t need to be a lawyer to appreciate that there is a big difference in the implications of the two terms—and that their use could be either careless or intentional, or just reveal a group of guys who are unaware of the need for precision.

You have to wonder what happens before these astounding reversals pop out of the mouths of Malaysian officials. Do they conceal backstage arguments involving authority, turf, and alternative interpretations of the data? And since the data seems to be so squishy, where is it coming from? Is it all being filtered before we get to witness this farrago in action?

These fresh reversals are not minor in importance. They are fundamental to getting a grip on just what information is available that can be regarded as dependable, the starting point for any investigation, and fundamental to being able to reconstruct with any confidence what was happening to the 777 as it ceased to follow its normal flight path and began its departure into the vast void.

If the new timing on ACARS is correct, it does help to explain how that system was deployed on the Malaysian 777—sending its status reports every 30 minutes.

These reports are short and compact bursts of data—in both text and code—transmitted to commercial data service centers on the ground. These centers then pass on the content to airline operational bases where, for example, maintenance staff can check whether a spare part should be ready at the airplane’s destination. They are also relayed to Boeing and the manufacturers of the engines, in this case Rolls Royce. Engineers on the ground can also send back short messages to the airplane.

The fact that, in the case of Flight 370, these discrete transmissions took place at 30 minute intervals means that although ACARS was monitoring and digesting pre-determined areas of the 777’s behavior—in a sense, its technical life support systems— it was not in any way able to act as a kind of closed-circuit television camera continually recording events in case of trouble and able to relay that situation to observers on the ground. There is no means of doing that.

It’s a trope of bank heist movies that the bad guys disable or mask the CCTV cameras before they get the loot. But why would anyone seeking to skyjack or otherwise get control of this flight go to the trouble of taking out the ACARS? Knowing the rate of fuel consumption or the state of the hydraulic fluids only every 30 minutes would give no clue to either treachery on the flight deck or a takeover in progress.

Perpetrators of any technical proficiency would expect that their greatest threat would come from outside the airplane, not from within it. They were flying through a busy air corridor to China, watched over by both military and civilian radar. They would have assumed that they needed to get far out over an ocean to elude that. In fact, Malaysians have shown themselves unable to collect and interpret information from their own radar systems with any precision, something that is frustrating aviation accident investigators as well as the intelligence community.

If the role of ACARS in the planning of the disappearing act now seems dubious, that leaves the role of turning off the transponder in serious trouble. Here we still have to believe what the Malaysians are telling us, even though they have successfully muddied the waters on everything else. With so much else crumbling, the transponder lies at the heart of this great mystery. At least, for now.


How Flight 370 Could Have Become a Zombie

Damage to the electronic nerve center might have left the airplane brain-dead but physically capable of flying for hours on autopilot until it ran out of fuel.

Consider this one statement about Flight MH370: It flew until it ran out of gas.

On its own that’s a pretty remarkable image. The whole story of this flight begins to look different if you begin at the end, not the beginning.

The end is alarmingly simple and final. It is not surrounded by disputes about who did what and when. There is only one source for it, the “pings” indicating that the airplane was still “alive” in the air, and (roughly) for how long. If we reverse-engineer the progress of the Boeing 777 from this single moment of clarity, where does it begin to get complicated?

An airplane doesn’t normally fly until it runs out of gas if pilots are flying it. It’s not being “flown” at all in that sense; it’s flying itself. In order to do that it has to be in stable equilibrium – “inherent stability” is a quality that airplane designers are required to give the airplane.

This composure comes to an abrupt end when the fuel runs out. Both of the 777’s engines would not quit at the same time. Fuel would dribble to a stop in one before it did in the other.  At that point, with a loss of symmetry in the power provided by the engines, the airplane banks sharply and dives, into the water.

Given this scenario, we must assume that the crew and passengers were either unconscious or dead. Six or more hours have passed (the time varies according to interpretation of the pinging received by a satellite) during which the airplane has flow at least 3,000 miles.

Following the reverse timeline, this “clean” hypothesis – the undisputed physical characteristics of the airplane in flight – only gets “dirty” when it meets the cluster of events following the last call from the pilots at 1:19 a.m. In other words, what could have brought the airplane to the point where it headed off to its fate?

The whole picture of the 777’s behavior once it departed from its direct route to Beijing has, from the start, been colored by the quasi-criminalization of the investigation. Suspicion has been directed at two targets, the pilots and the passengers.

Sinister motives are given to what few fragments of information we have – the disappearance of signals from the transponder that fixes the jet’s position, the similar ending of signals from its maintenance monitoring system, the presence of a flight simulator in the pilot’s home and the deletion of some files from it – and the latest source of alarm: The fact that the 777’s sudden change of direction was programmed into its flight management system. [Note: M'sia has since corrected themselves and said that the FMS was not re-programmed to divert from China when ACARS reported at 1:07. The plane was programmed to fly all the way to Beijing.]

The AIMS units are the gateway for all communications to and from the flight deck.
The more the information is slanted in this direction, the less easy it becomes to achieve an independent forensic focus. There is certainly a need to interrogate the facts for a criminal or terrorist interpretation – we live in a world of plotters – but there is equally a need to rigorously see if there are not alternative explanations innocent of malignant design.

Experts I have talked to believe that investigators should be, and probably are, including in their scenarios at least one that would be accidental and not criminal. This would have its origins not on the flight deck or in the cabin but in the belly of the 777 – in either the cargo hold or the electronics bay or both.

Electronically, the brain center of the 777 is in its Airplane Information Management System, AIMS, in the electronics bay. This handles the management of the flight itself – how the airplane is flown in real time – as well as the cockpit information displays, monitoring of all its conditions including the cabin climate, and the receipt and dispatch of data.

In the 777, the AIMS was designed with robust backup ability, what is called “deferred maintenance operation.”  If there is a failure in any one of its systems it can continue to operate for as many as 30 days before needing maintenance.

The airplane’s two umbilical links to the ground that have featured so critically in this case, the transponder and the ACARS monitoring device, relay their signals through external antennas. The transponder has two antennas under the forward section of the fuselage and the ACARS antenna is at the top of the rear fuselage (its design and position vary with models).

There are at least two locations that could be responsible for the loss of these communications – either by an electrical fault, failure or fire in the electronics bay itself, or as a result of some kind of explosion or fire in the cargo hold that affected the electronics bay. The AIMS units are the gateway for all communications to and from the flight deck. Experts believe, for example, that it is feasible that the loss of both the transponder and the ACARS signals could be explained by this kind of disruption, while backup systems still ensured that the airplane could fly.

Another explanation is that a certain kind of combustion in the cargo hold could rapidly introduce toxic fumes and smoke into the cabin and flight deck. The National Transportation Safety Board found that there was an unusually large consignment of lithium-ion batteries on the cargo manifest.

These batteries were for consumer electronic products like laptops and cell phones, not the much more powerful industrial-strength lithium-ion batteries that provide power to the systems of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, batteries that caused fire emergencies and the grounding the 787 fleet.

An expert on lithium-ion technology, Dr. Victor Ettel, told me: “The organic electrolyte in lithium-ion batteries decomposes at very high temperatures, generating very toxic fumes typically containing compounds of fluorine and arsenic. Regulation packaging would inhibit the potential of open fire and therefore enhance the probability of generating toxic gases.”

In the case of the fire at Boston Logan airport in January 2013, caustic smoke originating the lower rear electronics bay very quickly filled the cabin. Since the 787 was parked at the gate and the cabin was empty there were no casualties in the cabin (firefighters who worked in the electronics bay were injured). Had the airplane been in the air, the smoke would have been lethal to both passengers and crew.

This raises the issue of whether such an event could incapacitate passengers and crew and yet leave an airplane able to fly itself.

Lithium-ion batteries do not represent a fully mastered science. An NTSB hearing on the 787 battery emergencies revealed that Boeing had subcontracted battery design to a French company, Thales, who in turn had subcontracted it to a Japanese company. The Japanese admitted that the technology was “not mature.” (The pressure to employ lithium-ion batteries comes from their ability to deliver more power for a lot less weight.)

Boeing disputed that the events were even fires. They said it would be more accurate to describe them as the venting of gases. However they are described, the effects are serious. There is no experience of lithium-ion batteries “venting” into an airplane cabin at cruise altitude and therefore no knowledge of whether, after such an event, the chain reaction that started it would stop for lack of oxygen.

Experts who have studied the erratic trajectory of MH370 after it made its turn told me that it could be attributed to the pilots dealing with the effects of either smoke, fire or a loss of oxygen due to a slow decompression of the air inside the airplane. In the case of a decompression the first response is to lose altitude as fast as possible, to get below 10,000 feet, in order to stabilize air pressure and remove the need for oxygen masks.

Reports that, instead, the 777 soared as high as 45,000 feet before rapidly falling are viewed with deep skepticism. As I have already reported, the airplane was heavy with fuel and would have struggled to reach even 38,000 feet.

The behavior of the Air France Airbus A330 that disappeared over the South Atlantic in 2009 has some bearing on understanding what the 777’s flight pattern could reveal. The Air France pilots, mishandling the airplane after its computerized flight management system had shut down, created a high speed stall, in which the Airbus pitched up from 36,000 feet to 38,000 feet and then, compounding the problem, the pilots failed to correct the stall. They had no control over its rapid descent into the ocean.

As it approached the water the Airbus had, in fact, assumed an inherently stable attitude, with its wings level and its nose slightly up as it would be on a final approach to an airport. One expert I spoke with pointed out that if the Malaysian pilots fought to regain control after having lost it, the 777 would first have followed the kind of zigzag course at various altitudes that some radar reports indicate it did.

The 777 is an inherently stable airplane. Once stabilized by the pilots, the airplane was in a condition where the autopilot could take over and fly it until the fuel ran out – which is what happened over the Mediterranean in 2005 when a Boeing 737 of Helios Airways lost cabin pressure and flew itself for three hours.

And so here we arrive at the intersection of the two timelines: the one beginning at the end and the one beginning with the 777’s change of course.

One stubborn fact punctures this de-criminalized scenario, though. Why was there no mayday distress call from the flight deck from the time when the change of course was programmed into the computers through the whole time the pilots were dealing with an emergency, no matter what its cause?

First, we need to understand the significance of the fact that the change in the flight plan was initiated by key commands on the computer. Much is being made of this as being sinister – that the pilots were either following some dark plot of their own or under duress from an intruder or intruders on the flight deck.

There are two ways of making a radical change of flight plan like that. The first is what the pilots did, enter it into the flight management system. The second, which takes only slightly less time, is to disconnect the autopilot and hand-fly the airplane to its new course. The pilots could have simply felt that although the emergency required them to turn toward one of the several nearest airports, in Malaysia or Vietnam, there was not enough urgency that they needed to disconnect the autopilot to do this. Hand-flying the turn at that altitude and cruise speed would not have given the passengers as smooth a ride as leaving the airplane in the hands of the flight management system which is able to micro-fly with great subtlety. [Not relevant since M'sia has corrected themselves. The turn may have been hand flown. This article was posted on the 19th. on 23rd, M'sia reversed their former statement on the ACARS and updated that ACARS report at 1:07 showed a normal routing all the way to Beijing.]

However…the failure to send a distress call still undermines the neatness of this picture.

Until we know otherwise we have to accept that no such call was made. It is the one firm remaining indictment of the pilots’ behavior.

Yet given how slippery almost every other piece of information given by Malaysian authorities has turned out to be, could this also be suspect? Did the pilots in fact make a call that was not heard or reported in the early hours of that Saturday? After all, retrieving something as simple as an accurate radar track of the flight as it left the control of Malaysia and entered Vietnamese air space has proved to be strangely difficult.

And when it comes to tracking the entire flight, to knowing for exactly how long the 777 flew while not knowing at all which direction it took, we remain dependent on the information from Inmarsat, the British company whose satellite received the continual pinging for as long as the flight lasted.

In 2014 we have suddenly lurched backward to 1937 and the world of Amelia Earhart. When she disappeared over the Pacific there were said to have been radio transmissions three hours after her last voice contact. People are still hunting for her and her Lockheed Electra today. [Not if they read the right papers.]

[The only question unanswered is "why no distress call?" It is the most basic of operations. It should almost be instinct to call for help first. There are 3 possibilities. One, there was a call, but it was not heard. Perhaps the plane was still on KL ATC frequency, but they were too far. Perhaps the radio was switch from KL ATC to Vietnam ATC frequency incorrectly. BUT, I understand that there is a radio always switched to the Emergency Channel, so that should be monitored. Two, the crew was prevented from making a call by a belligerent. This could be a hijacker, a terrorist, a suicidal/murderous crew. The crew could have been prevented by threat, by force, or by the disabling of the radio. Three, the crew was rendered unconscious or semi-conscious.

From a forum post:]
Last night, at around 9 PM., I was unpacking a new shipment of Sanyo made in China CR 123 primary Lithium batteries, 20 of them to be exact, that came neatly packed in plastic sealed bags. They all looked good to me, as I would test them soon with my new ZTS tester before use. Then, accidentally, I dropped one of them from about 4 feet. The impact is what I would consider mild and I was not alarmed, nonetheless, a strange but non- repulsive smell was felt. I looked at the battery, and out of instinct and without much thought picked it up, pulled the positive end with the vent holes up close to my nose and inhaled to see if the battery was venting!! (how stupid could I have been!!, after all the research to avoid this very thing) AAGGHH!! I immediately placed the battery outside and swore this would be one battery I would not be using in the flashlight. I did this too because, after all, maybe only a battery explosion would be dangerous right ?? I forgot about the incident and headed upstairs to watch a movie on TV.

Then, about 20 minutes later, it hit me. Surprisingly and out of the blue, I started coughing violently, felt a severe shortness of breath along with chest pain. My arms and legs started to weaken on me and go "cold". A rush of panic set on me and I immediately linked the episode to a reaction of the inhalation of vapors from the dropped battery.
[The smell is described as "strange but non-repulsive". No visible gas was mentioned, so other than the strange smell, there are no other detectable signs of gas. Also the effect is delayed, at least for a whiff of the fume. So it is possible that the Lithium batteries were damaged and vented toxic gas. As the gas is not visible, it does not raise the suspicion of smoke and fire. And the cargo smoke alarm and automatic fire suppression system (if any) would not react to a non-fire venting of fumes. The fumes find their way to the cabin and the cockpit. The gas is not repulsive, so passengers and crew may not react or comment on it. The effect of the gas may not be immediate so no one raises the alarm. The contributor to the forum post (above) continued. He went to the Hospital emergency, where he suffered a second episode before he saw a doctor:]
... surprisingly the doctor was well versed in this type of poisonous inhalation. He could relate to all the symptoms, and concluded I had inhaled dangerous Hydrofluoric acid vapor. The delayed reaction, he said, was due to the bloodstream absorbing the vapor and hence the shortness of breath, chest pain,and weak limbs. A third episode took place while in the emergency room but this time it was much less than the first or second episodes. It has been about 14 hours since this incident, I did not get much sleep last night but not because I felt bad, only very scared.

Hydrofluoric acid will, with a possible delayed effect, affect the nervous system, respiratory tract, lungs, and impair the cardiovascular system.
[With a delay in effect, the cockpit crew may have been inhaling the fumes for 10 minutes or so when they last radioed KL ATC reporting that everything was alright. A few minutes later, the effects kick in - violent coughing, chest pains, shortness of breath, and weakness in arms and legs. The cockpit crew is unable to make even a distress call. Maybe one of them falls unconscious or even dies, leaving the other to aviate, navigate, and communicate. 

It should be relatively effortless to raise a distress call. BUT... the radio, transponder, and ACARS are disabled. How? Perhaps the batteries ignited sometime after the initial venting of the gas and damaged the electronics bay and the AIMS, and the antennae. Lithium-ion fires are hard to put out. Halon (the gas in fire suppressant system on aircraft) can put out the fire, but the batteries can continue to overheat and re-ignite. Water is required to cool the batteries to prevent re-ignition.

This accident would require a coincidence of timing.

1:07 ACARS transmit status. Lithium Batteries are venting fumes that are filling the cabin, and the cockpit. Crew and passengers are breathing the fumes, but effects are delayed.
1:19 Co-pilot sends last voice contact to KL ATC, and switches radio to Vietnam ATC channel. Batteries ignite. Fire suppression system not yet activated. Smoke starts to fill cargo.
1:22 Fire damages electronics bay and AIMS which disables transmitter/Transponder (and perhaps ACARS). Fire suppression system activates and puts out fire, but without water, the batteries continue to overheat and possibly re-ignite. Halon is again activated and puts out the fire. This can continue to repeat (overheat-ignition-extinguishment-overheat-etc) until the halon is exhausted. 
In the cockpit, the flight crew is suffering from the fumes from the lithium batteries, when the fire alarm goes off. They respond to the fire (activate Halon), and makes a distress call but is unable to transmit (fire has disabled AIMS, electronics bay, transmitter?). 
Next they turn the plane back, but the cockpit crew is semi-conscious and weakened by the fumes. 

[Edit 28 Mar (from PPRuNe):
"some T7 drivers (B777 pilots) have previously suggested that they might not want to return to KL due to terrain."
So they may have aimed for Penang (This is assuming a dual FMC failure)
"The quickest way to find a lat/long is to look at the chart and pick a waypoint near where you want to go, AGARI for instance. Then add a few more followed by lat/long of Penang. You are then back in LNAV with a track displayed. My supposition is that the lat/long of Penang might have been entered incorrectly as a South latitude and that after a crew incapacitation the aircraft simply navigated south to that point. "
But some PPRuNe comments disagree that pilots would rely on FMC/FMS. But if the pilots were semi-conscious and not sure how long they would be conscious or how alert they would be, they may have to.] 

1:30 (or slightly after) Vietnam ATC tries to call them, but there is no answer. Vietnam ATC gets another plane (another 777) 30 minutes ahead of MH370 to relay message to the plane. The Narita-bound 777 contacted MH370 on the emergency channel but gets a lot of static. MH370 tries to send a distress call, but their message is garbled. The other pilot thinks nothing of it as he does not detect any anxiety or panic in the voice. This is because the crew has been incapacitated by the fumes and is semi-conscious and unable to speak with any energy. The brief connection is lost, perhaps because the emergency radio is now also damage or disabled. Or perhaps the planes are too far (by now MH370 could be heading away)
Flight crew programmes new way points into Flight Management System while they are still conscious/semi-conscious. 
2:15 (approximately), flight crew (or one of them) tries to make turn - to land plane perhaps, or correct course, but loses consciousness for the last time. Plane is headed to the southern Indian Ocean. ]

[Update 28 Mar. Educational information on the Black Box:

a) the box is not black. It's orange.

b) the "pinger" or beacon is required to work for at least 30 days. Likely manufacturers will ensure that it will work for minimum 30 days which means it may work longer than that.
c) Info on the beacon/pinger (from PPRuNe):
There seems to be some confusion on the black box pinger.
The pinger on the black boxes use sound waves at 37.5 kHz, and require sonar detectors, which are essentially sophisticated microphones. Even though this falls in the LF band of 30kHz to 300kHz, the LF designation is for radio, or rf, signals, not sound. 37.5 kHz is ultrasound to us humans.
Sound signals are compression waves - they vibrate the molecules back and forth in the direction they are traveling. Radio, or light, waves are called transverse waves. They consist of an electric, or E field, and a magnetic, or H field, which are both at right angles to each other and to the direction they are traveling. 
As they propagate out from a sound source, both sound and radio waves are attenuated by 1/(4*pi*r^2), which is the surface area of a sphere - this is the main reason why sounds or the brightness of lights get weaker the further one moves away from the source. In addition, in water, it appears that sound at 37.5 kHz is attenuated by an additional 0.1 dB/kilometer due to absorption, meaning that sound waves are barely affected by the water. Radio waves at 35 kHz are attenuated by about 6000 dB / kilometer due to the conductivity of salt water, which says the radio wave are essentially totally absorbed.(Underwater Radio Communication by Lloyd Butler VK5BR). This is why they use sound waves instead of radio waves.
However, this does not take into account thermoclines, which, from what I understand, can cause almost total reflection of a sound wave.
This is why, it is not easy to locate.
(30 Mar edit:) "So why not make it easier to locate?"
The beacon is not intended to help searchers find the wreck, it is supposed to help them locate the "black box". Hence the 37.5 kHz sound. It is assumed that the crash site would be known, so the only thing is to find the beacon within a 200 - 500 m radius. A higher frequency (37.5mHz) would be more detectable over the other low frequency marine sounds, but has a detectable range of only about 1500m. A lower frequency sound (11 mHz) would travel further underwater (several km), but it would take more power, and the battery would run out faster.]

[Additional references/resources (30 Mar, edited)
Nasa World View (satellite map of the world). In case you want to search for the aircraft. Note: The image of the assumed crash site is about 4 hours after the final ping (i.e. about noon on Mar 8). 

Marine Traffic map. This provides live update of non-military ships worldwide. So at the time of this post/update, the XueLong ("Snow Dragon"?) is at the site searching/or on the way to the new search site.

FlightRadar24 is a website that allows you to track planes around the world.

Live ATC feed. In case you want to listen to Air Traffic Controllers all around the world. No, you can't talk to them.]

And steps for making aircraft easier to find, harder to lose.

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