Ten days later and the conspiracy theories about Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has included aliens, hijacking, and a new Bermuda Triangle. When aliens are involved it means that we have no idea what happened. But, one guy has a simpler theory. Via Wired:
The left turn is the key here. Zaharie Ahmad Shah1 was a very experienced senior captain with 18,000 hours of flight time. We old pilots were drilled to know what is the closest airport of safe harbor while in cruise. Airports behind us, airports abeam us, and airports ahead of us. They’re always in our head. Always. If something happens, you don’t want to be thinking about what are you going to do–you already know what you are going to do. When I saw that left turn with a direct heading, I instinctively knew he was heading for an airport. He was taking a direct route to Palau Langkawi, a 13,000-foot airstrip with an approach over water and no obstacles. The captain did not turn back to Kuala Lampur because he knew he had 8,000-foot ridges to cross. He knew the terrain was friendlier toward Langkawi, which also was closer.
That all sounds like a reasonable explanation and makes perfect sense. So, what is the deal with the transponder?
For me, the loss of transponders and communications makes perfect sense in a fire. And there most likely was an electrical fire. In the case of a fire, the first response is to pull the main busses and restore circuits one by one until you have isolated the bad one. If they pulled the busses, the plane would go silent. It probably was a serious event and the flight crew was occupied with controlling the plane and trying to fight the fire. Aviate, navigate, and lastly, communicate is the mantra in such situations.
How come none of this common sense stuff a pilot would know isn’t being widely reported? CNN seems to be running on conjecture and speculation, while this guy made it all seem explainable in a few paragraphs. The plane had some kind of electrical fire, but can this guy explain what is up with the seven hours of flight after the initial turn?
What I think happened is the flight crew was overcome by smoke and the plane continued on the heading, probably on George (autopilot), until it ran out of fuel or the fire destroyed the control surfaces and it crashed. You will find it along that route–looking elsewhere is pointless.
Regarding the additional flying time: On departing Kuala Lampur, Flight 370 would have had fuel for Beijing and an alternate destination, probably Shanghai, plus 45 minutes–say, 8 hours. Maybe more. He burned 20-25 percent in the first hour with takeoff and the climb to cruise. So when the turn was made toward Langkawi, he would have had six hours or more hours worth of fuel. This correlates nicely with the Inmarsat data pings being received until fuel exhaustion.
The plane turned into a ghost plane that was on fire and later crashed. It sounds like the best theory going, and also one of the most terrifying theories. How does he explain the dramatic rise in elevation?
As for the reports of altitude fluctuations, given that this was not transponder-generated data but primary radar at maybe 200 miles, the azimuth readings can be affected by a lot of atmospherics and I would not have high confidence in this being totally reliable. But let’s accept for a minute that the pilot may have ascended to 45,000 feet in a last-ditch effort to quell a fire by seeking the lowest level of oxygen. That is an acceptable scenario. At 45,000 feet, it would be tough to keep this aircraft stable, as the flight envelope is very narrow and loss of control in a stall is entirely possible. The aircraft is at the top of its operational ceiling. The reported rapid rates of descent could have been generated by a stall, followed by a recovery at 25,000 feet. The pilot may even have been diving to extinguish flames.
Scary and plausible. Everyone seems to want to point to the unexplainable, when what really happened is probably the most terrifying story that there could be. If this is the case, and the pilots did everything they could to save the plane, I really hope that all the media apologizes to the families for passing judgement on them without all the evidence.