Boeing 777 airplanes do not vanish or fall out of the sky
March 11, 2014
Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200, Registration Number 9M-MRO (tail section shown left) is reported by Malaysia Airlines as the missing aircraft of Flight 370. Shown full above is Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200, Registration Number 9M-MRL (Photo Courtesy of Steve Richardson at FlyersPulse.com)
All contact with Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 was lost just 40 minutes into what was supposed to be a routine flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, China. The Boeing 777-200 en-route was expected to make contact with Ho Chi Mihn air traffic control at the time it disappeared.
The flight was cruising at 35,000 feet in the safest phase of flight with 239 souls aboard, as something apparently mysterious perhaps catastrophic transpired. The immediate concern at this moment is locating the missing aircraft to determine what happened. Above all, the human story irrevocably tied to this mystery is how to bring closure to the grieving families for lost loved ones on-board.
Something baffling or catastrophic happened
A Boeing 777 constantly sends information back to the airline’s operations through a computerized data link. This allows the airlines to keep track of the Boeing 777 asset, so that the airline may become immediately aware of any maintenance, safety or security concerns, as they potentially happen.
In the case of the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 headed to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur, locally at 12:41 am Saturday (Friday afternoon ET), March 8, 2014, air traffic controllers in Subang, outside Kuala Lumpur, lost contact with the Boeing 777 plane over the Gulf of Thailand between Malaysia and Vietnam, 90 nautical miles northeast of Kota Bharu, Malaysia. Malaysia Airlines’ Boeing 777 asset was last tracked at 1722 Zulu (1:22 am local), when it disappeared from radar contact.
What we don’t know much about as of Tuesday, March 11, 2014 are three alarming mysteries: (1) the exact flight path, including an “about-face” of the flight route alternatively directed hundreds of miles off the coast of Malaysia, according to Malaysian military radar, which was apparently allegedly executed by the pilots without warning or report of any problems or concerns; (2) the passenger security and screening and associated mysteries with several passenger passports; and (3) the wider “search and rescue” mission slowly shifting to a “search for a cause” speculative undertaking along several hypothetical dimensions of either mechanical breach, human factors error, terrorism, or possibly hijacking.
Who really knows anything at this point?
Consequences are extraordinary. The possible debris field may be massive. A “black-box” needs to be recovered to establish any chain of evidence and facts in this mystery. And, the experts need to be placed front and center in order to perform their essential tasks of determining the circumstances and a cause of what happened. Human lives are at stake. Henceforward, patience in stating, speculating and storytelling of the truths is prudent.
Pending reports of any remote chance of survivors, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, in which 239 souls have vanished, potentially ranks as the largest air disaster, since American Airlines 587 crashed into a New York suburb back on November 12, 2001, where 260 souls perished.
From the vantage point of a Vietnamese Navy aircraft searching days ago, it was believed to be spotted an aircraft part floating in the Gulf of Thailand, possibility from Malaysia 370. Unfortunately, this apparent spotting turned out to be a mistaken citing. There are now international efforts underway sending ships and aircraft to cast the widest net to locate any wreckage and debris, given an “about-face” of Malaysia 370’s flight route hundreds of miles off course, according to Malaysian military radar. Search and rescue missions have been launched along the now estimated new flight track of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 aircraft, spanning the Gulf of Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysian Coast, and the South China Sea.
Boeing 777 stands for two decades of advanced aviation safety
The Boeing 777 represents 20 years of proven technology with a stellar safety record. The Boeing 777 safety record has been exemplary without incident for two decades until the Asiana Airlines crash landing in San Francisco in July 2013. That incident was a result of pilot error, human factors historically being the cause of 9 out of 10 aviation safety mishaps. Remarkably, all passengers were able to escape the burning aircraft within seconds, largely due to federally-mandated 16-gauge bolted seating that allowed safe avenues of exit for the passengers.
I reported on Fox News then that “Boeing teaches us not only how planes fly, but also how planes should crash in saving hundreds of lives” in the Asiana Airlines San Francisco Airport crash landing.
Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 pilot was 53 years of age and had 18,365 total flight hours. The First Officer was 27 years of age with 2,763 flight hours. Both were highly-experienced pilots.
The majority of passengers on this flight were Chinese with 154 citizens. Additionally, 38 Malaysians, 7 Indonesians, 6 Australians, 5 Indian, 4 French, 3 Americans, 2 New Zealanders, 2 Canadians, 1 Austrian, 1 Dutch, 1 Italian, and 1 Russian were reported to be aboard.
I honestly do not remotely envision or even speculate a Boeing 777-200 breaking up in midair. The Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 was in cruise during the safest phase of normal flight. The mysterious loss of this aircraft is either strangely baffling or likely catastrophic in nature. However, that’s speculation, ahead of recovery of the aircraft asset, as there are no confirmed reports of an emergency locator transmitter even being activated.
Malaysia Airlines has 15 Boeing 777-200 jets (including the missing 9M-MRO and 9M-MRL, shown in the photo above) in its asset portfolio of about 100 planes. The Malaysian government carrier last month publicly reported its fourth straight quarterly loss.
Most compelling mystery in aviation safety and security history
There is an old adage in flying and landing a Boeing 777: aviate, navigate, communicate.
This ongoing mystery is about how we globally aviate, navigate and communicate across safer and secure skies of international aviation. That is, safer skies over Asia, safer skies over Australia, safer skies over Africa, safer skies over Europe, and safer skies over The Americas.
Human factors do matter 9 out of 10 times in engaging advanced technology, including the education and global public understanding of it. Such current aviation safety and security incidents further underscore these human factors, as either crash landing an Asiana 214 Boeing 777 into San Francisco, or a “search and rescue” and a “search for a cause” mission of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 suddenly lost from radar at 35,000 feet and 40 minutes into flight.
Our most compelling mystery in aviation safety and security history remains an ongoing and essential approach to discussing advanced aviation technology and education, as well as, considering the public understanding of science and technology, and most of all, facilitating the diverse cultural participation among aviation safety and security global workforce experts working through the aftermath investigation of an airplane crash.
Hopefully and prayerfully lives can be saved in the future after the cause of this aviation safety and security breach is determined.
Oliver McGee is professor of mechanical engineering at Howard University. He is an aerospace, mechanical, and civil engineer. He is former United States deputy assistant secretary of transportation for technology policy (1999-2001) in the Clinton Administration, and former senior policy adviser in the Clinton White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (1997-1999). Additional research by Steve Richardson, Aviation Analyst at FlyersPulse.com is gratefully acknowledged.