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Sunday March 23, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Sunday March 23, 2014 MYT 7:56:24 AM
Experts trying to solve the MH370 mystery look at the theories floated over the past two weeks.
SINGAPORE: As the mystery of the missing Malaysia Airlines (MAS) plane deepens, new theories have been floated by pilots and aviation enthusiasts to explain its disappearance. We look at some of these theories and what experts say about them.
1. The plane could have caught fire mid-air
A fire probably broke out onboard MH370 and the pilot was trying to save the plane by making a sharp left turn to land on the Malaysian island of Langkawi, said an experienced Canadian pilot.
The flight crew, however, might have been overcome by smoke and the aircraft continued flying on autopilot until it ran out of fuel, said Chris Goodfellow.
Another possible scenario: the fire could have destroyed the control surfaces and the plane then crashed.
The loss of transponders and communications made sense in a fire, he wrote in an article, adding that it was likely electrical. The pilot’s first response would be to shut down and restart the circuits.
Another possible cause of fire was overheating of one of the landing gear tyres, which blew on takeoff and started burning slowly.
“Fire in an aircraft demands one thing: Get the machine on the ground as soon as possible,” he said, adding that Langkawi is closer than Kuala Lumpur.
What experts say:
Some said this explanation makes sense. But others quoted reports which said the left turn was achieved using a computer system on the plane. That would involve typing seven or eight keystrokes into the computer.
If the course of the plane was changed during a major emergency, it was more likely done using manual control.
Some also pointed out that the plane is believed to have made a series of turns after the first one. Such vigorous navigating, they said, would have been impossible if the crew were unconscious.
Moreover, the electronic “ping” detected by the Inmarsat satellite at 8.11am on March 8 – the day it went missing – narrowed its location at that moment to one of two arcs – one in Central Asia and the other in the southern Indian Ocean. Both areas are not in the direction of Langkawi.
2. The plane could have “stalked” another aircraft to avoid radar detection
Some believe the missing Boeing 777-200ER could have hidden in the shadow of another plane. With its transponder and lights switched off, MH370 could trail another aircraft undetected, said pilots and aviation enthusiasts.
To a ground radar controller, the planes would appear as one or two “blips” depending on how close they were.
Aviation blogger Keith Ledgerwood believes that MH370 could have trailed the Barcelona-bound Singapore Airlines (SIA) Flight 68, which left Changi Airport at about 1.05am, 25 minutes after MH370 took off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing.
Both planes were in the same vicinity, he said.
“There are several locations along the flight path of SQ68 where it could have easily broken contact and flown and landed in Xinjiang, Kyrgyzstan, or Turkmenistan,” he added.
When contacted, a SIA spokesman would only say: “All queries related to MH370 have to be directed to the investigating authorities.”
While it sounds feasible on paper, it would be difficult to closely shadow a plane at night without radar help.
Some also pointed out that military radar, which has higher resolution, would still be able to identify that there were two objects.
The two planes would need to be no further than about 1,000m to appear as one on a military radar, radar expert Hugh Griffiths told BBC News.
3. The plane could have used “terrain masking” technique to avoid detection
MH370 could have dropped to an altitude of 5,000ft, or possibly lower, to avoid commercial radar coverage after it turned back from its planned route, Malaysia’s New Straits Times reported, quoting officials.
It is also possible that MH370 had hugged the terrain in some areas that are mountainous to avoid radar detection. The technique, called terrain masking, is used by military pilots to fly to their targets stealthily.
Aviation expert Jason Middleton of the New South Wales University told British paper Guardian that avoiding radar was a well-known technique.
“Radar goes in a straight line. If you are in the shadow of a mountain or even the curve of the Earth – if you are under the radar beam – you cannot be seen,” Middleton said.
But flying a large aircraft this way is dangerous because it puts tremendous stress on the airframe.
Flying at such low altitude would also require a much higher fuel burn and result in lower speed.
4. The plane could have crashed or exploded mid-air
Some believe that the plane might have crashed. Others said it might have exploded mid-air, which would explain why no debris has been found by search teams so far.
There were also reports of sightings by people in countries from Indonesia to the Maldives.
However, these reports turned out to be false leads.
Austria-based Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO), which has extremely sensitive sensors throughout the world, said it did not detect any explosion or crash – either on land or at sea.
CTBTO stations have detected several plane accidents in the past, including the crash of an aircraft at Narita Airport in Japan in March 2009.
5. Flight had “structural issue”
Stanford computer science student Andrew Aude put forward a theory that the plane had a structural issue.
He cited a Federal Aviation Authority directive, which pointed to the fuselage cracking at a spot where the satellite antennae is located.
That could lead to rapid decompression and damage to the structure of the aircraft.
Aude said that could explain why no alert was raised by those onboard because they could have been rendered unconscious by a slow decompression of the plane.
Boeing has since clarified that the missing Boeing 777-200ER was not subject to a new US safety directive that ordered additional inspections for cracking and corrosion on certain 777 planes.
Tags / Keywords:
Transport & Safety, Missing MH370; theories, MH370, Malaysia Airlines, Missing flight
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