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Book Feature: Why I Claim To Know What Happened To Malaysia MH370?

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Book Feature: Why I Claim To Know What Happened To Malaysia MH370?

Book Feature: Why I Claim To Know What Happened To Malaysia MH370?
November 03
12:26 2016

Airways Contributing Editor Christine Negroni has recently published a book titled, The Crash Detectives. Below is her take on what has become the most talked-about aviation accident of the decade:


The latest government report on the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 two and a half years ago comes from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.

The report runs 27 pages, and includes 22 images and graphics. Eleven agencies with names as long as the “Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation” and as short and simple as “Boeing” are acknowledged. Millions of dollars have been spent on the probe. Millions of facts exchanged. Billions of words written.

So sitting here in my home office in a suburb of New York, having just written book that purports to solve the mystery, you might be asking yourself, “Christine, what do you know that the rest of us don’t?”

It’s a fair question.

First a disclaimer. While my book, The Crash Detectives (Penguin 2016) describes in detail what happened on the flight deck, it is only a theory. Some details are known. Some we can infer. But for the most part, my story is a creation rooted in past air accidents that share important similarities to MH370.

The Crash Detectives proposes that around the time the flight leveled off at 35,000 feet the captain turned control of the airplane over to first officer. We can assume this because the last radio call, the famous “Goodnight, Malaysian 370” was made by Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah, suggesting the First Officer, Fariq Adbul Hamid was flying the plane.

Then, Capt. Zaharie exited the cockpit for a bathroom break. It was during this time that the plane rapidly lost pressurization. During the confusion and the spasms that accompany a sudden loss of oxygen at altitude, Fariq reached over to the transponder to dial the emergency frequency, and inadvertently put it on standby, which is effectively “off.”

Fariq donned his emergency oxygen mask, but by any one of a number of known failures, the mask did not deliver 100 percent oxygen under pressure to the pilot. He was getting enough oxygen to remain conscious, but not enough to make intelligent decisions.

With his thinking greatly impaired, Fariq failed to begin a descent to a lower altitude. Instead, he turned the plane back toward Malaysia, the first of many illogical decisions. This is entirely consistent with oxygen deprivation, also known as hypoxia.

Thinking he was performing brilliantly—another symptom of hypoxia—Fariq piloted the airplane back across the peninsula in a series of zig zags that would only make sense to someone in a hypoxic state.

From the business class bathroom, Capt. Zaharie, would have had to make a decision when the plane depressurized; remain where he was and breathe with the drop-down mask, or try and get back to the flight deck. If he chose the latter, he was unlikely to be successful. Physical exertion eats away at precious seconds of useful consciousness. Capt. Zaharie probably lost consciousness before reaching the cockpit.

Eventually, after turning south and then west, Fariq also passed out and the airplane continued flying until it ran out of fuel in the South Indian Ocean.

 The region of Western Australia where the search for MH370 was centered. Data from Inmarsat's satellite network led the company to conclude the plane flew south and assisted communications among those searching for the plane. (Credits: Author)

The region of Western Australia where the search for MH370 was centered. Data from Inmarsat’s satellite network led the company to conclude the plane flew south and assisted communications among those searching for the plane. (Credits: Author)

In explaining my theory, some people may find it difficult to believe that the pilot would have mishandled the emergency. But here’s where the similar cases come in.

In 2005, on Helios Flight 522 the pilots did not respond correctly to an unpressurized cabin warning. They fell unconscious and the plane flew on autopilot until running out of fuel and crashing, killing everyone on board.

Wreckage of the tail of Helios Flight ZU522 rests on a hillside. (Credits: Air Accident Investigation and Aviation Safety Board.)

Wreckage of the tail of Helios Flight ZU522 rests on a hillside. (Credits: Air Accident Investigation and Aviation Safety Board.)

Looking at private aviation there are a half dozen cases including the crash that killed American golfer Payne Stewart in a LearJet in 1999, and the ghost flight of a Socata TBM 700 that killed Laurence and Jane Glazer in 2015.

So, the scenario in The Crash Detectives is neither far-fetched nor unprecedented.

What I have done in The Crash Detectives that the Malaysians investigators appear not to have done, is to take a look at the evidence available rather than focus on the elusive black boxes. While Malaysian officials are fond of saying they won’t know what happened without the cockpit voice and flight data recorders, that’s not necessarily the case. In The Crash Detectives I write about leads that, if pursued, might tell us more about the condition of the Boeing 777-200ER (9M-MRO • MSN 28420 • LN 404), the airplane flying as Flight 370.

By examining what could have gone wrong, The Crash Detectives tackles the mystery as if it were the de Havilland DH 106 Comet investigation.

You remember the Comet. It was the world’s first jetliner that, back in the 1950s, had a bad habit of blowing apart in flight, puzzling its manufacturer and British aviation authorities. Before ultimately determining what was causing these in-flight breakups, air safety investigators examined everything that could have played a role and fixed those issues.

That’s the way I went about it. That’s what the Malaysians ought to be doing instead of shrugging their shoulders and conceding defeat.

Whether the scenario in The Crash Detectives is exactly what happened isn’t the point. There’s plenty to learn from what could have happened. That’s what crash detectives do, but apparently not in Malaysia.
negroni-with-tcd

The Crash Detectives Investigating the World’s Most Mysterious Airline Disasters (Penguin 2016) examines air accidents that have baffled the world over a century of commercial flight. It includes puzzling cases of design flaws and human error, conspiracies and cover-ups. Capt. Chesley Sully Sullenberger praised the book and my understanding of the role of human factors in air safety. It is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and most bookstores and online booksellers. I write about aviation safety for The New York Times, ABC News, Air & Space, Airways and other publications. Read more at christinenegroni.com.

 

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12 Comments

  1. Rodney Moore
    Rodney Moore November 04, 01:41

    You’ll never convince me that the pilot was hypoxic and flew back towards Malaysia and then simply flew right past it.
    That is ridiculous.
    I’m surprised Mrs. Negroni shared that idea with anyone privately, much less publicly.

  2. mick
    mick November 04, 11:04

    There is evidence of fishing boat sinking just north of ex-mount western Australia. And the debris has been found two years after near Madagascar. I think this could be interesting area to look for missing plane

  3. Capt Jay
    Capt Jay November 04, 15:26

    Nope. This is barely plausible. Sounds good if you are trying to sell books… signed, a current and qualified Triple Seven pilot.

  4. John C
    John C November 04, 15:40

    A pilot suffering from hypoxia could very well do what she is describing, and if you knew as much about it as she does, you’d know that. Yes, he could have made a wrong decision to turn back toward Malaysia, and yes, he could have then been so impaired by the time he got there that he missed it.

    The logical thing for the pilot to do, if there was a rapid depressurization event, would be to immediately dive to lower attitude and more oxygen, then contact ATC at Ho Chi Minh City and get permission for an emergency landing there; it was the closest operational airport to where they were, and not more than about a half-hour away. But if his emergency oxygen supply was faulty or if the depressurization happened so slowly that he was already severely impaired without realizing it, then he would make decisions that seem ridiculous to an outside observer.

  5. Kimo
    Kimo November 05, 10:42

    Hypoxia is a possibility. But extrapolating that to an explosive decompression et-all is where the article (and I assume the book) leaps into the pure fiction category. Having a little experience with aviation accidents, I can tell you that it usually takes three simultaneous events (or more) to cause a modern A/C to crash. She describes three possible events but there are dozens of other combinations that would also qualify.

    I’m sure she will sell some books. Good for her. But in my view several more sinister plots are also still on the table and competing books will also be written. Maybe even a movie. Why not, the ROI is there.

    What we actually know now is that the A/C is in the water and it probably disintegrated in-flight or on impact, indicating it was out of control. From the timing and location of the debris that has been found, it is reasonable to believe it is in the area that is/was being searched so the satcom data folks were right. That’s it! Extrapolating further is futile,

    So put this one in the same shoebox as Amelia Earhart and wait for someone to pony up the money needed to find the crash site. In my view, that is not going to happen. The Malaysians Chinese aren’t going to fund it. They are quite happy with the current situation. Nobody else will step up because there is no ROI unless Boeing or some other deep pockets organization can be blamed and that is at-best a crap shoot.

    Remember when you write your book or screenplay that it almost aways takes three simultaneous events to cause a modern A/C to crash.

  6. Fabian 40
    Fabian 40 November 05, 16:07

    I fail to see how a pilot in that condition could have re-programmed the FMC to follow navigational waypoints. If you want to compare this to previous incidents, United Flight 93 is more comparable. I think you will find it was the first officer out of the cockpit, not the captain. Certain acts in the cockpit are known to have occurred before the captain made the last radio call. At some point the cabin did depressurise, but this was done deliberately by the captain as MH370 climbed again. This was done to end passenger and cabin crew resistance to his actions. It also does not match findings from the captains home flight simulator which indicate he had practiced this route. Negroni’s claims are laughable.

  7. Nelson Heald
    Nelson Heald November 05, 18:07

    John C
    I agree with your comments, and as a former aircraft mechanic in the Air Force who worked on Cabin Pressurization and Oxygen Systems, I understand fully
    these issues are totally possible. I appreciate your
    comments.

  8. Eric Auxier
    Eric Auxier November 05, 19:51

    “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”—Sir Conan Doyle, via his famous character, Sherlock Holmes

    While Ms. Negroni’s scenario may seem farfetched to some, including those among our own airline pilot ranks, it is at least as plausible as many scenarios presented. What burns me more than anything is that the Malaysian government has simply felt satisfied hanging the blame on the pilots as the sinister culprits (or at least implying to), and washing their hands of it. Thus attempting to ruin the pilots’ stellar reputation to save their own dubious face, and compounding the pain and suffering of the pilots’ families left behind.

    Personally, I feel that a rapid avionics fire, perhaps started from the load of batteries onboard, may be the culprit. 777 Check Airman Capt. Bill Palmer and I have said as much in previous articles. But, that’s just as speculative as any other scenario, with such a dearth of data to go on.

    Kudos to Ms. Negroni for at least attempting to construct a plausible scenario in a logical way.
    Eric

  9. Simon Gunson
    Simon Gunson November 08, 02:56

    There is actual evidence in the radio calls prior to 17:19 UTC that the crew were already becoming hypoxic before loss of communications. Zaharie’s eldest sister Sakinab after listening to ATC recordings identified that it was her brother speaking after 17:07 UTC. The co-pilot Farriq spoke prior to 17:07. Zaharie repeated the same call three times and with increasing radio-telephony errors. This was a pilot suffering from the mental confusion of early onset hypoxia.

    Obviously a conscious pilot made the turn back, but it seems they were all unconscious not long after that. It also suggests the decompression was perhaps gradual and not sudden?

  10. Simon Gunson
    Simon Gunson November 08, 03:00

    Helios 552 was barely plausible either. The pilots were aware they had a problem maintaining pressurization yet continued to climb and did not don oxygen masks. Whilst procedures may be written in manuals Mr Jay, human beings in cockpits screw up.

  11. Simon Gunson
    Simon Gunson November 08, 03:11

    I agree with you, that sudden decompression is one possible scenario but Hypoxic flight looks increasingly plausible, given satellite data evidence for fuel exhaustion terminated by a spiral dive. Debris also corroborate a mid air break up rather than a ditching or an impact with the sea. 22 pieces of Boeing 777 identified from eastern Africa so far suggest MH370 came down like confetti from considerable altitude. It is worth recalling in the battle for Stalingrad in 1942 the Germans calculated that leaflets dropped from 12,000ft would spread over a radius of 15 miles. In the search for MH370 the only such debris fields were spotted south of the seabed search area.

  12. Simon Gunson
    Simon Gunson November 08, 03:21

    It is the radar data which was bogus. The radar screen shot shown to Chinese relatives at the Lido Hotel in Beijing on 21 March 2014, by RMAF Lt. General Ackbal bin Haji Abdul Samad depicted the track of just one aircraft.

    It is known for a fact that Emirates Flight EK343 was following the same track at the same time. If MH370 had been there, then logically the radar screen should have shown two aircraft, not just one. It is laughable that you ignore the aircraft that was known to be there.

    A hypoxic MH370 made no detour west.

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