MIAMI — A Boeing 777 in cruise flight, maneuvering and even at low altitude, transmits a robust, crisp, and clear primary radar signature to both civilian and military radars for almost two hours or perhaps even longer. This signature was evident to Thai, Malay and Indonesian radar operators, civilian and military the night and early morning of March 8th, 2014. As I write this piece, over one month has elapsed since this plane “vanished” or “disappeared” from radar as international media persuasively quotes.
It is factual that MH370 transponders, communications equipment (digital and voice) failed. Such an unusual event triggered an immediate alert from the men and women in the airline’s operations control center and the civilian air traffic control radars centers who, until then, were routinely tracking the flight.
The presence of a primary radar signature should have also triggered an immediate chain of communications between the airline, civilian air traffic-radar controllers and their military counterparts. In fact, it seems that such actions were not taken or were not assertive enough to have triggered a military radar tracking and intercept, as prescribed by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Document 9433, Manual Concerning Interception of Civil Aircraft. This is a globally accepted and mandated standard operating procedure for “strayed” aircraft, especially since the tragic events of 9-11 in the USA.
Yet Malaysian Airlines MH 370 flew unchallenged with enough freedom, range and capability to have diverted, overflown, or crashed in very dense city centers such as Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Phuket, Bangkok, Jakarta and Singapore. Millions of innocent people were unbeknownst of the events transpiring literally over their heads.
I have flown a similar B 777-200 on the same route, airway and time of the night many times. I know the aircraft well and indeed, it does have the capability to fly fast and maneuver vertically with vigor. Yet, it cannot outrun an attentive military radar controller, much less a fighter jet on a well executed tactical intercept mission. A well monitored, tracked and intercepted, if necessary, Boeing 777 does not mysteriously vanish or disappear into vast uncontrolled oceanic airspace under the cover of the night.