A young American undergraduate student at Stanford University has come up with a theory - yet to be verified by aviation experts - on the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 that has gone viral on the Web.
Andrew Aude, 20 and a computer science student, told The Straits Times that he "considered studying Aerospace engineering" as his father had an airline pilot licence and he grew up around aviation. When he was in middle school, he also attended the Boeing 787 roll-out premiere with his father.
In his Tumblr post, Aude cited a 2013 Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) Airworthiness Directive for the 777 which spotted a weakness in the plane.
According to the directive which he quotes, there had been a report of "cracking in the fuselage skin underneath the satellite communication (satcom) antenna adapter".
From this, he theorised that MH370 could have experienced the same issue, leading to the failure of satellite-based communications as well as to a slow decompression of the plane which left passengers unconscious and pilots disoriented. "If the decompression was slow enough, it’s possible the pilots did not realise to put on oxygen masks until it was too late," he wrote.
He also noted that the Boeing 777 aircraft does not deploy passenger oxygen masks until the cabin altitude reaches 13,500 feet. By then, passengers were likely to be unconscious if there was a slow decompression. Moreover, MH370 was a red-eye flight and most passengers would be trying to sleep, hence masking the effects of oxygen deprivation.
The autopilot function would have ensured that the plane maintained course and altitude before crashing into the East China Sea, the Sea of Japan or the Pacific Ocean, miles from the intensive search zone in the South China Sea where rescue efforts have been concentrated in the past few days.
This led him to conclude that "this was likely not an explosive decompression or inflight disintegration".
The theory adds to the list of possible explanations put forth by experts, including mechanical fault, mid-air explosion and sabotage. But none has been backed up by concrete evidence.
Aude wrote the piece, he said, "after discovering the FAA’s Airworthiness Directive on PPRUNE forums. In the same forum, I discovered how some of the 777’s radar systems depend on satcom and GPS. I considered these facts alongside the mobile phones ringing and the mumbling pilots, and I had come up with the proposed explanation".
PPRUNE is the Professional Pilots Rumour Network, an aviation website for airline pilots and aviation buffs.