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Foul play the most likely explanation for missing MH370: Aviation experts

Published on Mar 15, 2014 1:45 PM
 
A man wearing a mask, who claimed to be a relative of a passenger from the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, speaks to the media outside the lounge in Beijing on March 14, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP

While multiple theories have been raised and debunked as the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines (MAS) Flight MH370 passes the one week mark, one explanation seems to be gaining stock among aviation experts: Foul play.

Reports emerged on Saturday to say the jetliner was hijacked. The Malaysian government has thus far said that this was one of several possibilities being investigated. An imminent press conference by Prime Minister Najib Razak was expected to clear the air on this issue.

With the search now extended to the Indian Ocean, experts say it is now likely that there was a deliberate attempt to hide the location and path of the plane.

Aviation analyst Richard Aboulafia says: "If I had to say, I think something malicious happened"

MH 370 took off from Kuala Lumpur at 12.41am on Saturday, March 8 and lost radio contact with air traffic control in Subang at 1.30am.

Mr Aboulafia says that weather conditions and visibility were good at the time.

He also says it is unlikely that the plane fell out of the sky due to double engine failure, emphasising that the Boeing-777 is a plane with a great track record.

"It's pretty much the best," he says, adding that engines are isolated systems and it is unlikely that both would fail.

Adding to that, Mr Michel Merluzeau an aerospace analyst with G2 solutions, say that historically, double engine failure is a rare event: "What precipitates double engine failures could be volcanic ash that disrupts the engine, or contaminated fuel, but I don't have information in this case."

While Mr Scott Hamilton, managing director of aviation consultancy Leeham, says he "personally believes it to be a criminal act", whether it was a cockpit intrusion or a rogue pilot, "remains unanswered".

But the fact that the transponders did not transmit - and there are two - suggests that someone else might have taken command of the plane, he says.

"In the total absence of any debris along the intended flight path, I don't think the airplane is in the Gulf of Thailand, but in some other distant location," he adds.

The search for the MH370 has already expanded westward to the mainland Indian coastline and further east into the South China Sea and now involves 57 ships and 48 aircraft from 13 countries.

Malaysian authorities, however, have not confirmed reports of evidence indicating that the Beijing-bound plane could have flown as far as the Indian Ocean.

Greater communication among Malaysia's top officials is required to diffuse the confusion surrounding the missing Malaysia Airlines (MAS) Flight MH370, say aviation experts in the United States who have closely watched the government's efforts to address this air disaster.

"The different elements of government don't seem to be singing from the same Hymn book," says Mr Hamilton, managing director of aviation consultancy Leeham.

"There is conflicting information and retractions going on that make it difficult to place any credibility on them at all," he adds.

For example, officials have been engaged in a battle with the Wall Street Journal over whether or not the plane continued to fly after it dropped off the radar.

The Malaysian authorities refuted the report saying no automatic data transmission had been received from the time contact was lost.

While Malaysia's military radar has detected an unidentified aircraft in a location about 322km north-west of Penang. Authorities have also not confirmed if it was indeed the MAS plane.

Dr Todd Curtis, an aviation safety analyst from Airsafe.com Foundation says that it would be good to know "the level of corroboration that has happened between governments".

For example, he says military radars might have picked up signals, which have not yet been released.

"Now I say that, but keep in mind there may be intelligence organizations that have all sorts of information and capabilities… and revealing that they have these resources may not be in the interest of these organizations."

But from the information available, Dr Curtis says he can rule out a few possibilities.

He says it is unlikely that that aircraft landed on an airfield somewhere. "If it had landed anywhere in that huge circle, we would have known by now," he says.

Also, if there had been an airborne explosion with a large fireball, it would be been picked up by US satellite imagery, so that is crossed out, he says.

He also does not think depressurization of the cabin, knocking the crew and captain out would likely happen on a large commercial flight because there would have been alert systems to warn the crew and pilots.

"That said, almost anything else is possible," he adds.

simlinoi@sph.com.sg

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