MH370 Report Indicates Plane Was Descending With Flaps Retracted


So now we know.  At least,  we know what experts probing MH370 suspect happened in the final moments of the flight in March 2014, somewhere off the West Coast of Australia and over one of the deepest parts of the Indian Ocean.   Two hundred and thirty nine people were aboard the Boeing 777 when it disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.   The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) released a report on Wednesday which analyses wing flap debris which they say shows the aircraft was not configured for a landing.   How it ended up in the opposite direction to where it was going is still a mystery.

The latest report is here.

Australia’s Transport Minister Darren Chester has told a media conference that the search will continue until the end of this year, and that the plane wreckage is still believed to be in the area being probed.

That’s a vast area 120,000 kilometres square.   The ATSB says somewhere in that area is a plane which from satellite communications show it could have been in a “high and increasing rate of descent” when it disappeared from radar.

Aviators call this various things.  One is a death dive.    All from the damage assessed on a flaperon that washed up on a remote beach months after MH370 vanished.

The plaperon recovered from Reunion in July 2015

It could be one of the most important pieces of information since the crash as some have said the pilot or someone may have glided the plane into the ocean, and if that started from 36 000 feet it means the Boeing could be up to 250km outside the search area.

A blog I wrote last year analysed the scenarios and one featured the pilot or first officer being implicated in the final moments.  This is a very sensitive and legally fractious view and one which cannot be proven – yet.

It’s the chilling view of the End of Flight Simulations in the report that attracts attention.

The location of the flaperon on a Boeing

In April 2016, the ATSB defined a range of scenarios for the manufacturer to simulate in their engineering simulator.  Values included the aircraft’s speed, fuel, electrical configuration and altitude, along with the turbulence level.

The results have all been aligned to the point two minutes after the loss of power from the engines. This is the theorised time at which the 7th arc transmissions would have been sent.



The report also has these two points:

  • Some of the simulated scenarios recorded descent rates that equalled or exceeded values derived from the final SATCOM transmission. Similarly, the increase in descent rates across an 8 second period (as per the two final BFO values) equalled or exceeded those derived from the SATCOM transmissions. Some simulated scenarios also recorded descent rates that were outside the aircraft’s certified flight envelope.
  • The results of the scenarios, combined with the possible errors associated with the BTO values indicate that the previously defined search area width of ±40 NM is an appropriate width to encompass all uncontrolled descent scenarios from the simulations.

This is crucial too,  but keep in mind that the ATSB has said constantly that the scenarios are not the only ones possible – but are the most likely.   The damage analysis of the flaperon washed up on Reunion is now central.  From the report:

“Damage to the internal seal pan components at the inboard end of the outboard flap was possible with the auxiliary support track fully inserted into the flap. That damage was consistent with contact between the support track and flap, with the flap in the retracted position. The possibility of the damage originating from a more complex failure sequence, commencing with the flaps extended, was considered much less likely.”


The flap shows fracturing consistent with damage which occurred while it was retracted – ATSB

Finally the ATSB says on their initial report published on November 2nd:

  • The right outboard flap was most likely in the retracted position at the time it separated from the wing.
  • The right flaperon was probably at, or close to, the neutral position at the time it separated from the wing.

This is still no salve for the horror family members continue to suffer – waiting for signs of where their loved ones lie on the floor of one of the world’s most isolated oceans.



Real Time Tracking Follows MH370


For 239 people on board the vanished Malaysian Airlines MH370 the latest International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) announcement is moot.  For those using airliners to gad about, its not.  ICAO has ordered three important changes to commercial aviation.

  • Aircraft must carry autonomous distress tracking devices that can transmit location information once every minute in distress circumstances
  • The Cockpit Voice Recorder or CVR must record at least 25 hours so that they cover all phases of flight for all types of operations
  • Aircraft must be equipped with a means to have the Flight Data Recorder recovered and made available in a timely manner

This is significant.  In an age where Facebook knows exactly where you’ve been and where you are,  where you can carry a little piece of software to locate your own phone when its stolen,  not having a proper tracking device for a commercial airliner seems to be rather anachronistic.

Nay, stupid.

A bit like FIFA refusing to use goal line technology but much more relevant to life.  And death.

Reality check.  Airlines have five years to institute the changes.  But at least there’s change.  So lets take a little look at what it could mean.

  1. Aircraft Must Carry Autonomous Tracking Devices

The device cannot be switched off by naughty pilots wanting to commit suicide in the air.  Unlike a possible scenario in the case of MH370.  Someone turned off the ACARS and Transponder both of which allowed radar and communication.  These would then switch on in a “distress circumstance”.   So they’re not actually on all the time?  Why not?  And they’ll then transmit at least once in a minute.  A minute is a very long time in flying/aviation.  Things happen in milliseconds.

Just a side note.  I ran a mobile phone applications company in the early part of this century called Mobile Active Digital.  One of the projects we worked on was a 140 character system which used global positioning satellites to download short bursts of messages to the Around the World Yacht Race crew featuring bad weather warnings and alarms.  And the crew could miraculously upload 140 back.  Kind of GPS email.  That was in 2004/5.  This is 12 years ago and still ICAO doesn’t seem to get its head around a basic need.  Track these aircraft from satellites in real time.   The system doesn’t have to link to mission critical computers on board.  It can be separate so that ground-based hackers can’t do it any damage.

We produced a 140 character system which used global positioning satellites to download short bursts of messages to the Around the World Yacht Race crew.  And they could upload 140 back.

2. The  CVR must record at least 25 hours

At the moment CVR’s record up to 2 hours on a loop.  It’s presumed that this is not long enough to pick up conversations about issues on board by previous crew or incidents like hard landings which may not always be reported.   The recordings would not mean more weight as the existing hard drive recording systems using hardware that could be upgraded to capture more time quite easily and for very little additional cost.

3. Must make FDR recoverable in a timely manner 

This is an odd one.  The ICAO report has not specified how this is supposed to be achieved. The present system using a beacon that gives off a radio signal for around 30 days and is  insufficient for the kind of search underway in the Southern Indian Ocean where MH370 is thought to reside.

Recoverable in a timely manner?  So will it deploy using an explosive device?  Will it give off a dye of some kind in air and water?  Will it expand or provide a more powerful radio signal?  Will these FDRs and VCRs give off a magnetic signal or some kind of ultraviolet radiation so that a probe under water or on land could locate them using light?

It’s five years to go so these questions will obviously have to be answered sooner rather than later.

Tick tock.

Old BUK shot down MH17 & Lone Wolves

So its confirmed.  A Russian-made BUK missile was used to shoot down Malaysian Airlines MH17 over the Ukraine last year.  Forget the snarling and gnashing of teeth by conspiracy theorists,  its very clear from the evidence presented at the time and journalists who watched that the BUK was used by Russian-backed rebels.   Now Dutch investigators have confirmed what we already knew but couldn’t say so until the inquiry ruled.

BUK. Courtesy of Wikipedia
BUK. Courtesy of Wikipedia

If you don’t believe it, take a look here.

But its no time to point fingers, is it?  The dead,  all 298 of them,  have loved ones who’re still trying to come to terms with this event.

The big question is why didn’t Malaysian Airlines order its pilots to fly around the Ukraine?  The region has been gripped by a violent separatist-inspired war.  Most other airlines had deviated or were flying higher than 28 000 feet to avoid being struck by stray missiles.

The pilots had asked for permission to climb for specifically that reason and were denied their request.  It’s easy to sit here and use 20:20 vision in the classic display of hind-sight-ism and says stuff like “why didn’t the pilots turn back immediately”.  This had fatal consequences for all on board, though.

As the apologists of Moscow and Nato used the event to grandstand – bodies littered the fields below and rained down on a village.  No amount of waxing lyrical about who’s to blame will bring them back.

After the horror event,  Russian-backed rebels moved their BUK launcher away rapidly after it became clear that they’d shot down an airliner.  The great weight of evidence proves without a shadow of a doubt that the rebels thought they were shooting down a Ukraine military aircraft.  Only later was that official rebel line altered to include Western Fighter jets,  Ukraine fighter jets and ground-to-air missiles fired by the Ukrainian military.

The families won’t get their closure.

Moscow will ensure that the narrative is all about some Ukraine military jet nearby that fired a missile,  while the NATO alliance will talk up the dangers of the Russian bear and its minions.

Russia was at pains at the to either deny or then defend the “donation” of the 70’s era BUK system to the rebels – but they’ve got a large stash available for use/purchase by friends and friends of friends.

I just think that those really culpable here aren’t the soldiers who fired the missile,  nor the rebels, nor Russia/NATO.

It’s the Malaysian Airlines executive and board.  And that’s clear from the dismal business and aviation record notched up by the airline.  The terrible reality for the Dutch, Australian, Malaysian and other relatives of the victims is that MH has no money.  It’s skint. So there’s little chance that any form of financial compensation will be paid by anyone.

So look out for the usual suspects on their hind legs shouting at each other about culpability.  Russia TV will broadcast its nightly melange of reality tripe and mash.  Dutch investigators will be calmly explaining that they’re not apportioning blame while Ukraine nationalists will spew their usual hatred back towards their eastern peers.

Back home,  the families will listen enraged, frustrated.

If I was those involved I would be a little worried about a lone wolf from one of these countries pitching up and taking direct and violent action against Malaysian Airlines, Russia, or representatives of the Separatists.


Who shot down Malaysian Airlines MH17?


Another Malaysian Airliner down.  This time its taken out by a missile fired from the eastern Ukraine.  While Moscow hurriedly tries to cover its tracks with regards to missile technology it has exported to the Russian separatists – and here I mean the BUK system – there are signs to follow allowing reasonable people to point a finger.

Raymond Pronk
Raymond Pronk

From the professional pilots rumour network or PPRUNE:

“BREAKING NEWS: Russia foreign minister Lavrov says Moscow does not plan to take “black box” flight recorders from pro-russian separatists in eastern Ukraine”

But the black boxes are not going to tell us much more than where the missile struck.  And by all accounts, given the fact that the tail section separated early, it appears we know what brought it down.

Who fired the missile?  The multimillion dollar question.  And why did Malaysian Airlines continue to fly a route that was dangerous?  Pilots talking on PPRUNE have repeatedly warned about the Ukraine corridor.

Looking at this event,  its clear that Russia is in a spot of bother.  While it would serve Kiev to have the rebels blamed,  the events immediately after the crash are illuminating.

1) Pro-Russian rebels congratulated themselves on downing an Antonov 26.  Propaganda arm Russian TV then report that minutes earlier, a Ukranian military plane was downed by the “heroes”.

2) Within half an hour,  rebels realise that the bodies falling from the sky include women and children.  And the plane is clearly a civilian airline.

3)Recordings begin circulating of pro-Russian separatists talking about the error.  These are quickly expunged from the internet.

4) Video recordings on youtube of a rebel placed BUK system in a nearby village mysteriously vanish.  Fortunately alert web-harvesters quickly download before Moscow/rebels/whomever removes them.


A Buk-M1-2 SAM system 9A310M1-2 TELAR at 2005 - courtesy Wikipedia
A Buk-M1-2 SAM system 9A310M1-2 TELAR at 2005 – courtesy Wikipedia

It’s now thought that the rebels may have committed a cardinal sin in shooting down a civilian aircraft.  And before pro-Putin folks leap up and shout this down – consider that the rebels have been very successful in doing just that. Shooting down planes.  Here is a list from the last few weeks:

  • seven Su-25 attack jets
  • three Su-24 attackers
  • one Su-27 fighter jet
  • an Il-76 military transport aircraft
  • SEVENTEEN  Mi-8 and Mi-24 military helicopters.

Clearly the rebels had mobilised their ground-to-air missile capability and were practicing a lot.  And what better to practice on than a plane that appears on their BUK radar (which can track planes for 140km) and high enough to be a spy plane from the west.  While Air France amongst others has flown this route, the MH17 track is much closer to their BUK launch vehicles than previously.  So a semi-vodka induced thug sitting inside one of these mobile units picks up the cursor on his radar – tracks the plane until its overhead and BAM!

While Vladimir Putin points his finger at Kiev and Lavrov indulges in red herrings (eg, the black boxes which matter only a little in this case),  the initial evidence is rather damning.  One wonders what spin is to emerge from Moscow this time.  And one wonders what Kuala Lumpur will do.

Given the Malaysian government’s utterly useless reaction to their previous air disaster – who knows?


Airliners may turn to drones

Its now almost certain that the Malaysian airliner was either seized or flown by one or more of the pilots aboard to its destination, currently unknown.

Most likely the Indian Ocean, where it may have settled in one of the large trenches that are more than 4000m deep and therefore, virtually invisible.

While we grapple with the mystery and motive for this act,  if indeed it has ended up in the ocean,  there are realities about flying in the future that should be considered.  The first is the likelihood of some kind of autonomous aircraft being used as pilots who fly these planes full of pax show signs of psychological disturbance which apparently cannot be properly monitored.

Every human has his or her cracking point.  That’s well known.  But the main issue is most people don’t see it coming,  and friends of the afflicted don’t recognize it when it does.  All signs now point to the Chief pilot,  53 year-old Zaharie Ahmad Shah, as experiencing one of those moments.

Zaharie Ahmed Shah on the right, Fariq Hamid his number two on the left.
Zaharie Ahmed Shah on the right, Fariq Hamid his number two on the left.

Before fingering the Malaysian traffic authorities for poor handing of the situation and Malaysian Airlines for being so paranoid it refused to purchase the Boeing ACARS tracking system,  let’s take a good look at the Chief pilot.

He had 18240 hours in the logbook,  a flight Sim at home, and someone he admired politically had just been sent down for what looks like a trumped-up case of sodomy by the state.


His wife left him the previous week.  So he sits at home for a few days and then an opportunity arises.  He discovers he’s flying a major overnighter to Beijing,  full of Chinese nationals.

So what better way to truly shatter Chinese/Malay relations than to disappear a flight with 150 Chinese aboard?  And then show up what he knows about the Malaysians – they’ll have no clue about what to do about it.  Further,  the motive becomes more clear when you consider the “saving face” culture which boils down to flat lying about something rather than looking a twit.

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim - Zaharie's friend.
Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim – Zaharie’s friend.

If you were in a highly agitated state and decided to call it quits, and you have a few insurance premiums bound up with the premise that they don’t pay out on suicide,  how would you cover your tracks as a pilot of a 777-200 with 238 other people on board?

You would :

– take control of the aircraft by switching off compression and thus sending passengers to sleep, then death (at 35000 feet) through asphyxia.

– you would have dealt with your fellow crew in the same way,  but waiting until they had a toilet break or similar.  At that Altitude it would be a matter of a few minutes before anyone would collapse.  And while they did that to ensure they didn’t make it back in you conduct a high stress manoever on the plane so that the G-force would keep the crew member incapacitated and unable to move.

– Having achieved the two aims above,  you would drop the plane to a level which puts it out of sight of ground-based radar, then employ territory hugging flying in an area with a slightly lower mountain base (eg, north east Malaysia).

– You would aim at the aircraft at an area of weakest radar signal,  and then into an arc where the military radar systems as well as civilian have gaps.

– Following this,  a long flight on autopilot into the deep Indian Ocean, where you would put the aircraft down on the surface as smoothly as possible,  ensuring very little breaks off to form a clear pile of debris.


Picture 11

-Plane sinks to 4000m+ and no-one is any the wiser. Its likely the purpetrator died in the final crash, unlikely they jumped in a raft.

Insurance must pay out as per agreement, Malaysia looks stupid,  goal achieved.

Now the only way to really avoid this scenario is to have a drone filled plane.  The two pilots flying the plane are on the ground and monitored much more closely by super-computers and cannot do things like switch off the transponder,  or ACARS without severe and sudden action by a monitoring system.

As a pilot I would hate this option.  But we had Silk Air where the pilot speared his plane into a river,  and Egypt Air, where the pilot plunged into the Atlantic,  both cases were suicide.

Is this another, must much cleverer having learnt from the other two?