The fate of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 is still unknown and the search continues. The WSJ’s Jake Maxwell Watts tells us the focus remains in the South China Sea between Malaysia and Vietnam.
Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777
A NEW and plausible theory has hailed the pilot of missing MH370 flight a hero.
An Australian aviation enthusiast has investigated the details surrounding the Malaysian Airlines international passenger flight which mysteriously disappeared in March 2014.
There have been many speculations and conspiracy theories around what happened to the plane and its 227 passengers and 12 crew members.
But Mick Gilbert has analysed the circumstances that led to the disappearance of the plane, which was en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur.
The aircraft contacted traffic control while it was flying over the South China Sea and disappeared from air traffic controllers’ radar screens less than an hour after takeoff.
It was tracked by a Malaysian military radar as it deviated from the flight path but disappeared from that radar after another hour. It was last seen 370km northwest of Penang in Malaysia’s northwest.
Mick Gilbert in a Boeing 777 simulator. The aviation enthusiast has compiled a meticulous theory of what may have happened to MH370. Picture: SuppliedSource:Supplied
Mr Gilbert claims in a thesis that MH370, a Boeing 777, was at risk of a windshield heater fire or failure and the crew oxygen system may have been leaking.
He said the initial deviation from the flight plan was consistent with the response to an in-flight emergency, such as a windshield heater fire.
“A windshield heater fire can explain both the loss of the transponder signal and the interruption to the satellite communications link,” Mr Gilbert found.
The aviation enthusiast believes the fire caused the plane to divert towards Penang.
Mr Gilbert said some Boeings like the MH370 Boeing 777 had the same windshields and, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, some of the windshield heaters were failing or catching on fire.
Mr Gilbert said in October 2002, an Air France plane travelling from Paris to Los Angeles caught fire around the windshield heater.
Two fire extinguishers snuffed the fire and the plane made an emergency landing in Canada.
He said an Alitalia B777 travelling from Rome to New York in 2003 experienced a windshield fire. It was extinguished and the plane made an emergency landing in Ireland.
There was another incident in July 2008 when an Emirates B777 was flying from London to Dubai and smoke began to fill the cockpit. It landed in Budapest.
Mr Gilbert has not yet been able to confirm whether that fire started because of the windshield heater.
A significant piece of suspected MH370 debris. The fragment is believed to show burn marks, indicating a fire on board. Picture: 7 NewsSource:Channel 7
Mr Gilbert claims there were at least 39 windshield heater problems between 2002 and 2014 and eight of them happened on B777s.
“I say ‘at least’ because, alarmingly, not all incidents are reported through official channels,” he said in his thesis.
Mr Gilbert suggests the crew oxygen system was also leaking because in the months leading up to the disappearance, the oxygen system was dropping in psi quicker than usual. He thinks this was a result of maintenance work performed on the system on January 17 2014.
Mr Gilbert said oxygen was not flammable when the concentration in the atmosphere rose just two per cent, but fires in areas rich in oxygen are harder to put out.
He speculates the fire and windshield heater failure would have caused rapid depressurisation in the cockpit.
He said the change in pressure would have unlocked the door connecting the cockpit to the passenger cabin, causing it to depressurise as well.
Mr Gilbert said after 20 to 25 minutes, many people on board would have been dead.
He suggests a pilot survived, maybe because they recognised early signs of hypoxia, a deficiency of oxygen, which would have caused others to lose consciousness.
The pilot may have started deep, forceful breathing to remain conscious, Mr Gilbert said.
“On approaching Penang, the surviving pilot would have come to realisation that he had no means of communication — radio communication panel keypads, microphones and headsets would have been burned or melted by the fire,” he said.
Debris believes to be from MH370 that could give investigators more clues about the flight’s disappearance. Picture: AFP/ATSBSource:AFP
The pilot may have tried to use mobile phones but it was unlikely there would have been any signal.
“The pilot would have also realised that there was no reasonable chance of manually flying the plane — he had no instruments, it was night, there was no moon, he could only occupy the cockpit for short periods of time and oxygen supplies were dwindling,” Mr Gilbert said.
“Any attempt to take manual control of the plane would almost invariable end with loss of control and there could be no guarantee that he could re-engage the autopilot if he disengaged it.
“Just off the starboard wing was Penang — population of 1.65 million. Immediately ahead and stretching 900 kilometres from the north west to the south east was the world’s second busiest shipping lane, the Strait of Malacca, the conduit for trade from Europe and the Middle East to South East Asia. There would have been ships — tankers, chemical ships, container ships, bulk carriers and cruise liners — about every 5-6 kilometres along the Strait.”
Mr Gilbert said if the plane continued just 20 minutes, it would be close to the North Sumatra province of Indonesia where five million people reside.
Mr Gilbert believes this is when the pilot became a hero as he decided to steer the plane from areas of civilisation.
Mr Gilbert suggests the pilot just pointed the plane in the safest direction and let the MH370 run out of fuel.
According to Mr Gilbert’s calculations, the plane crashed 200km away from the current search area.
US safety consultant Captain John Cox believes the theory is plausible, The Daily Telegraph reported.
“I was of the opinion that the most likely cause was deliberate action by the pilot,” Captain Cox said.
“Due to (Mr Gilbert’s) research I have backed up to saying that everything is on the table and I do not have a leading theory.”