Are Australians smarter than Americans? »« [Lounge #457]

Brilliance and brainlessness — that’s the interwebs

I just want to point you at this beautiful graphic illustrating the depth at which the Malaysian Flight 370 black box rests. The ocean is really, really deep, you know. And sometimes a well-designed visual communicates the magnitude of the problem well.

The other side of the problem: read the comments, and you’ll suddenly appreciate of the conspiracy wackaloon problem, too. Here’s one sample:

This is a fantastic graphic and just to make you think about this problem logically….

what are the odds that a middle-aged 3rd world pilot would:

1) Know how to knock out virtually every tracking system on the plane
2) Fly a route that missed every satellite and every ground tracking station
3) Crash Land the plane in 3 miles of water
4) In the remotest area of the globe, with almost no chance of recovery.

To pull this off would have taken the resources of a modern, 1st world country with extraordinary technology, and the military skills to pull it off.

It makes you wonder what was in that cargo hold, and why somebody didn’t want it to arrive at it’s destination.

Don’t you just love the casual racism/ageism of the premise? A Malaysian pilot couldn’t possibly be as smart and well-trained as an American pilot, and it takes a freakin’ First-World Genius to be able to crash a plane in the Indian Ocean. And of course it had to be intentional, there’s no way a serious error in a modern plane could cause a mere accident.

Seriously, just look at the lovely graphic, and don’t read the comments unless your blood pressure is a little low.

Comments

  1. tfkreference says

    I take it that the presence of a giant squid on the graphic alerted you to it.

  2. Usernames are smart says

    Meh. I read a little, but the overwhelming display of Dunning-Kruger quickly got boring.

    It was kind of like spending time with Uncle Timmy: the man reeks of Pabst Blue Ribbon, wears disgusting stained t-shirts, goes on and on about “the good old days” before women started wearing pants, and pines for the days of St. Ronnie.

  3. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    I read just a few comments. I stopped after one brilliant commenter wrote:

    Without a doubt […conspiracy theory…]. That is my guess.

    To which Shonda Bagsley, someone with more patience than I pointed out that “without a doubt … that’s my guess” is a more than a little WTF.

    Without a doubt, however, conspiracy nuts talk like that all the time. That’s my guess anyway.

  4. says

    I have no flight training whatsoever and I’m pretty darned certain I could crash a plane into the ocean—provided that the plane was already flying over the ocean when I put my “skills” to use.

  5. vaiyt says

    Calling the freakin’ Indian Ocean “3 miles of ocean” and “the remotest area of the globe” is a bit of a stretch, don’t ya think?!

  6. The Mellow Monkey: Non-Hypothetical says

    No matter how simple and obvious and straightforward the explanation, conspiracy theorists will push for something more appealing to their worldview. They’re fanfic writers for reality.

    And far too many figures in the media have gotten into the game with this one.

  7. ck says

    I’m no aviation expert, but if your plane is badly malfunctioning, isn’t an ocean a better place to crash-land than on the land in many cases?

  8. rq says

    Holy shit.
    Beaked whales swim deeper than giant squid?

    And I’m surprised people are complaining, it took 73 years to find the Titanic

  9. Olav says

    PZ:

    don’t read the comments unless your blood pressure is a little low.

    130/85 – Thanks for the warning, I’ll pass.

  10. Larry says

    CK #7

    Actually, no. To prove this, try this experiment. From a platform 20 meters high, do a belly flop onto the ground below. Concrete, grass, dirt, it really doesn’t matter. When you’ve fully healed, repeat the dive, this time into a pool of water. Compare and contrast.

    Now visualize hitting the water at several hundred miles per hour after you’ve lost control of your airplane.

  11. Olav says

    Ck #7:

    I’m no aviation expert, but if your plane is badly malfunctioning, isn’t an ocean a better place to crash-land than on the land in many cases?

    I am no expert either but it seems to me that crash “landings” must rather be avoided anywhere.

    Crash in the sea, everybody drowns. Crash on land, everybody burns.

    In both cases, on rare occasions where conditions were extremely favourable, skilled pilots have been able to perform “safe” crash landings, minimising force of impact and saving lives. If you do this somewhere way out, everybody still drowns when inevitably the plane goes under and help can’t arrive on time.

  12. raven says

    Don’t you just love the casual racism/ageism of the premise?

    Not to mention the total lack of imagination.

    If you are going to go crackpot, go big.

    The three leading theories of the lunatic fringes are:

    1. Alien abductions. It’s always the Space Reptiles.

    2. Flying into an unmarked, abandoned space gate. By now they are on Mandelbrot III and wondering why everyone has tentacles and no one speaks any earth languages.

    3. It’s all somehow Obama’s fault. It involves the Illuminati, the Rothschilds, the Trilateral Commission, 9/11, and a plot to provide Affordable Health Care insurance to low income Americans.

  13. vaiyt says

    I’m no aviation expert, but if your plane is badly malfunctioning, isn’t an ocean a better place to crash-land than on the land in many cases?

    At high speeds, water acts like concrete in a collision.

  14. playonwords says

    The best hypothesis I have seen is that there was a nose wheel fire that knocked out the electrics, Pilots restored the avionics systems (including auto pilot), turned round to head for the nearest airfield, possibly attempting to douse the fire by gaining altitude but smoke overcame them before they could do any more. The plane then carried on on an autopilot course and altitude.

    The pilots would not have used oxygen masks (fire) and smoke hoods are only good for about 15 minutes

  15. Menyambal says

    After all those conspiracies:

    There was an electrical fire. The pilots switched the autopilot to head for the nearest airport, and started shutting off electrical systems to limit fire damage. They died of smoke and lack of oxygen. The plane kept going on autopilot.

    There is reason to assume a landing gear overheat, and the altitude changes are consistent with fire procedures.

    The location is remote, yes, as it is antipodal from the USA, and not much traffic passes through it. But it makes sense given the zombie-plane scenario.

    As for landing on ocean water, there is an entire page of my old flight books devoted to figuring out wave shapes and which way to land on them. It is not like landing on flat water in a bay, or even flat land.

  16. jamessweet says

    Menyambal: As appealing as that hypothesis is on the surface, there are a lot of problems with it. For one, shutting off the transponder to prevent an electrical fire is an extreme last resort. That’s one of the LAST systems you would shut off, because the odds of that contributing to a fire are pretty small. Also, if an electrical fire hit that fast, then the pilots would have been out of commission pretty quick, and there were too many apparently-directed course changes that occurred hours later to make the “zombie plane” scenario very likely.

    It’s still possible, but I tend to doubt it. I think it’s fairly likely that one of the cabin crew hijacked the plane, but for what reasons I can’t even begin to guess. That’s not certain by any means, but that scenario matches the circumstantial evidence most closely. There’s a lot of things that don’t make sense about THAT scenario either, but… well, who really knows? It is indeed quite a mystery.

  17. gussnarp says

    It’s interesting that the conspiracy wackaloon’s argument presupposes that this was intentional. He’s asking the wrong questions right off the bat. We can’t assume it was intentional at all. But of course, making unfounded assumptions is the whole reason they’re conspiracy fantasists in the first place. So, here are the odds, form my uninformed layman’s view:

    1) About 100%. It’s not really that hard. You don’t get a pilot’s license without knowing how to turn everything on and off.
    2) Fifty/fifty?
    3) 90%?
    4) 90%, but we don’t get to use this in tabulating overall probability, because it’s basically the same as number 3.

    So, pretty good odds?

    You know, if you’re going to presuppose a bunch of conditions that make a conspiracy necessary, you ought to at least come up with some conditions that are actually hard to meet.

  18. Thomathy, Gay Where it Counts says

    I suppose that now that they know whereabouts the transponder is, and because things on the sea floor don’t move very much, there will be some kind of dredging operation put together?

    There have been far more complicated and vastly more difficult recovery operations for things of interest on the sea floor. Someone, I’m sure, will come up with a viable operation.

    Black boxes are magnetic, right? I just hope it involves a giant magnet. Just because.

  19. crocodoc says

    So everyone here thinks what happened was a perfectly normal accident? With or without the assumption of conspiracies and military involvement, his 4 questions are absolutely reasonable. There is a reason why investigators were baffled for weeks. Accident or not, it would be extremely interesting to find out what happened on board. This disappearance almost without any trace, the failure to contact the crew, passengers with stolen passports, SATCOM handshakes hours after ACARS equipment had been disabled, and finally the location where the plane crashed, thousands of km away from the scheduled flight route, are just too weird.

  20. twas brillig (stevem) says

    3) Crash Land the plane in 3 miles of water

    Wrong place to address this “comment”, but WTH:

    The searchers have narrowed down the search area to 3 miles (sq) of the ocean. period. Does NOT mean that was the pilot’s precise target. Don’t be the “Texas Sharpshooter”, who fires at a barn wall, then paints the bullseye around the bullethole, declaring a perfect hit.
    And, how can one Land on water? Aint that a contradiction in terms? Why not just say “Crashed into the water”?
    Even if he crashed into the ground, ain’t ‘Crash Land’ contradictory? Either he Lands the plane, or Crashes it. Can’t do both at the same time in a single plane.

  21. Thumper: Who Presents Boxes Which Are Not Opened says

    That really is a nice graphic; it’s helped me understand just how ridiculously deep that bit of ocean is.

    That comment… Jesus. I paricularly like how they question the pilot’s ability to turn off the comms on the aircraft they’re flying. Seriously?

  22. says

    I like the poster who speculates they threw the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder off the plane as it flew. As if the recorders were sitting on a shelf in the cockpit someplace. Not to mention that opening a door at operating altitude to dump something out would be rather a problem.

  23. davidchapman says

    3
    Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    Without a doubt, however, conspiracy nuts talk like that all the time. That’s my guess anyway.

    What if the conspiracy nuts ever get together and organize? Don’t you worry about that?

  24. says

    It’s interesting that the conspiracy wackaloon’s argument presupposes that this was intentional. He’s asking the wrong questions right off the bat.

    There’s a psychological hypothesis I’ve heard about the conspiracy mindset I think applies: Some people find conspiracy theories paradoxically comforting because it gives the illusion of control. No matter what happens, someone planned it in advance. Humans are always, always in control, and never at the mercy of nature, circumstance, luck, or panic. Their world is controlled by careful planning instead of uncertainty and indifferent natural forces. It also means there’s always someone they can blame, which is conveniently whatever social/racial/religious/political groups they don’t like, and they’re all working together.

    Essentially, they have the Illuminati filling in the same role as the controlling gods of fundamentalists, except as an adversary that can be easily grasped and fought, rather than a divine planner causing suffering for the sake of unseen greater goods. I suspect it’s not as satisfying as their subconscious hoped it would be, since they’re just inventing new shadows to pseudo-explain misfortunes that still happen despite the world allegedly being under human control.

  25. twas brillig (stevem) says

    What if the conspiracy nuts ever get together and organize? Don’t you worry about that?

    Wat, like when they organized into CNN? Didn’t CNN give all these conspiracy “theories” more credibility by giving them air-time? Isn’t that a perfect example of why it is pointless to give wackaloons a podium? Isn’t the Intertubez a big enough “free press” for these “theories”? Why expand it over a network that used to be respectable? Freeze-peach can go too far.
    .
    Conspiracy theories: Yes, people want things to have happened for a Reason. Random chance is hard to accept. [that's why deism is so popular, donchaknow]. And to have a BIG event happen from just a single person’s actions is overwhelming [JFK murder theorists: 3...2...1...], gotta be lots of (powerful) people organizing such a thing… etc. So a single pilot, suiciding, or dealing with a fire, or some other mechanical defect (planes are perfectly maintained to be perfect; always) is inconceivable…
    And the Intertubez gives all these thoughts a free place to be expressed for all to read; best to just let them write and ignore it… [but don't ignore MY writings on the intertubes! I am just telling the best truth, not those flimsy false truths of those weirdos. XD ]

  26. says

    Thomathy @19, as I understand it, they haven’t actually found the black boxes yet, just picked up some pings. The Ocean Shield needs to be able to pick up a consistent signal to zero in on the location, or possibly triangulate with another search vessel.

    If they don’t get a firm location before the batteries in the boxes run flat, then the searchers will probably have to start deploying side-scanning sonar for a comprehensive survey of the area of sea floor looking for artificial-looking objects, which could take months, depending on the size of the area. (The Guardian says 75,000 sq km, which sounds inconsistent with the three miles being quoted above. Has someone confused the depth of the water with the area being searched?)

    Anything that looks interesting on the survey will get a closer look from a UAV. A big chunk of wing would be favourite, as that would give a good, solid ping from certain angles, and a weaker echo from others. One of the engine pods would be good, if they haven’t buried themselves in the primordial ooze, or a bit of fuselage. Otherwise, it might be a matter of looking for something that looks like a debris field of bits of aircraft and passenger luggage, which might be difficult to distinguish from the general clutter of the ocean floor on sonar.

    Depending on what’s found, some of it may be hauled up to the surface by UAV, if it might be helpful in sorting out what happened. Random dredging isn’t likely to bring up anything useful, it would muck up the ecology of the ocean floor, and besides, it would piss off BLUE HADES.

  27. says

    What if the conspiracy nuts ever get together and organize?

    That would be dreadful. We should organise something to stop that happening. Best to keep it on the QT for now, though….

  28. Thomathy, Gay Where it Counts says

    as I understand it, they haven’t actually found the black boxes yet, just picked up some pings.

    I know that they didn’t find them yet, but I thought I inferred correctly that they had an idea about their whereabouts.

    If they picked up the pings, and they know where they were when they picked them up and how far the transmission of the black box can go, then they can establish a search area with a wide margin of error.

    Hey, I wasn’t suggesting random, random dredging. Just within the search area. Anyhow, I hope they do either triangulate the signal or find the wreckage via sonar. I understand there are some very sensitive underwater sonar rigs that aren’t exactly commercial, so there’s some hope.

    I still want to see a huge magnet lowered near the ocean floor and used to pick up the black box. That’d be all kinds of cool, for reasons I can’t explain. I guess I can dream.

  29. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    What if the conspiracy nuts ever get together and organize? Don’t you worry about that?

    No. The CIA, RCMP, Mossad, AirFrance, and Taco Bell (jointly) have a secret plan to prevent them from attaining productive levels of group action.

  30. Rich Woods says

    @Raven #13:

    2. Flying into an unmarked, abandoned space gate. By now they are on Mandelbrot III and wondering why everyone has tentacles and no one speaks any earth languages.

    Upon closer inspection I think you’ll find that’s Mandelbrot III. No, wait, let me focus, it’s Mandelbrot III, or maybe it’s, er, um…

  31. Thomathy, Gay Where it Counts says

    RCMP? Oh Cryp Dyke. No no no no no. CSIS. There’s a reason no one ever talks about CSIS. (It’s not because of the lack of silly uniforms …not entirely.)

  32. Kurt says

    Jeez, you amateurs. If Conspiracy Theorists were running this show, they would have known to simply follow the chemtrail right to the crash site.

  33. RoughCanuk says

    All pilots that fly for international and domestic carriers train in the same flight simulators, and often at the same location, in the latest equipment designed by the aircraft building companies. They are checked out on their capabilities to fly these aircraft by internationally qualified pilots.

    The attempt to categorize pilots as 1st world and 3rd world is simply ridiculous, and is based on bigoted assumptions that have no validity in the reality of aviation.

  34. jrfdeux, mode d'emploi says

    Thomathy, Gay Where it Counts
    Hey now. Those “silly uniforms” look damned sexy on the right people. A sec-say woman wearing the red serge coat and those riding boots and nothing else sets my Canadian loins on fire.

  35. says

    Of course conspiracy theorists get organised. At the extremes you get crank groups that conduct violence against their perceived enemies, like the idiots who shoot up mosques and synagogues.

  36. says

    Thomathy @29, tranquillo, hermano, I was just covering what I understand of the situation, plus making a cheap joke about fictional benthic entities.

    The two difficulties the searchers face right now are: the limited time they have before the batteries in the black boxes run flat (unknown, but they’re over their 30-day guarantee), and the trickiness of sound underwater. Sound will travel immense distances compared to our experience in this thin gaseous stuff we call atmosphere, and won’t necessarily follow much of a direct path — different temperature layers, not to mention the topography of a box’s location, can bend the path significantly over dozens of kilometres.

    Notice the size of the expected search area The Guardian gives, roughly 150 miles square, and the fact that the searchers have only picked up four pings altogether. Any bearing info that the searchers got from the pings must be very rough, little more than “somewhere off the port side”. The boxes are a long way from “found” as I understand it; they have done barely more than confirm they’re in the right bit of ocean. Though that’s a considerable improvement over the situation even a week ago

    A 150-mile square would be hard enough to search in any given bit of land wilderness, with radar and infra-red and human eyeballs; three miles down, under ~500 atmospheres of pressure, in eternal night, with only hydrophones and very low resolution sonar, and slow little submarine drones with limited battery life and very small circles of observation, you want to narrow that search zone down as much as you can before sending out the UAVs and the dredges.

  37. Allan Frost says

    Raven @13:

    The three leading theories of the lunatic fringes are:

    1. Alien abductions. It’s always the Space Reptiles.

    2. Flying into an unmarked, abandoned space gate. By now they are on Mandelbrot III and wondering why everyone has tentacles and no one speaks any earth languages.

    3. It’s all somehow Obama’s fault. It involves the Illuminati, the Rothschilds, the Trilateral Commission, 9/11, and a plot to provide Affordable Health Care insurance to low income Americans.

    Don’t forget about Ben Gazi. I’ve got a hunch he’s involved in this, somehow.

  38. says

    Hey now. Those “silly uniforms” look damned sexy on the right people. A sec-say woman wearing the red serge coat and those riding boots and nothing else sets my Canadian loins on fire.

    I often have problems with the RCMP as an organization, and the actions of their officers, but one thing I definitely do not have a problem with is those uniforms. Loins ablaze.

  39. jimthefrog says

    Are people not more angry about the genuinely terrible standards of the airline/aircract industry in guarding against this sort of thing? I understand that maybe broadcasting all blackbox information in real time may not be feasible, but just pinging out the GPS location? More importantly, why is it possible to turn off the comms equipment without automatically alerting flight controllers – or indeed, having automatic alerts sent out if an aircraft does anything of particular concern, such as diverting significantly from flight plan or flying at unusual altitudes (both of which this plan did)? How have these things not been engineered in?

    And don’t get me started on the cockpit recorder, which apparently records just two hours of audio onto analogue tape. In an age where £50 will buy you enough storage to digitally record a year’s worth of audio data…

    I understand why the families are angry at the Malaysian authorities, but it really strikes me that their ire should be directed at those who could have not just cleared up this mystery sooner, but possibly even prevented it (unusually, this flight was still in the air when it was discovered to be missing).

    Mind you, I don’t really know who’s most responsible for this – the aircraft companies or airlines or intenational authorities?

  40. mesh says

    @20 crocodoc

    So everyone here thinks what happened was a perfectly normal accident?

    I haven’t seen a single person here suggest that it was perfectly normal. Just because accidents are common doesn’t mean that none will ever be more egregious or spectacular than any other.

    With or without the assumption of conspiracies and military involvement, his 4 questions are absolutely reasonable.

    The assumption of conspiracy/military involvement is hard-coded into his questions! Since when could an accident involve deliberate planning to knock out tracking systems and crash in a very specific spot? Such loaded questions do not even allow for the possibility that this narrative could stand to be corrected.

  41. numerobis says

    jimthefrog@40:

    And don’t get me started on the cockpit recorder, which apparently records just two hours of audio onto analogue tape. In an age where £50 will buy you enough storage to digitally record a year’s worth of audio data…

    Analog tape is a very good choice for extreme conditions, and I have difficulty thinking of a more extreme condition in which humans are involved than a plane crash. You could store days of audio on tape if you wanted; it’s not a technical issue. The issue is that pilots don’t want to be constantly recorded, for privacy reasons, and it’s very rarely useful to store more than a few minutes.

  42. hamilton says

    My boss, who never met a conspiracy theory he didn’t like, REALLY wants an invite into CNN. Because he know both pilots were paid to commit suicide, or maybe one was and he killed the other one. To pay off debts, huge debts. Or to protect his family.
    By Russia.
    Because Crimea.

    This took out minds offa the invasion.

  43. microraptor says

    I have nothing intelligent to contribute to this, but would like to say that I find NelC’s gravitar extremely appropriate here.

  44. ck says

    @Larry, vaiyt:

    I was thinking more along the lines that the ocean tends to be largely uninhabited by human settlements. You might kill some birds and/or fish, but it might be a better option that plowing through a densely populated area. Additionally, the ocean may be “flatter” than the surrounding area (yes, I know about waves), perhaps reducing the likelihood of a sudden deceleration that could rip everyone inside to shreds.

  45. says

    Jimthefrog @41, it’s been pointed out in many different venues that air travel is one of the safest ways of getting about available, mostly due to our neurotic dread of hurtling around miles above the ground at speeds just short of supersonic and what happens when that height and speed are traumatically reduced to zero. would that, say, the automotive industry, the nuclear industry, or even the economy were run with the same safety culture.

    The people who are involved in making safe air travel ever safer are indeed aware of these issues you mention, and many other issues which you don’t which also have a bearing, and as with science, there is a constant on-going dialogue about what improvements to make, whether they’re practical, affordable, can be implemented in good time, or will in fact improve safety or make things riskier.

    Of course, in a world where every year brings improvements in electronics or battery capacity, one could constantly upgrade the requirements for e.g. black boxes, but would such a regimen of constant improvement actually improve things? Or just make the process so complicated that managers would just throw their hands up in despair over the fact that they have to upgrade all the black boxes in the fleet for the third time in a year, for example, and just not bother for the sake of a hypothetical crash in the middle of nowhere that simply won’t happen to their fleet of short-haul commuter airliners? Part of maintaining a respectable safety culture is not making impractical demands on those who have to implement it.

    As to switching off safety equipment, if you’re in a pressurised beer can flying 7 miles above the Earth at 600mph, and there’s a fire, you want to be able to turn off anything and everything that might be causing it, which could include the transponder or the satellite uplink or the coffee pot in the galley. If your nearest diversionary airport can still be up to three hours flight-time away (I think, don’t quote me on that), you can’t just empty the fire extinguisher on it and hope that that will hold it until the firefighters get to you.

  46. jimthefrog says

    @44 numerobis and @50 NelC: Thanks for the responses. They’re kind of what I was imagining, although I still think these are fairly obvious components of a safety system that should have been in place for years, not needing “constant upgrades”.
    As for the fire issue, that’s why I didn’t suggest that the comms equipment be impossible to turn off, but having it automatically send out a quick “Help! Shit’s gone wrong!” message when the pilot turned off the transponder or ascended to 45,000 ft doesn’t seem like it would compromise that aspect. I’m surprised there wasn’t an industry-wide move to implement such measures in the aftermath of 9/11 or Air France.

    Does anyone know how old this plane is?

  47. David Batuhan AysubakE says

    I suspected that the airflow in whole aircraft somehow have been cutoff due to a lot of reason electronic failures, electric power shortages, a person who have a little air to breath is very difficult and dissorentated to all action..