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Mar 24 2014

So sad

So it seems like the most likely outcome of the Malaysian Airlines MH 370 flight has come to pass, and that it ended up in the ocean with no survivors. It is not clear that we will ever know what caused the loss since the plane is believed to be in one of the hardest to reach regions of the ocean.

One cannot help but feel so sad for the loved ones of those who perished. Despite all the odds against anyone being found alive, it is human nature to hope that some extremely unlikely event resulted in at least some of them surviving. What is inexcusable are those news outlets that played up one bizarre scenario after another and made them seem more credible than they really were, thus creating a roller-coaster of emotions for those anxiously hoping for any good news.

The sad truth is that this will be repeated the next time around. The news outlets do not really care about the feelings of the people truly affected by this tragedy. They are appealing to the voyeuristic impulses of the rest of us who seemingly cannot take our eyes away from what had become another reality show that featured human interest drama. The grieving families were merely extras in the cast.

15 comments

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  1. 1
    colnago80

    Apparently, the plane was tracked by satellite so a question should be raised as to why it took 2 weeks+ to find it. It also remains a mystery as to why the plane crashed in the Indian Ocean Southwest of Australia, very far from it’s intended destination, Beijing. Unless the flight recorder is somehow recovered, we will probably never know what went wrong.

  2. 2
    Who Cares

    The reason it took 2 weeks was that they had to use historical data to determine where other planes had been in the past, then generalize the algorithm so it is capable of predicting where a plane will be based on the pings, then test that out and then finally apply the refined algorithm to the pings received from MH370.

  3. 3
    raven

    Malaysian authorities have said that evidence so far suggests the plane was deliberately turned back across Malaysia to the Strait of Malacca, with its communications systems disabled. They are unsure what happened next.

    It’s clear that there was no major plane malfunction. It flew for something like 5,000 miles after they lost contact.

    1. The loss of contact seems deliberate. A lot of redundant systems were turned off.

    2. The plane also did a nearly 180 degree turn which shouldn’t have happened with an autopilot and flew to the middle of nowhere.

    This looks deliberate for reasons unknown. It’s sobering how one’s life can end any day for causes that never occur to you.

  4. 4
    coragyps

    Don Henley sang it for us, Mano: “Give us dirty laundry.”

  5. 5
    lorn

    Everyone dead after having landed in the sea was the most likely outcome given the lack of obvious wreckage and historical survival rates if the airliner doesn’t accomplish something resembling a controlled landing.

  6. 6
    Marcus Ranum

    The loss of contact seems deliberate. A lot of redundant systems were turned off.

    That is completely consistent with an electrical fire scenario. So is the altitude changes; the pilot may have been trying to reduce available oxygen. The course change was consistent with attempting to head for the nearest low-traffic airport that could handle a plane of that size. While many pilots have smoke hoods, they don’t carry gear that would allow for long-term survival if there was a severe cabin fire; and a cabin fire could kill everyone aboard while still permitting the plane to keep flying just fine for a long time, they’re pretty stable, really.

    My friends who are pilots feel that’s a very realistic and indeed most likely scenario. When you have an electrical fire on a plane, the first thing you do is shut off the breakers for everything and hope it goes out. Then you start turning on components and seeing if you can figure out what’s gone wrong. All, at the same time as trying to fly the plane and dealing with trying to get on a course to someplace you can land.

    There’s no need to conjure up complicated conspiracy scenarios. A couple of pilots were in the fight of their lives and lost.

    As far as the satellites: spy satellites won’t help because nobody tasks spy satellites to image a huge region of empty water on the ass end of noplace. The satellite tracking is based on differential receipt timing of pings; basically a sort of reverse GPS algorithm, except the satellites’ clocks aren’t synced like a GPS signal and some poor bastard had to manually query the data out of the satellite data and try to put together an algorithm to de-skew the clocks and squeeze whatever resolution they could out of the ping timings. Frankly, I think it’s incredibly clever that they’re trying that at all, and making it sorta kinda work.

    I’ll bet a dollar to a stack of donut factories that right this minute people are trying to figure out how to overlay GPS data into some kind of signal that regularly comes out of an aircraft, any signal. Unfortunately, avionics are no longer single design entities; they’re more like a stack of components from various sources, which is why you get “it doesn’t play well together” – yes, you’d think that a GPS location (and a few other things) would be transmitted in a status heartbeat. But remember: many of the good ideas in aviation came about after something was discovered to be a bad idea. In this case, that discovery cost some lives – the equivalent of two days worth of traffic fatalities, in one fell swoop. (So to speak)

  7. 7
    colnago80

    The problem with a Payne Stewart scenario is that, it is my information that in order to reverse course, the pilot would have had to disengage the autopilot. If he was looking for an airport to land the plane, why did he turn it back on. If the pilots and passengers were all overcome by loss of air pressure, the autopilot would have had to be reengaged for it to fly 5000 miles to crash southwest of Australia after it presumably ran out of fuel. The problem with a hijacking by either the pilot or a passenger(s), is that it doesn’t seem to make much sense to fly the plane 5000 miles and crash land in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

  8. 8
    Crimson Clupeidae

    Autopilots have multiple modes. Imagine this scenario as described by Marcus above, WRT the autopilot.

    - Smoke in the cockpit, so the crew starts shutting things down hoping that removing the source of ignition will stop the fire.
    - Change course to what they think may be the nearest airport.
    - Switch autopilot on ‘Hold Heading & Altitude’ mode, while they work out other electrical/avionics issues. It may be at this point they tried to contact an airport but their radios were dead.

    Continue with the scenario as described by Marcus. The plane would quite easily fly on, holding heading and altitude until the autopilot disconnected or they ran out of fuel.

  9. 9
    colnago80

    Re Wylann @ #8

    That’s why it is important to recover the flight data recorder, if possible.

  10. 10
    Marcus Ranum

    If he was looking for an airport to land the plane, why did he turn it back on

    Oh, that’s easy. You’ve got a fire. You’re fighting to keep the plane alive. You set a course for someplace that might let you survive, lock on the autopilot so you’re going the right direction, and go back to fighting to keep the plane alive.

  11. 11
    Reginald Selkirk

    Unless the flight recorder is somehow recovered, we will probably never know what went wrong.

    Even if the recorders are found, I don’t know how much they would tell us. My understanding is that they record a few hours of data. The interesting period was when the course change was made and the transponders turned off. Since the plane was in the air for > 6 hours after that, that data might have been lost by the time the plane crashed. I would be happy for correction from someone who knows specifics on length of data retention.

  12. 12
    colnago80

    Re Reginald Selkirk @ #11

    There was a discussion on one of the news sites which stated that the cockpit voice recorder records for a period of 2 hours and then rewinds and overwrites but that the flight recorder, assuming it was recovered undamaged, would contain data from the time the plane took off until it finally crashed. However, it also said that the batteries that power it and give off a signal are only good for 2 weeks so probably the signal has gone silent, making it probably impossible to recover.

  13. 13
    kyoseki

    My money’s still on an electrical fire or some other malfunction rather than hostile action, but hopefully they can locate the wreckage and figure out what’s happened.

    All this idle speculation, particularly on the part of the media, has to be hell for the families.

  14. 14
    Marcus Ranum

    the cockpit voice recorder records for a period of 2 hours and then rewinds and overwrites

    The cockpit and flight recorder technologies are, seriously, due for a refresh. They were made before MP3 compression and flash memory in the 64gb on a chip range was available. And now there are telephony satellites… It’s ridiculous that some planes have internet service but still depend on armored boxes full of batteries.

  15. 15
    Reginald Selkirk

    The cockpit and flight recorder technologies are, seriously, due for a refresh.

    And this may be the event that drives that refresh. Probably the new version will have all kinds of enhanced capability, some of which are not revealed to the general public; and perhaps not even to pilots.

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