It has been on the headlines of the largest newspapers and TV channels around the world every day since the last 18 days: the plane that took off with 239 passengers and crew but never reached its destination. There have been air disasters killing scores of people but none that left so little clue as to what, how, when and why it happened. Countries around the world irrespective of the number of their citizens that were on board that ill fated plane have pooled in their best resources into the largest search operation in commercial aviation history to find the answers.
There are people believing in a number of theories regarding the missing plane that range from the incredulous to highly probable. An ex-pilot alluded to his past experiences of an invisible force forcing his hand on plane’s control to cause a disaster. A botched hijack, mid air accident, alien abduction, mistaken destruction by some fighter jet, terrorist suicide attack, pilot suicide are some of the other theories.
There were nationals from 14 countries on that plane and their governments have been slow to respond with background details of their citizens. As of today, no passenger is suspected to be involved in any way with the misfortune of the plane. U.S that manufactured the plane and in fact the entire airline industry must be hoping, without saying so, investigations would prove that neither air crew nor the machines were responsible for the disaster.
An intriguing aspect of the vanished plane story is that the communications equipments on the aircraft were switched off one after another and then the plane is believed to have flown back over Malaysia and finally turned south eventually flying to a remote part of southern Indian ocean. And all along the time when it was flying close to land there was not a single cellphone call from the plane.
In today’s The Hindu an article titled ‘The possibility of pilot suicide’ brings out a probable theory of the flight’s disappearance. As the Prime Minister of Malaysia announced the crashing of the plane into the Indian ocean on the 17th day after its departure from Malaysian soil, another plane crash story from nearby Indonesia 17 years ago makes some similar readings. The pilot of SilkAir (Singapore Airlines) turned off voice recorders leaving from Jakarta to Singapore turned off the voice recorders after reaching cruise height of 35,000 feet. He then plunged the plane near vertically into the earth killing 97 passengers. Only an experienced pilot could have maintained such a trajectory and this one was an ex fighter pilot used to doing that. Another incident involving Egypt Air flight 990 happened on October 31 2009. Its pilot flew the aircraft deliberately into the Atlantic ocean killing all 217 on board.
The chief pilot of the lost Malaysian plane was also a highly experienced one, in fact an examiner of pilots. After the communication systems were turned off his plane deviated from the flight path. It climbed up to 45,000 feet at which it takes less than 15 seconds for passengers to die if their cabin is depressurised which can be done by means of a switch at the pilot’s console. It then dived into 12,000 feet, an altitude too low for radars to detect it and followed a flight path to Andamans before turning south west. During its several hours of further flight it could have gone over southern parts of Maldives (where some people reported sighting of a large white plane with red stripes, the design of Malaysian jets, flying low) and finally, running out of fuel, fallen into the ocean where the satellite data indicate, 2500 kms south west of Perth, Australia on the Indian ocean. Says the author of The Hindu article Capt. A. Ranganathan, a former airline instructor pilot and aviation safety expert, “It is time for the international aviation community and governments to realise that pilot suicide is a potential threat that needs urgent attention”.
The search location on the Indian ocean is so far away it takes four hours for planes to reach the area from the nearest airport in western Australia and it takes ships days. The weather is unpredictable with waves at times as high as 6 meters. Ocean current takes debris away by hundreds of kilometers in a few days and the sea bed is at an average depth of 3 to 4 kilometers. Bad weather season is approaching and though the debris maybe found it may take months or even years to find the black box containing the flight’s voice and data records. The black box is designed to transmit signals or pings up to a distance of just 2 kms for 30 days and a ship having a receiver or pinger locater that can be suspended under water tied to kilometers of cable is on the way to the search area. As an expert involved in the search operations puts it, they are not searching for a needle from a haystack now but locating where the haystack is. Difficult as it is, the black box maybe the most vital and probably only evidence available to know what caused the plane flying from Kualalampur to Beijing to turn back, point ultimately towards southern Indian ocean, eventually run out of fuel and crash. The whole plot of the story may still yet remain a mystery forever as the flight voice recorder is designed to keep only the last two hours of conversation.
As of today, Malaysia, China, Australia, U.S, India, New Zealand, South Korea, Japan, U.K etc are continuing the investigations and searches through satellite, aircraft and ships in spite of the exorbitant costs and risks. All drawn by a common aim to unravel the riddle, besides others.
(picture on this article has copyrights and is used with licence)