Aviation / Current

Based On What?

More than three weeks have elapsed since a Malaysian 777-200ER flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing turned off course and crashed…somewhere. Initially, Chinese and Malaysian investigators were reluctant to speculate on the cause of the crash without first finding the wrecked airliner while American investigators claimed the lumbering 600,000 lb plane was somehow capable of “tactical evasion maneuvers.” Rather than question the sanity of the American dictums, Malaysian authorities joined the crazy train. The latest finds American and Malaysian investigators reverting to type:

Malaysian authorities refuse to speculate on whether the plane went down to catastrophic mechanical failure or human cause, or to entertain theories about hijacking or pilot suicide. American authorities, however, have told ABC News that they believe the plane was diverted from its flight path by a “deliberate act.”

Based on what?!! So-called American authorities claim this must have occurred due to “deliberate act[ion],” perhaps in response to James Comey’s testimony:

FBI Director James B. Comey said Wednesday that technical experts at the bureau’s laboratory in Quantico, Va., “very shortly” will be able to retrieve computer files that were deleted from a home flight simulator by the pilot of the missing Malaysian airliner.

“I get briefed on it every morning,” Comey told a House subcommittee on appropriations, suggesting that the deleted files may provide new clues to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370’s disappearance March 8. “We have teams working on it around the clock. I expect it to be done very shortly, within a day or two.”

What, exactly, came of the computer file angle?

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation recovered no incriminating evidence from the hard drives and a flight simulator belonging to two pilots on Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, the New York Times reported citing anonymous sources.

According to two unnamed individuals informed of the US investigators’ findings, information obtained from the items taken from the homes of the two aviators on March 15 yielded few clues that could further the probe into the plane’s disappearance on March 8 with 239 people on board.

Oh, right—nothing. This is putting significant strain on the American-Malaysian investigators’ relationships:

In Malaysia, the government has tight control over the media and leaks of information aren’t common. By contrast, some people on the Malaysian side perceive Washington to be full of leaks, particularly in the first few days after the plane vanished March 8.

Last week, Malaysia handed over its most important physical evidence to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation—pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah’s home flight simulator and computer—for analysis. But before the FBI analysis was complete or the Malaysian government had a chance to make an announcement, a flurry of media reports from Washington revealed that the bureau hadn’t found anything to explain Flight 370’s disappearance.

“Washington seems to be a leaky boat,” said one person familiar with the Malaysian investigation. “It erodes trust.” Nevertheless, this person said concern about the Americans’ role isn’t seriously impeding the investigation. “We have been surprised at how many people we have been able to rope into this,” this person said.

That really shouldn’t be a surprise, as the fanciful (but loathsome) accusations that Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah must have acted with criminal/suicidal/terroristic intent have to contend with the far more frightening (and plausible) possibility that the Boeing 777’s cockpit caught fire at altitude, killing both pilots and decompressing the airplane:

The “blowtorch” theory (based upon the fire that broke out in the cockpit of the above EgyptAir 777 in 2011) has regained credence recently. Luckily the Cairo fire occurred at the gate—imagine at repeat of this at 35,000 ft. This threat is on top of the fact MH 370 faced a significant hazard in the form of a confirmed shipment of lithiumion batteries aboard that could also have set the Malaysian airliner ablaze.

To be thorough, yes, Malaysia Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahaya claims the batteries were neither hazardous nor “of the lithium-ion type as reported.” Pardon the skepticism, but what is the likelihood that Yahaya isn’t telling the truth? The company he helms is in severe financial straits, and once again a single crash might seal an airline’s fate. Moreover, Malaysia is home to a slew of battery manufacturers (and is making a bid to become the leading manufacturer of lithium-ion batteries in Asia). Lithium-induced fires are definitely bad for business. But for some reason, the Malaysians seem to be taking out their frustrations on American investigators:

Still, according to people familiar with the matter, U.S. aviation officials are operating largely out of the U.S. Embassy in Kuala Lumpur and shuttling to meetings with Malaysian officials—instead of being based full-time in Malaysian offices alongside local investigators, as would often be the case. The U.S. team includes a handful of investigators from the FAA and National Transportation Safety Board.

Perhaps the Malaysians are irritated the NTSB only now realizes the search area was way off…

…wasting valuable search time and causing consternation to the families of the 154 Chinese victims…wait a minute! Out of 239 occupants on MH 370, three were Americans. Where do the Americans get off thinking they should lead an investigation into a crash that occurred thousands of miles from American territory, whose nationals represent 1.26% of the victims?

But investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration and Boeing Co. focusing on aircraft performance and systems have expressed concern about poor coordination and information flow, according to people familiar with the matter.

Boeing, without the full involvement of Malaysian investigators, has run some computer models of the last phase of the flight, highlighting another point of tension in the probe, two people familiar with the matter said. These so-called engineering simulations seek to lay out the most likely movements of the plane before and after it is presumed to have run out of fuel. Such work typically would be more closely coordinated with leaders of the overall investigations, according to these people.

Boeing on Friday re-emphasized that it continues to serve as a technical adviser to the NTSB.

There is the fact that an American company manufactured the plane. Whose interests do you think American authorities are looking out for?

An FAA spokeswoman said the agency’s “working relationship with the Malaysian Directorate General of Civil Aviation has been strong for many years and has continued to be strong throughout the investigation.”

The current tensions between U.S. and Malaysian investigators have roots in issues that appeared three weeks ago, people familiar the matter said, soon after the flight dropped off civilian radar March 8 en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur.

From the beginning, according to a U.S. government official and others, Boeing was upset that it took about three hours—much longer than would be typical—for Malaysian authorities to inform company representatives the jet hadn’t been heard from.

I could be harsh and point out that Boeing did not own the 777 in question when it crashed, and therefore neither Malaysia nor Malaysia Airlines was obligated to inform them, but that would only reinforce my rather low opinion of the aircraft manufacturer’s behavior. But Andy Pasztor’s following statement really caught my attention:

Boeing’s team remains “quite frustrated and doesn’t trust the process,” according to one person familiar with the company’s views.

What process was Boeing expecting, exactly?



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