Aviation / Current / History

What Part of “Lost at Sea” Don’t Investigators Understand?

My feed is clogged with news stories trumpeting that MH370 could/will be found in a matter of days.  The only piece I’ve read that seems reasonable is Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370: Not So Fast — Search Could Take Another Year, Experts Now Say.  I have a question for these “experts:” when do you expect to locate the wreck of PP-VLU?

On 30 January 1979, the Boeing 707-323C registered PP-VLU disappeared en route from Narita International Airport to Rio de Janeiro-Galeão International Airport. The cargo aircraft, operated by Varig, lost radio contact 30 minutes after takeoff, approximately 200 km ENE of Tokyo.[6]

Notably, the cargo included 153 paintings by Manabu Mabe, returning from a Tokyo exhibition, valued at US$1.24 million. Neither the wreck nor the paintings were ever found.[6]

The cause of the incident was concluded as cabin depressurization, which killed the crew.[7]

This four-engine jet has been missing for 35 years (and the suspected cause of the crash is also good candidate for what triggered MH370’s disappearance).  Since the advent of GPS and common aerial communication with satellite-based systems a 727 up and disappeared from Angola in 2003.  Claiming that we are close to locating a 777 that crashed somewhere in the Indian Ocean does the world a great disservice–there is no guarantee the wreck will ever be found.  Because we can’t face that cold reality, these same “experts” push for a solution in need of a problem to solve.

Short Circuit

The “solution” I speak of is forever-monitoring:

As the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board today opened a forum in Washington on the latest aircraft locater technology, a debate is playing out between pilots, safety advocates and others over how best to respond to one of the greatest flight mysteries in history.The loss of the plane in March without any direct evidence about what happened threatens to undermine the confidence of airline travelers and raises “serious concerns” among NTSB investigators, acting Chairman Christopher Hart said in opening remarks.

“Those concerns are far from academic,” Hart said. “Without the data, the lessons of the accident may remain forever unknown, because the circumstances of the accident may remain forever uncertain.”

Yes, because crashing into the ocean is fraught with uncertainty.  One need only to follow the smoke to know what is coming next:

“It’s not rocket science,” Castaldo said. “There is no good reason ever” for pilots to disable tracking devices, as also occurred when terrorists took over flights on Sept. 11, he said.

Improved electronics may remove the risks of short-circuiting, which was the reason pilots were given the authority to shut down equipment, he said.

Changing equipment design and the gathering of new sources of data raise questions of safety and privacy, according to the Air Line Pilots Association union.

Pilots want to retain the ability to troubleshoot electrical devices in the cockpit so they can better manage emergencies occasionally leading to airborne fires, Sean Cassidy, vice president of ALPA, said in an interview.

If one needs convincing that fires are still a major threat to airliners, watch the Egyptair 777 below:

The 2011 Cairo fire did this to the cockpit:

A fire which led to a Boeing 777 being written off in Egypt in 2011 could explain the disappearance of the Malaysia airlines jet, it has been claimed

Essentially, advocates of forever-monitoring weigh the risks of airliners disappearing at sea every five years versus FIRE and choose…monitoring (in the advocates’ defense, the frequency of these disappearances has increased slightly).  Then again, I see a different motive at work.

Profiting From the Dead…and Popped Circuit Breakers

In the time-honored tradition, American companies see dollar signs where everyone else sees tragedy:

In just a few years, an entire network of satellites designed to track planes anywhere in the world will also be operational.

Iridium Communications Inc. (IRDM), a McLean, Virginia-satellite company, and NAV CANADA, a non-profit corporation overseeing air traffic in Canada, have formed a joint venture called Aireon LLC to monitor aircraft from space. The system, which will be more accurate than ground-based radar, will be operating as soon as 2018, according to an Aireon press release.

Most of these systems would have done no good finding Flight 370.

After a Malaysian controller instructed the Malaysian pilot to contact Vietnam’s air-traffic system, a device known as a transponder, which identifies a plane to radars on the ground and to Aireon’s satellites, stopped functioning, according to a summary of the case by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.

Another system known as Acars, which automatically transmitted the plane’s position periodically to the airline via an Inmarsat Plc (ISAT) satellite, also stopped working.

Is it any wonder the victims’ families feel slighted?  But the profiteering is also borderline asinine.  The failure of communications equipment could have a common cause–if your dish washer, refrigerator, washing machine and TV all stopped functioning simultaneously, what would the intelligent homeowner do?  Check if all the devices were on a common circuit breaker or fuse and reset the system, right?  What if the house goes completely dark?  The entire block?  Blackout, right?

Total electrical failure was a possibility on March 8th.  I’d argue it was likely–flying on for hours before crashing (perhaps thousands of miles from the search zone) sounds less like Egyptair 990 and more like Payne Stewart.  Still, is there a solution to solve these disappearances?

Flotation Devices

Design black boxes (CVRs and FDRs) so that they float.  Aircraft that impact water invariably break up, unless the plane impacts still water in a controlled manner.  Forget ejecting FDRs, design them so they won’t sink with the wreckage.  It wouldn’t have saved any of the 239 who died simultaneously in the Indian Ocean on March 8, 2014, but the location of the 777 would be known; and it wouldn’t have taken French investigators two years to locate the FDRs from AF 447.  Yeah, about that 330…

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2 thoughts on “What Part of “Lost at Sea” Don’t Investigators Understand?

  1. Pingback: Five Years After the Fall: The Atlantic Angle of Attack | In The Corner, Mumbling and Drooling

  2. Pingback: Six Years Since the Bicentennial | In The Corner, Mumbling and Drooling

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