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Monday 24 March 2014

Malaysia Airlines – Grim Reality

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak broke the news many had been dreading: “MH370 flew along the southern corridor, and ... its last position was in the middle of the Indian Ocean, west of Perth ... This is a remote location, far from any possible landing sites. It is therefore with deep sadness and regret that I must inform you that, according to this new data, flight MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean”.
The lost aircraft: Boeing 777 9M-MRO

Malaysia Airlines told the families “Malaysia Airlines deeply regrets that we have to assume beyond any reasonable doubt that MH370 has been lost and that none of those on board survived ... we must now accept all evidence suggests the plane went down in the Southern Indian Ocean”. More reports of debris sightings come in every day. But that is not enough for the 24-hour news media.
So the Speculatron of news has been fired up once more, and typical of the questions which we will hear rather too much of in the coming weeks and months is that from Piers Morgan: “So we now know the plane crashed into the sea. But we still don’t know HOW or WHY. The mystery continues”. Well, up to a point. The first part of his question can be answered directly.

Flight MH370 had sufficient fuel to get to Beijing, plus the usual reserves in case of using alternate airports, holding patterns, bad weather, and diversions en route. That fuel would, given the route the plane appears to have taken, run out over the southern Indian Ocean south-west of Perth. So it’s highly likely that it just fell out of the sky, having run out of gas. The other part is not so easily explained.

The route taken is known – more or less – and there is some information about changes of height while the aircraft was still being tracked by military radar in Malaysia. But nothing is yet known about who changed the plane’s course, whether it was an inside job, who else might have been at the controls, whether any of the crew were somehow incapacitated, and much more.

We will only get the full picture when the aircraft’s Flight Data Recorder (FDR) and Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) have been recovered, and the data from them analysed. Given the location where the plane came down, that will not be happening any time in the next few days, unless someone gets extremely lucky. It took two years for those from Air France Flight 447 to be found.

And that is all that we can do: wait, and leave it to the search teams to get the necessary equipment together and try to find the FDR and CVR. Those, together, will unlock the mystery of Flight MH370. Without them, the 24-hour Speculatron of news will carry on, but all that it produces on the subject will be more or less meaningless. We have to exercise patience.

But remember, flying is generally safe, and events like this extremely rare.

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