#MH370: Important update on sign off and search effort

April 1, 2014

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Good afternoon:

The disappearance of MH370 a little over three weeks ago, the investigation to find out what happened to it and the effort to recover the two black boxes have failed to locate any wreckage from the Boeing 777-200.

Boeing reported late last week that a reevaluation of the ping data led them to identify a new area to search in the south Indian Ocean that is northeast of the original search area and much closer to western Australia. Because the flight to and from the new search area takes less time, aircraft can now spend up to five hours searching the new area compared to only two hours in the original area.

China and Thailand also announced last week that their satellites detected the presence of many objects floating on the surface. Unfortunately, the ocean is rather like a vast garbage dump, so the presence of objects in the water is not surprising. Its presence complicates the search for MH370 because every object retrieved from the sea must be examined in a manner that reliably determines whether it came from MH370 or from some other source. In other words, the searchers need a forensic laboratory.

Moreover, they need it on-site. The mountain must come to Mohammad because the nearest laboratory is several days distant in Perth. I say “several days” because the number and varying size, weight and condition of the objects necessitates the use of a ship to transport them to Perth.

The Australians have decided to create the on-site lab on their ship, Success, where they have a helipad and a large crane. The Washington Post describes the situation,

Malaysia technically must secure the wreckage and make it available for the investigation. But Australia is handling that responsibility on Malaysia’s behalf. As a result, any ship that collects suspected plane wreckage must hand it over to Australian authorities, said Martin Dolan, chief commissioner of the Australian Transporation Safety Board.

“Any wreckage that is obtained, we will hold on behalf of the Malaysian investigation team and await their instructions,” Dolan said. “We’re in continual discussions with the Malaysians about the progress of the search and we will continue to discuss with them the handling of wreckage as and when it comes to hand.”

Australian authorities have not divulged details about how identification of objects retrieved by ships is being conducted to determine whether they are from the plane or are sea trash.

But an Australian government official said ships in the search area have the capability of transmitting photos of recovered debris to experts on the Australian mainland who can make detailed examinations. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak with the media.

The Australian supply ship HMAS Success is searching but is also designated as the ship that will store potential plane wreckage at sea. It has a heavy crane. How transfers of potential plane debris will happen from one ship to another and transferred to the navy base near Perth will be decided on a case by case basis, Walker said.

“They’re not going to sail into Perth every time they pick something up,” he said. That voyage takes days.

MH370 is transforming our world in potentially beneficial ways.

The most obvious benefit is cooperation between nations on a peer-to-peer basis to organize, share resources and use technologies, previously reserved for military use against each other, to find the aircraft.

The second effect that we are beginning to see is a mega increase in awareness that we humans have transformed our oceans into garbage dumps. “Out of sight, out of mind,” is a description of our failure to acknowledge and take responsibility for the garbage we generate and the duty to dispose of it beneficially.

Visit any garbage dump or landfill anywhere in the world and you will discover that corporations are not the only polluters.

Before publishing this post, I checked for the latest update on the search for MH370 and discovered that Malaysian officials announced today that the copilot did not say, “All right. Good night.”

The sign-off to the command to switch to ATC Ho Chi Minh City for the next leg of the flight to Beijing was the final radio communication with the flight.

As readers may recall, Towerflower and I disagreed about the potential significance of that sign-off because it’s not pilot-speak. With my tinfoil hat firmly in place, I said I thought it may have been a coded signal that a hijacking may have been underway, but he could not say that because the hijacker may have been holding a knife to his throat. Towerflower disagreed. She said pilots will occasionally lapse into normal-speak during late night flights when fewer aircraft are aloft. She is an air traffic controller, which I am not.

Mr Ken Stewart, who started commenting here recently, is a captain who pilots triple-7s. He said he always signs off in pilot-speak, which requires an identification of the flight and a word-by-word repetition of the command. This procedure was designed to assure that the message was received.

The sign-off occurred at 1:19 am. Two minutes later, the transponder stopped broadcasting and the aircraft turned back toward the Malay Peninsula.

The Telegraph is reporting,

Meanwhile, Geoffrey Thomas, an Australia aviation expert and the editor of Airlineratings.com has criticised the Malaysian government’s admission that the final words spoken from on board the aircraft were different to those they originally reported. He said it was “extraordinary” that it took so long for a correction to be issued.
“This just gives the families of those, the families of the victims, more evidence that things have been hidden from them if you like,” he added. “The sign off from the Malaysian pilots is still not correct because they should have said, ‘Malaysian 370 contact Ho Chi Minh centre on 1 2 0 decimal 9, goodnight.'”

Thomas is correct. A transcript of the radio communications between ATC and Malaysian 370 establishes that

01:19:24 ATC: Malaysian 370 contact Ho Chi Minh 120 decimal 9. Good night.

01:19:29 MS370: Good night Malaysian 370.

Although I knew about the plastic garbage dump in the Pacific Ocean and the oil pollution in the Gulf of Mexico, I did not realize the extent of the problem until recently. Sea trash is severely hampering the search for MH370 and may ultimately make it impossible to find floating wreckage from the flight until a fishing boat snags it by accident or it starts turning up on a beach somewhere. Depending on how long it takes to find wreckage from MH370, retracing its path to find out where MH370 entered the water may not be possible.

Our oceans have become a vast garbage dump and we absolutely must change that.

You are now up to date.

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Featuring Towerflower about what happened to #MH370

March 21, 2014

Friday, March 21, 2014

Good morning:

It’s now 10:24 am EDT.

10:24 pm in Kuala Lumpur and Perth.

The searchers did not find anything during their daylight search and there is a possibility that the 79-foot-long object spotted by the satellite may have sunk out of sight.

Another possibility is the unidentified object may have been a shipping container that fell off a ship during a storm. I regard this possibility to be unlikely because containers are not that big.

Nevertheless, I’ve read estimates that as many as 10,000 shipping containers are lost every year. I would not be surprised to discover that a significant percentage of them were stolen and reported as lost at sea.

Yet another possibility is currents have carried the object beyond the area searched by the planes and the Norwegian container ship.

Bad weather and poor visibility have complicated the search so it’s possible that the object is still on the surface and will be found after the weather clears.

Patience, cooperation and perseverance are required.

Wouldn’t hurt to pray either.

We are fortunate to have someone in our group who is an expert regarding aviation and air traffic control (ATC). Towerflower has been an air traffic controller for many years starting in the military and later as a civilian.

Here is Towerflower’s take on what happened to MH 370.

Air Traffic Control uses two different types of radar. One is used in Terminal environments (basically located near airports) in which they control airspace from basically 18,000′ and below. They utilize both primary and secondary radar. Primary radar is just a slash (-) that shows up on radar. The STARS system that the US uses in most of their terminal facilities gives you the ability to tag a primary target–meaning we can have the computer track the slash and input the callsign, destination, an assigned altitude, and type aircraft. The computer systems will figure out the airspeed and will display that with the target, the only thing we cannot receive or know for sure is the actual altitude of the plane but if I assigned 8,000′ ft to it I can put in A080 as a reminder to me that was he assigned altitude.

Centers operate airspace typically 18,000′ and above and to operate in this airspace it requires an operational transponder, why? Because their system only follows secondary targets that they get from an operating transponder. Shut off or have a transponder go bad for whatever issue and the airplane will go into what we call “coast” It will track for a couple of sweeps and display CST (coast) and it will no longer display altitude and it will drop off the controller’s screen. Since you like 911 conspiracies, think of what the hijackers did, they shut off the transponders to make them invisible to the centers but the terminal facilities can and did still track them.

There is no radar over large expanses of open water, like the oceans. Controlling aircraft there is done by time. So much time has to pass before another aircraft is allowed to occupy the same intersection at the same altitude. Aircraft will give position reports as they pass by these intersections so that the times can always be updated and since there is no VHF radio coverage over the ocean it is done via the ACARS system and HF. A long range radar system will go out 200 miles but typical terminal facilities have shorter ranges. Radar coverage will “weaken” when you get to it’s limits, you might no longer pick them up at lower altitudes regardless whether they have a working transponder or not. There can also be “blind spots” caused by large buildings (as in height) and the terrain…..meaning mountains.

GPS in the aviation community is currently only used for navigation purposes and not radar tracking. The FAA and NASA are currently trying to develop the next satellite based system using real time tracking of planes using GPS, it is called NexGen and it is still many years from being implemented and does not exist yet, so in other words Satellites do not track airplanes for controllers.

As a controller, I can say it is quite possible for a terminal controller to ignore a primary target going across their screen if they didn’t have any planes near it for it to be a factor for their concern (calling traffic). Military units would track any unknown target, especially if ATC doesn’t call them to let them known of an aircraft with a malfunctioning transponder, coming into their airspace and that would cause many nations along the northern route to scramble their jets to investigate, there is no way China nor India would just let a jet come into their country’s airspace without sounding an alarm.

As a controller, my theory has been, that the jet suffered some sort of decompression or most likely smoke in the aircraft. Smoke from an electrical fire makes more sense since there were a series of failures to the avionics and radios. The pilot quickly programmed in a new heading to the closest airport that could handle their jet. Oxygen would not be turned on since oxygen and fire don’t mix well. With all the toxic types of materials on an airplane people would be quickly overcome by the fumes and pass out and die. I have heard that pilots have smoke hoods but that gives you only a couple of minutes. An airplane at 35,000′ getting down to the surface takes longer than a few minutes. With the pilots and everyone else overcome by fumes the airplane would continue on it’s last programmed heading and continue until it ran out of gas and went into the ocean. It is also possible for there to be a smoldering type of problem which would produce the smoke but not the increasing flames of a spreading fire.

Let us know what you think happened to #MH370.


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