(This is my last posting on the disappearance of flight MH370—at least until we find the wreckage.)
Having eliminated the stolen passport holders (illegal immigrants joining their families) and heard new admissions from the Malaysian military about the track of the airliner, I have a hypothesis about the disappearance of MH370 that doesn't require human malice—just a single terrible coincidence (of the kind that causes most major air disasters).
Last year Boeing issued an Airworthiness Directive for other models of B777, to look for cracking in the fuselage skin under the SATCOM transceiver antenna. Such cracking could lead, in extremis, to rapid decompression. "The FAA said it had also determined that this unsafe condition "is likely to exist or develop in other products of the same type design"."
Posit an incident similar to the loss of Helios flight 552:
Chain of events:
* On February 22nd, aircraft 9M-MRO underwent maintenance. During this, or during a previous maintenance cycle, an empty oxygen bottle was installed by mistake for a full one, or a valve was jammed, or some other undetected fault rendered the flight deck crew's emergency oxygen supply inoperable.
* At 17:22Z on March 7th, while in flight at 35,000 feet, the fuselage ruptured under or around the SATCOM antenna housing, damaging the SATCOM antenna connections and causing rapid decompression.
* At the same time, the previously undetected fault in the gas supply to the pilots' oxygen masks starved them of oxygen.
The pilots would not succumb to hypoxia immediately. They probably had enough conscious-but-confused time to don their (non-functional) oxygen masks, dial a course change into the autopilot, reduce altitude by 5000 feet, and broadcast a Mayday that nobody heard because it never got out of the airframe (because of the damaged SATCOM antenna).
Then they lost consciousness.
The plane drilled on into the big blue for six more hours with the pilots dead at the controls, like Paine Stewart's LearJet. The cabin crew were unable to get through the reinforced door before their portable oxygen bottles ran out: the aircraft finally ran out of fuel and came down somewhere over the middle of the Indian or Pacific Oceans.
We might not find the wreckage for years.
I'd like to stress that this is my current preferred hypothesis. It doesn't rely on conspiracy theories or human malice, and it explains the observed course and altitude changes. All it requires is the ghastly coincidence of two individually survivable maintenance errors affecting the same aircraft on the same flight. (Which is, of course, the pattern of most major aviation disasters.) There is, however, one take-away from this picture.
If this turns out to be what happened to flight MH370, expect the airline industry to start pushing back hard against the requirement for reinforced cockpit doors to be locked at all times while airliners are in flight.
Losing Helios 552 might be a freak accident, but if decompression and a locked door led to the loss of MA370 as well, then this would be a new threat that will now have killed 360 air travellers—many times more than have died as a result of hijackings since 9/11.
Is it appropriate to employ anti-hijacking measures to prevent violent hijackings a couple of times per decade, if they run the risk, as a side-effect, of crashing in-service airliners a couple of times per decade?