There is an opinion piece written by former Captain Les Abend on CNN’s website opining that the best explanation for what happened to MH370 is that there was a catastrophic event aboard the airliner that disabled all comms and then the pilots and that the plane simply flew itself until fuel exhaustion crashed the airliner. You can read this opinion HERE.
Let’s review the ideas one by one:
1) The airliner had a fire or similar event that disabled all radios and communications.
An event disabling all 5 radios would almost have to involve the cockpit being removed from the airliner. We know this didn’t happen. Boeing has built redundancy into these aircraft but has also gone to fair trouble to ensure that a problem in one part of the plane doesn’t take out all of a system. Antennas are separated. Power sources are different. You really cannot lose all the radios simultaneously without something literally destroying the aircraft. Could they go out one by one? Yes.
2) He suggests that the callout of 35,000 feet is what pilots do to remind ATC to give them a higher clearance. Well, that’s true but what Mr. Abend neglects to mention is that 35,000 feet is a fairly high altitude and to go much higher so early in the flight wasn’t necessarily practical. To make the callout several times when already at a very high altitude and when there was no weather to clear, is suspect.
3) It’s suggested that a smoldering fire began to insidiously take out comms slowly, one by one. What this ignores is the fact that the electronics bay doesn’t just provide communications. It houses systems for the instrumentation of the entire aircraft. A “smoldering fire” would have been taking out other systems that would have caused alerts left and right. This aircraft is also a “fly by wire” system and those electronics reside, in part, in the electronics bay as well. Fires aren’t selective in what they impact. And electronics bays are heavily monitored for fire and smoke.
4) A degraded autopilot maintains course to the next waypoint and then remains in “heading mode” at high altitude. Pilots to do not stay at 35,000 feet in an emergency that they have to get an airplane onto the ground. To the contrary, they descend, work the checklists and start communicating their descent so that they don’t collide with other aircraft. Furthermore, the “nearest airport” wasn’t actually southwest and on the other side of the island. One with a really long runway was in that direction. Other commercial airports with sufficient runway length for landing existed.
Navigation of the airliner is dependent on many systems that include the autopilot and instrumentation such as GPS and other nav aids. Absent these aids, that airliner will become lost. A smoldering fire that disables pilots, doesn’t continue to smolder without affecting the airframe for 6 to 7 more hours.
I realize that its hard for commercial pilots to accept that a fellow pilot would do something nefarious. Yet. . . . we know that that has happened many times over the course of commercial aviation history. It happens. it’s ugly and it’s terrible. But it happens.
I also realize that it’s nice to make pilots out to be heros who die in action. Yet, we also know that not every pilot is a hero. There are limits to every person.
We don’t know what happened. And we won’t know what happened over the Gulf of Thailand ever. Not in the cockpit. The voice recorder doesn’t record that long. We will have some record of what was programmed, what the flight control inputs were and what was alarming and what wasn’t. It will tell a story but it won’t tell the whole story. It will tell the “what” but not the “why”.
And only if we find the aircraft. But suggesting that this airliner was a ghost ship that crashed is foolish and fantastical does no one any good in looking at this event.