Tuesday, 25 February 2020

Looking At Air Travel’s Greatest Mystery

Updated: April 12, 2014 10:39 am

The routine flight MH370 which disappeared in the sky initiated world’s biggest search operation constituting with 22 countries assisting in search and recovery operation. According to the new satellite images, more than 100 objects floating in the southern Indian Ocean could be debris from the Malaysian jetliner missing for more than two weeks. The mysterious disappearance of the flight raised many unanswered questions

With the announcement of the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak about the crashing of the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 in the Indian Ocean with no survivors, has presumed to put an end to the biggest mystery of all time. The sudden disappearance of the routine flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, became the biggest mystery in the history of the aviation industry. The flight took off at 12.41 am local time on March 8. Last contact with the air controller was at 1.22 am and at that point the transponder, which communicates the plane’s position with ground radar, was switched off. The flight, which was carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew members, was dropped off the radar and vanished while heading towards Beijing. This mystery has been baffling many industry experts and has put a question mark on the state-of-the-art technology used in the aviation sector as they were unable to locate the missing plane.

According to the new analysis by British satellite firm Inmarsat, which provided satellite data, it has been concluded that the plane flew in the southern corridor, and that its last position was in the middle of the Indian Ocean, west of Perth where the flight crashed. Najib Razak made the official announcement with heavy heart: “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 mystery came into the limelight when the MH370 took off from Kuala Lumpur and was heading towards Beijing at an altitude of 35,000 feet, when suddenly the communication from the plane was ceased and the plane took a sharp turn towards Kuala Lumpur (as reported by the Thai radar) and then a further turn toward the west across the Malaysian peninsula. This sparked many conspiracy theories like hijacking, cyber hack and most importantly suicidal attempt by the pilot of the plane coming to the fore.

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Theory of pilot suicide

If we go with the suicide attempt theory, then according to some reports, the aircraft first climbed as high as 45,000 feet and then descended rapidly till it reached 12,000ft and then started its journey towards Andaman Islands. Only a veteran pilot can understand that the sudden fluctuation in the altitude of the aircraft can be used for the depressurisation, through which the passengers can be made brain dead. It is because during the event of depressurisation, the time of useful consciousness at 45,000ft is around 9-15 seconds and within that time, if the body does not get oxygen then it becomes brain dead. This was the perfect opportunity for the pilot to exclude the “human intervention” in this suicidal attempt as in the middle of the night, when most people are likely to be fast asleep, there is every possibility that the oxygen masks would not have been worn within 15 seconds. And plus, the sudden descent would have misled the military radar into believing that the aircraft was carrying out an emergency descent and so they would not have interfered during this manoeuvre. According to this theory, the pilot first ensured no “human intervention” and would have taken the aircraft to the Indian Ocean, which is a remote area and hard to access. Accordingly, the pilot pre-planned the duration of ceasing all communication and turning off the transponder just after few hours from take-off and after coming in “dead space” to prevent detection of the aircraft on TCAS by any other aircraft flying in the sky.

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Theory of cyber hack

Another theory which is considered by the experts, is of cyber hack. The investigators have come across some strong evidence of a cyber attack on the MH370. According to it, the plane could have been hijacked by using mobile phone or some USB device to hack into the security system of the aircraft. The theory comes from a British anti-terrorism expert, who says cyber terrorists could have used a series of “codes” to hack the plane’s in-flight entertainment system and infiltrate the security software. According to Sally Leivesley, a former scientific adviser to the UK’s Home Office, the Boeing 777’s speed, direction and altitude could have been changed, using radio signals sent from a small device. The evidence also indicates that someone took over the plane’s controls “in a deceptive manner” and overwhelmed the plane’s system either remotely or from a seat on the plane. “There appears to be an element of planning from someone with a very sophisticated systems engineering understanding,” she said. “When the plane is air-side, you can insert a set of commands and codes that may initiate, on signal, a set of processes.” This theory came into existence due to the downgraded security system of the Boeing planes. Boeing had previously expressed concern over the security of the plane’s systems, and had even contacted the US Federal Aviation Administration for permission to change some of the onboard equipment. And plus, according to a Spanish researcher, both plane’s system as well as the pilot’s display could be hijacked by a mobile phone with a specific “attack code”.

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Black Box: Carrying a secret to the grave

The satellite images which depict the area of the crash down can be crucial in finding the black boxes— the devices which record what’s happening on board and be able to survive a crash, to help investigators discover the cause of an accident—may play a vital role in determining the real reason of the crash. Nowaday’s airliners come with two units, the flight data recorder (FDR) and cockpit voice recorder (CVR). The FDR keeps track of a wide range of parameters, including speed, altitude, engine power, and flight controls. If something happens that changes the plane’s flight plan it’s noted. The CVR records the pilots’ voices, air traffic control, and other noise in the cockpit. The recorders are equipped with emergency locator beacons. However, they have less time to broadcast their location due to limited battery life of around 30 days. If the investigators are able to secure the two black boxes, then they could get the lead for the crash. Without the boxes, the investigators may never be able to piece together exactly what happened to flight MH370.

Despite all these theories, the mysteries revolving around the Malaysian Airlines MH370 will not be clear till the time the debris of the aircraft are not recovered. This raise an important question unanswered: Whether it was a mere accident or pre-planned sabotage?

By Rohan Pal

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