Patterico's Pontifications


A Pilot Explains What Probably Happened to the Malaysian Airliner

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 10:59 pm

This is the best, if least dramatic, theory I have read on the disappearance of the Malaysian airliner:

There has been a lot of speculation about Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Terrorism, hijacking, meteors. I cannot believe the analysis on CNN; it’s almost disturbing. I tend to look for a simpler explanation, and I find it with the 13,000-foot runway at Pulau Langkawi.

We know the story of MH370: A loaded Boeing 777 departs at midnight from Kuala Lampur, headed to Beijing. A hot night. A heavy aircraft. About an hour out, across the gulf toward Vietnam, the plane goes dark, meaning the transponder and secondary radar tracking go off. Two days later we hear reports that Malaysian military radar (which is a primary radar, meaning the plane is tracked by reflection rather than by transponder interrogation response) has tracked the plane on a southwesterly course back across the Malay Peninsula into the Strait of Malacca.

The left turn is the key here. Zaharie Ahmad Shah1 was a very experienced senior captain with 18,000 hours of flight time. We old pilots were drilled to know what is the closest airport of safe harbor while in cruise. Airports behind us, airports abeam us, and airports ahead of us. They’re always in our head. Always. If something happens, you don’t want to be thinking about what are you going to do–you already know what you are going to do. When I saw that left turn with a direct heading, I instinctively knew he was heading for an airport. He was taking a direct route to Palau Langkawi, a 13,000-foot airstrip with an approach over water and no obstacles. The captain did not turn back to Kuala Lampur because he knew he had 8,000-foot ridges to cross. He knew the terrain was friendlier toward Langkawi, which also was closer.

But what went wrong? The pilot has a simple answer: a fire.

For me, the loss of transponders and communications makes perfect sense in a fire. And there most likely was an electrical fire. In the case of a fire, the first response is to pull the main busses and restore circuits one by one until you have isolated the bad one. If they pulled the busses, the plane would go silent. It probably was a serious event and the flight crew was occupied with controlling the plane and trying to fight the fire. Aviate, navigate, and lastly, communicate is the mantra in such situations.

There are two types of fires. An electrical fire might not be as fast and furious, and there may or may not be incapacitating smoke. However there is the possibility, given the timeline, that there was an overheat on one of the front landing gear tires, it blew on takeoff and started slowly burning. Yes, this happens with underinflated tires. Remember: Heavy plane, hot night, sea level, long-run takeoff. There was a well known accident in Nigeria of a DC8 that had a landing gear fire on takeoff. Once going, a tire fire would produce horrific, incapacitating smoke. Yes, pilots have access to oxygen masks, but this is a no-no with fire. Most have access to a smoke hood with a filter, but this will last only a few minutes depending on the smoke level. (I used to carry one in my flight bag, and I still carry one in my briefcase when I fly.)

What I think happened is the flight crew was overcome by smoke and the plane continued on the heading, probably on George (autopilot), until it ran out of fuel or the fire destroyed the control surfaces and it crashed. You will find it along that route–looking elsewhere is pointless.

I think this is the right answer by default until someone proves otherwise. It makes sense. It is simple and not outlandish.


UPDATE: Many commenters say this scenario is inconsistent with the voice transmissions. Could be. I don’t claim to be an expert on this. I just tend to look for the simplest explanation that explains the facts. If that’s not this theory, then so be it.

Ron Paul on Crimea: Why You Can’t Take Hard Libertarians Seriously on Foreign Policy

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:48 am

As Russia annexes Crimea, Ron Paul, writing in USA Today, shows why it is difficult to take him and other hard libertarians seriously when it comes to foreign policy:

Residents of Crimea voted over the weekend on whether they would remain an autonomous region of Ukraine or join the Russian Federation. In so doing, they joined a number of countries and regions — including recently Scotland, Catalonia and Venice — that are seeking to secede from what they view as unresponsive or oppressive governments.

These latter three are proceeding without much notice, while the overwhelming Crimea vote to secede from Ukraine has incensed U.S. and European Union officials, and has led NATO closer to conflict with Russia than since the height of the Cold War.

What’s the big deal? Opponents of the Crimea vote like to point to the illegality of the referendum. But self-determination is a centerpiece of international law. Article I of the United Nations Charter points out clearly that the purpose of the U.N. is to “develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples.”

A paean to “self-determination” is a bit rich, don’t you think, Dr. Paul, in light of these facts from?

Officially, the joining-Russia option on the ballot attracted a healthy 97 percent support from the 83 percent of registered voters in Crimea who made it to the polls. The most repeated tidbit was the voter turnout in Sevastopol, long a pro-Russian bastion, where a reported 123 percent of registered voters are said to have cast ballots.

Admire the Crimean “get out the vote” machine! Even Barack Obama is envious! More:

Ukrainian news reports said that all one needed to vote was a passport, and it didn’t have to be a Ukrainian one. One reporter from Kiev showed his Russian passport and was handed a ballot and allowed to vote. This raised questions in Kiev if perhaps the Russian soldiers and Russian paramilitary occupying the area since late February had been allowed to cast votes.

It also raised eyebrows, because while an estimated 58 percent of the Crimean population is known to be ethnic Russian and very pro-Russia, the remaining 42 percent are not thought to be similarly smitten. Ukrainian opinion polls over the last decade have consistently shown Crimea to be more pro-Russian and in favor of secession than any other region of Ukraine, but previous polls had shown consistently that those favoring splitting from Ukraine and joining Russia numbered about 40 percent.

Hmmm. Polls run 40 percent in favor, then the military moves in, and then polls run 97 percent in favor. Paul’s only response to this is:

Critics point to the Russian “occupation” of Crimea as evidence that no fair vote could have taken place. Where were these people when an election held in an Iraq occupied by U.S. troops was called a “triumph of democracy”?

Accusing others of hypocrisy is all well and good, but it is not an argument. Does occupation taint a vote or not, Dr. Paul? Does it depend on whether the occupation is by the U.S. (bad) or Russia (A-OK)?

Paul may be right that we have no business doing anything about this, and I am willing to listen to the Paulite arguments that the U.S. Constitution “does not allow the U.S. government to overthrow governments overseas or send a billion dollars to bail out Ukraine and its international creditors.” But if that’s the argument, stick to that argument. Say “what Russia is doing is wrong, but the U.S. can’t correct every wrong in the world.” Don’t tell us how Russia’s annexation of Crimea is the inevitable result of “self-determination.” That’s just foolish.

Love your economic positions though!

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