KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 4 – MALAYSIA Airlines flight MH370 was a “ghost ship” before it finally went missing over the southern Indian Ocean on March 8. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), in an explosive report, said the likeliest final scenario, based on available evidence so far, points to an aircraft whose flight crew and passengers had suffered from hypoxia. It added that the Boeing 777-200ER jetliner, with 239 on board, had been flying on autopilot at its normal cruising altitude before its twin Rolls Royce Trent turbofan engines, finally starved of fuel, flamed out.
The ATSB detailed how investigators came to this conclusion after studying and comparing the conditions on flight MH370 with other disasters, and said this best explained the end of flight scenario. This scenario is eerily reminiscent of another incident involving Greece’s Helios Airways flight 522 on Aug 14, 2005. The ATSB, in its report, said this “best fit the available evidence for the final period of MH370’s flight when it was heading in a generally southerly direction”.
“These assumptions were only made for the purpose of defining a search area and there is no suggestion that the investigation authority will make similar assumptions,” the report read. The report’s official conclusion into the Helios Airways Boeing 737 accident pointed to an uncontrolled decompression, which led to flight crew incapacitation and fuel exhaustion.
When the crew and passengers were incapacitated and the aircraft strayed from its assigned track, two Hellenic Air Force F-16 fighters were scrambled to intercept and investigate. The fighter pilots saw the first officer slumped forward at the controls while the pilot was seen trying to regain control of the aircraft. The aircraft impacted the ground near Grammatikos, 40km from Athens, killing 121 on board.
The ATSB report also narrowed down MH370’s possible final resting place. Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss had told reporters in Canberra that it was “highly, highly likely that the aircraft was on autopilot”. “Otherwise, it could not have followed the orderly path that has been identified through the satellite sightings,” he had said.
Investigators had said that the little evidence they had suggested the jetliner was deliberately diverted thousands of kilometres away from its assigned route with Beijing as its intended destination, before crashing into the ocean. Meanwhile, the ATSB, together with Malaysian authorities, are expected to finalise its second updated report.
Data from Ma-laysia’s primary and secondary radar and how the country responded in the hours that the aircraft was in its airspace, are expected to be reflected in the report. However, sources told the New Straits Times that the updated report would not be able to answer all critical questions, including what exactly happened in the cockpit and why the flight, carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew members, turned back after waypoint Igari.
The data, which was given to the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) some time ago by the military, would most likely be supported by observations and assessments by the International Independent Investigating Panel. However, the source said that the report would not include radar data from other countries as it would not bring impact the conclusions much. “It would definitely involve Malaysian primary and secondary radar.
“The information here would be assessed based on what they consider important by their experts. The military has provided them with everything they need, including data on the turn back. “With the second report, we’ll have a more complete report.” The ATSB, in its report, also said that the analysis of the satellite communications (satcomm) data showed that there were probably no large changes to the aircraft’s track after 7.15pm on March 7, about five hours prior to the last handshake.
And, despite being equipped with a suite of communications gear, ranging from three VHF (very high frequency), UHF (ultra high frequency) and two HF (high frequency) radios, as well as two transponders, the ATSB said there was no radio communication from the aircraft for seven hours prior to the last satcomm handshake at 12.19am on March 8.
The report added that three general classes of accidents were relevant to the cruise phase of the flight. The first would be an in-flight upset, where the aircraft would stall due to icing on the wings or control surfaces, or be affected by other weather anomalies or systems failure. The second would be a “glide event”, which would generally include normal communications and manoeuvring of the aircraft which had suffered engine failure or fuel exhaustion. Finally, a hypoxia event or an unresponsive crew.
This, generally, would see a steadily maintained cruise altitude, fuel exhaustion and finally, descent, with no pilot intervention. The ATSB revealed that, based on circumstantial evidence, which includes loss of radio communication, long periods without any enroute manoeuvring of the aircraft, a steadily maintained cruise altitude and fuel exhaustion and descent, pointed to the conclusion that MH370 had suffered a reduced oxygen in the cabin until the flight ended in the southern Indian Ocean.