17 Mar 2014

Missing Malaysia flight: deliberate and well-thought through?

Last night Malaysia’s transport minister told me flight MH370’s data communication system had been deliberately disabled before the last verbal communication from the aircraft.

Last night I asked Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein whether flight MH370’s data communication system had been deliberately disabled before – or after – the last verbal communication from the aircraft.

Mr Hussain said, “yes, it was disabled before.”

That’s significant because the last words from the cockpit were a relaxed sounding “alright, goodnight”. No trouble had been reported on board – yet we now know that a major bit of communications kit had already been shut down.

Read more from Channel 4 News: Latest news on Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370

This suggests that one – or both of the pilots – had full knowledge of the scheme to render the plane invisible and fly it off-course and it reinforces the theory that they may have been directly involved.

It also indicates that this scheme was well thought through and executed shortly after aircraft took off from Kuala Lumpur International Airport.


Let’s have look at timings on the morning of 8 March.

12:41am: The Boeing 777-200ER jetliner, carrying 239 people takes, departs Kuala Lumpur for Beijing.

1.07am: Last transmission from the plane’s data communications system Acars (Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System). According to Malaysia Airlines, the aircraft was performing normally. The exact moment that ACARS was disabled is not clear.

Approximately 1.20am: Malaysian air traffic controllers in Kuala Lumpur hand over communications to their Vietnamese counterparts in Ho Chih Minh City. The last words heard from the cockpit were: “Alright, goodnight”.

1.21am: Near the border between Malaysian and Vietnamese air traffic control, the aircraft’s transponder was switched off, rendering the aircraft invisible to civilian radar.

1.22am: Flight 370 was meant to transfer to Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh air traffic control but it never appeared.

1.22am: Malaysian military source tells Channel 4 News that the Boeing 777 appears on a military radar recording. The aircraft is tracked flying westward over the Malaysian peninsula.

2.15am: Malaysian military radar’s last location for an aircraft, believed to be MH370, is 322km north-west of Penang Island at navigational waypoint “Igrex”.

8.11am:  The last recorded “ping” from the Acars satellite antenna. The ping – or automated message – contained limited information about the aircraft’s movements but the transmission indicated that MH370 may have flown for a considerable period – perhaps as long as seven hours and 30 minutes.

Considerable expertise

Disabling the Acars communication system is not a simple process because it doesn’t have an “off- switch”. The person – or persons – trying to silence it would need time and considerable expertise to shut it down.

Here’s Bruce Rodger from Los Angeles based Aero Consulting Experts: “The only way to disable it is by pulling a circuit breaker in the cockpit. There are hundreds of circuit breakers in the cockpit of a 777 that correspond to every electrical device in the plane — from the coffee pot to the sockets on passenger seats.

“To find that particular circuit breaker one would have to be a 777 pilot or an expert trained in that particular model of aircraft.”

With evidence suggesting some sort of involvement by the pilots, the Malaysian authorities will intensify their investigation of the background of the two men – and well as their possible motivations and their friends and contacts.

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