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Debris field found as plane crash probe mulls pilot angst or knockout

March 27, 2014 Aviation, Headline News No Comments Email Email

egtmedia59A possible plane crash debris field of 122 objects bobbing on waves in the southern Indian Ocean has been detected by a French satellite. Some objects measure up to 23 metres and are suspected to be wreckage from Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. Search aircraft and ships are on their way.

The suspected debris field shown in the French satellite images is about 2650 kilometres southwest of Perth. Weather in the area is increasingly foul and visibility is poor.

Malaysia’s admission a couple of days ago that the missing flight crashed in the Southern Indian Ocean has done little to ease the anguish of relatives and nothing to dampen the frenzy of speculation and conjecture that has surrounded the plane’s disappearance from the start.

The greatest aviation mystery of all time has the potential to damage the Malaysia Airlines brand and, further down the track, damage air travel generally. The sinister enigma, coupled with constant contradictory statements, is fuelling a whirl of theorising and uncertainty. There is not even agreement on where the plane went down. The area keeps being revised. If the debris field proves genuine it may give some closure, but in the meantime the publicity is doing little to restore public confidence in flying.

Two new theories came to light yesterday.

The New Zealand Herald published a report that the flight’s pilot, Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, was facing family and relationship problems before the plane disappeared. The paper’s story told of a fellow pilot who reportedly said Zaharie was in no state of mind to fly the day the plane disappeared and he could have taken the B777 for a “last joyride” before crashing into the Indian TravelManagersOcean.

The fellow pilot, an anonymous “long-time associate” of the doomed plane’s captain, intimated that Zaharie’s world was crumbling as he faced serious family problems, including separation from his wife and relationship problems with another woman he was seeing.

The informant apparently told the paper Zaharie was “terribly upset” and could have decided to take the Malaysia Airlines plane “to a part of the world he had never flown in”.

Police, however, have found nothing suspicious about Zaharie, a veteran pilot with MAS, or with the First Officer he was flying with.

The informant mentioned by the New Zealand Herald claimed Zaharie enjoyed using his home-made flight simulator to create challenging situations that he wouldn’t experience at the controls of a commercial airliner, “such as flying at the highest and lowest possible altitudes”.

The simulator was seized last week and is being analysed by the FBI.

The NZ Herald story is at odds with Zaharie’s fellow pilots, who say the captain had a good sense of humour, loved his family and was definitely not a terrorist.

Whatever happened, aviation analysts consider the plane almost certainly crashed as the result of a deliberate act. The aircraft was either hijacked, or one of its pilots for some reason flew it off course and deliberately disabled the communications systems.

The Sydney Morning Herald raised the possibility that, if the flight’s pilots had become incapacitated, the passengers and cabin crew may have flown for seven hours aware that there was a problem but unable to raise the alarm.

The story theorised that the pilots and/or passengers could have been knocked out by something like hypoxia, a condition in which the body is deprived of adequate oxygen supply. Whatever happened to the pilots, nobody could have got in through the reinforced cockpit door, designed for maximum security, the story surmised.

Passengers could not have made mobile calls because the plane was too high or too remote for mobile phones to work.

In a later development, further analysis of Inmarsat satellite data has shown that an additional, “partial ping” occurred eight minutes after the final hourly contact between the aircraft and spacecraft. That could affect the position where the plane finally came down.

Meanwhile, the search for debris from the doomed plane continues in the southern Indian Ocean. The 122 objects detected by the French satellite are the best clue yet.

Written by : Peter Needham

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