I'm not sure which is worse: the hype and disinformation on mass media about the missing Malaysia Airlines plane, the irresponsible lack of candor, clarity, and timely information and responses from the Malaysian authorities, the flood of conspiracy theories, or the frustration and mystery of not knowing. Any number of hypotheses explaining the disappearance could potentially be true, but for now we just don't know. It is difficult for us to withhold judgment amid uncertainty.
A cockpit fire, as happened on EgyptAir flight MS667 in 2011, is one such possibility. There is no evidence of this for MH370; this diary is offered purely as information about a previous event, in case this sheds light on the current situation.
A severe cockpit fire occurred in July 2011 on the same make and model airplane (Boeing 777-200, a.k.a. B772) as MH370, while it was sitting at the gate, destroying most of the cockpit within minutes, destroying nearly all instruments, and burning a 2' hole through the fuselage. (See pictures.) The pilots were not able to extinguish the rapid, hot, oxygen-fueled fire using their cabin fire-extinguisher. Fortunately, Egypt Air MS667 was on the ground, and firefighters arrived within three minutes (although it took 90 minutes to extinguish the fire).
Investigators' 'conclusions' about the cockpit fire, some first-hand observations by the co-pilot, and some of my conjecture on MH370, are below the fold.
Egyptian investigators were (disappointingly) not able to reach any firm conclusions about the cause of the fire, after more than a year of study. Here is what a November 2012 aviation article said about it:
Egyptian investigators have failed to pinpoint the cause of the fire which destroyed an EgyptAir Boeing 777-200 at Cairo.Update (from Lib Dem FoP):
But the inquiry suggests a possible short-circuit or other fault resulted in electrical heating of the first officer's oxygen system hose, stored beneath the right-hand cockpit window.
This oxygen-rich environment contributed to the intensity and speed of the blaze...
Routine checks by the crew, in preparation for the 29 July 2011 flight, revealed the oxygen system pressure was normal. But while the pilots waited for the last few passengers to board, the first officer said there was a "bang" from the right side of his seat and he saw a 10cm "crack" appear in the side-wall adjacent to the oxygen mask.
The cockpit-voice recorder captured a "pop" followed by a hissing noise, similar to the escape of pressurised gas, says the inquiry.
"I unfastened the seat-belt immediately and stood up very quickly," the first officer told investigators. "At the same time the captain left his seat quickly. The smoke and fire were spreading very quickly. After that, the captain ordered me to get out of the cockpit."
The captain attempted to extinguish the fire but said: "The fire bottle was completely depleted without any influence on the fire intensity."
Investigators say ... fire-fighting personnel arrived after 3min. The fire was extinguished and aircraft cooling was completed around 90min after the blaze broke out. ...
In the wake of the EgyptAir fire the FAA has ordered the replacement of hoses on 777s with non-conductive versions to reduce the risk of combustion.
The more worrying part of the report on the Egypt Air fire ... was that the investigation discovered the suspect wiring and it's brackets did not comply with the Boeing blueprints and a very large batch of 777s had been delivered with the same fault.Update (from EdyS): see this comment by a B777 captain (pilot) who supports the theory of a cockpit fire and offers more details, and also the link he provides with further info on the EgyptAir cockpit fire: http://avherald.com/...
OK, now for a little conjecture:
If such a fire occurred at 35,000', on an airplane going 524 mph (471 knots), it is plausible to assume it would be catastrophic. (For context, the strongest Category 5 hurricanes ever recorded had sustained winds of 'only' 215 mph, strong enough to destroy many buildings that are not made of steel-reinforced concrete.)
If such a quick and devastating cockpit fire occurred aboard MH370, it could be consistent with some of the known facts:
* communications being cut abruptly (pilots struggling to extinguish it, speed of fire, electronics destroyed)
* no mayday signals sent (no time before cockpit uninhabitable due to smoke and fire, and/or instruments destroyed),
* the transponder going down,
* no calls from passengers (too high for cell-phone contact, no time, panic)
* perhaps the "mumbling" when another pilot radioed (e.g. if static or 500 mph wind sounded like mumbling),
* the report from an oil-rig worker of seeing a burning object high in the sky, that burned for 10-15 seconds,
* perhaps a change of course and/or altitude (if the plane continued to fly for some time, even with the cockpit electronics destroyed due to a growing fire),
* perhaps the plane suddenly disappearing once the fire reached some critical point (e.g. perhaps igniting fuel tanks or cabin oxygen tanks, or the nose-cone/windshield being breached and a catastrophic rush of air ripping through the plane, etc.), and
* possibly (though less likely) the fire even reaching temperatures above 2000F, thereby damaging the flight data recorder ("black box").
It could just be coincidence that it occurred shortly after it crossed the Malaysia-Vietnam air-boundary. If so, this could explain some of the confusion, with the Malaysian air-traffic controllers assuming it was now safely in the hands of Vietnamese air controllers, and the Vietnamese assuming it had turned back to KL so was still in the hands of Malaysian controllers. That's just conjecture.
Again, there's no evidence for any of this, it's just one of many possibilities.
Btw, another possible accident scenario comes from an FAA warning. The FAA warned in November of cracking and corrosion on the fuselage of the B777-200, near its SATCOM antenna adapter. The FAA warned:
"We received a report of cracking and corrosion in the fuselage skin underneath the SATCOM antenna adapter. [...] During a maintenance planning data inspection, one operator reported a 16-inch crack under the 3-bay SATCOM antenna adapter plate in the crown skin of the fuselage on an aeroplane that was 14 years old with approximately 14,000 total flight cycles. Subsequent to this crack finding, the same operator inspected 42 other aeroplanes that are between 6 and 16 years old and found some local corrosion, but no other cracking. Cracking and corrosion in the fuselage skin, if not corrected, could lead to rapid decompression and loss of structural integrity of the aeroplane."Where's the debris?
If either scenario (cockpit fire or fuselage corrosion) occurred at 35,000', resulting in fuselage breach and (near-)disintegration, how much debris would be visible, over what area? I don't know. Lessons from KAL007 (from which little debris were recovered) are murky, because it seems plausible that the USSR picked up debris from the area and did not reveal it all. It's hard to imagine that if searchers were looking in the right area, they would not find something, even if the plane had essentially disintegrated at 30,000'. Continuing to broaden the search area makes sense to me, despite the tradeoffs. (An increase from a search circle of radius 100 miles, to one of 110 miles, increases the square miles covered by about 6,600 sq m or 20%, if I'm doing the math right.)
Not knowing is frustrating. It's only a little bit better than "knowing" things that are not true.
One of the challenges of any theory involving intentional human behavior is the number of people who need to be involved and keep their mouths shut during planning, execution, and aftermath (to colleagues, family, friends, journalists, leaks, phone calls, emails, etc). It doesn't rule out such theories. But the fewer assumptions one can make, the better.
Aristotle (3rd c. BC): "We may assume the superiority, ceteris paribus, of the demonstration which derives from fewer postulates or hypotheses."
Ptolemy (2nd c. AD)): "We consider it a good principle to explain the phenomena by the simplest hypothesis possible."
Duns Scotus (13th c. AD) "Pluralitas non est ponenda sine necessitate", i.e., "Plurality is not to be posited without necessity."
William of Ockham (attributed): "Entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity."