So Many Things to be Wrong About

Gregg Easterbrook is still getting space on the pages of major news outlets, where he can be totally wrong, as usual.  Here’s James Fallows:

My friend and colleague Gregg Easterbrook has an op-ed in the NYT today saying that one big lesson of the 9/11 attacks, which should be re-learned because of the Malaysia 370 mystery, is that pilots should not be able to turn off the transponders in their planes. […]
As Gregg knows, because I’ve told him, I think that focusing on transponders is mis-directed effort, Ms. Emily Litella-style. Here is why.

I love that “because I’ve told him”. The sign of a true hack is never letting facts get in the way of a good story.

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101 replies
  1. 1
    dmsilev says:

    2) Why would you switch a transponder off, in the first place? Because every bit of electric equipment in an airplane is designed to be controllable, with a switch or a circuit breaker, so a flight crew can shed load selectively during an electric failure, or isolate the rest of the system if one piece of equipment acts up. Worldwide, we’ve had two episodes in the millions of flights through the past dozen-plus years in which turned-off transponders arguably created a problem. Electric problems that potentially threaten flight safety are much more common

    Several people in the comments to Easterbrook’s piece were making this exact same point. As were many people in all sorts of outlets in the days prior to the op-ed coming out. And it’s not exactly obscure information either. Yet apparently doing a modicum of research is too much to ask for a NYT op-ed contributor.

  2. 2
    AJS says:

    DId he even talk to the always excellent Patrick Smith?

    askthepilot.com

    And some clarity, please, on the topic of transponders. The media is throwing this term around without a full understanding of how the equipment works. For position reporting and traffic sequencing purposes, transponders only work in areas of typical ATC radar coverage. Most of the world, including the oceans, does not have ATC radar coverage. Transponders are relevant to this story only when the missing plane was close to land. Once over the ocean, it didn’t matter anyway. Over oceans and non-radar areas, other means are used for position reports and tracking/communicating (satcomm, datalink, etc.), not transponders.

    Many readers have asked why the capability exists to switch off a transponder, as apparently happened aboard Malaysia flight 370. In fact very few of a plane’s components are hot-wired to be, as you might say, “always on.” In the interest of safety — namely, fire and electrical system protection — it’s important to have the ability to isolate a piece of equipment, either by a standard switch or, if need be, through a circuit breaker. Also transponders will occasionally malfunction and transmit erroneous or incomplete data, at which point a crew will recycle the device — switching it off, then on — or swap to another unit. Typically at least two transponders are onboard, and you can’t run both simultaneously. Bear in mind too that switching the unit “off” might refer to only one of the various subfunctions, or “modes” — for example, mode C, mode S — responsible for different data.

  3. 3
    Mandalay says:

    Anyone who wants to disagree with Fallows on anything to do with aviation does so at their own risk. Fallows knows a gazillion times more about the subject than almost anyone else, and despite his mild manner he’s like a pitbull on crack when he’s riled.

  4. 4
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    “Shithead” isn’t strong enough a term for idiots like Greg Easterbrook.

  5. 5
    Comrade Mary says:

    Can someone here please add “Because I told him” as a tag or a rotating headline, please?

  6. 6
    RSA says:

    The last line is pretty funny:

    Meanwhile, check out Gregg Easterbrook’s The King of Sports, which I gave my sons for Christmas.

    The subtext, in an article on aviation, is pretty obvious.

  7. 7
    Violet says:

    Who is Gregg Easterbrook and is he known for needing to have a “them” to hate? Because that’s the only reasonable explanation for looking at this situation and determining that we need to “re-learn a big lesson of the 9/11 attacks.”

  8. 8
    Ole Phat Stu says:

    Or have a second transponder, set to squawk 7500, if the adjustable one is turned off ?

  9. 9
    Tommy says:

    I know a little about a lot of things. I know a ton about a very few things (and I still wouldn’t call myself an expert). But I try very hard to know what I don’t know. It stuns me because folks have a browser they think they know everything about anything these days with just a few minutes of research.

    I recall watching on of those Discovery or Nat Geo shows on “how we make this” on a Boeing plant. Now clearly I always assumed a plane was a complex thing, but seeing the actual inner workings of a plane it blew my mind. I am thinking you might be able to spend the better part of a lifetime learning about planes and still not know everything.

    Let it seems in like 10 or so days everybody with a column is now an expert on planes.

  10. 10
    Emily68 says:

    Can someone here please add “Because I told him” as a tag or a rotating headline, please?

    I was watching TV with my dad some time in the 1990s. Henry Kissinger was talking about “how were we to know that blah blah blah would happen?”

    My dad yelled at the TV: because I wrote and told you so at the time!!!!

  11. 11
    KG says:

    @Violet: I’m actually surprised that “relearn the lessons of 9/11” hasn’t been a bigger line for the wingularity. I mean, a plane was (possibly) hijacked by (possibly) terrorists. Therefore, they are exactly the same

  12. 12
    Belafon says:

    @RSA: I saw a story about this woman who was a food critic in either Wyoming or one of the Dakotas. She never wrote a bad word about anyone, but everyone knew that if all she talked about was how clean the bathrooms were, you should stay away from the place.

  13. 13
    srv says:

    I’m a pilot, and Fallows is wrong in the grand scheme of things.

    Fallows is a big proponent of things like Free Flight, which basically shuts down ATC management of Class A airspace and lets anybody up there fly-at-will-wherever-the-fcuk-they-want-to. In order for this to work, everybody has to know where everybody else near them is. This exists in basic form now with Mode-S transponders and TCAS receivers, which tell you who is nearby, what direction they’re headed in and what altitude they are. You are then responsible for separation and compliance with regulations, not ATC.

    If we are to move to a model of all/most airspace being Free Flight, then the mechanisms for everybody cooperating, all the time, will need to be enforced with exceptions for military and National Sec. You can’t have flying cars flying all over with people running w/o their headlights (transponders) on.

    Right now, many cars are already emitting all sorts of stuff, and you can’t turn it off w/o getting under the hood.

    Fallows needs to pull off the Serengetis and get with the future.

  14. 14
    Belafon says:

    @Ole Phat Stu: Which is one of the features of the ADS-B system Fallows talks about.

    @srv: I think that’s why Fallows mentioned a different system, which is designed to broadcast without user interaction. I believe his point was that just removing the off button wasn’t enough to make the existing system tamper proof.

  15. 15
    Violet says:

    This explanation by experienced pilot Chris Goodfellow, which Fallows also highlights in his previous post, makes a lot of sense to me.

    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.

    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.

    He calls the pilot a hero who was trying to land his plane and ran out of time.

  16. 16
    Violet says:

    @KG: Don’t forget, in a predominately Muslim country with Muslim pilots. Terrorists!

  17. 17
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    The “lesson of 9/11” is that the men who hijacked those planes were our enemies because they didn’t seek out Greg Easterbrook to be flown into.

  18. 18
    Penus says:

    @Violet:

    Pedantic asshole best known for the “Tuesday Morning Quarterback” column on ESPN. Most annoying habits:

    – Writing off all first-round NFL draft picks as “Glory Boys” and claiming teams are better served using lower-round picks and undrafted free agents while cherry-picking any tiny data point supporting his theory (see: Michael Crabtree) while ignoring the mountains of data that refute it
    – Complaining about coaches not taking chances and claiming he can always pinpoint the moment any game is over
    – Calling out TV shows for being unrealistic (Don’t these cops ever have to fill out PAPERWORK?!?!?)
    – Generally enjoying the smell of his own farts
    – And oh yeah, writing this: “Set aside what it says about Hollywood that today even Disney thinks what the public needs is ever-more-graphic depictions of killing the innocent as cool amusement. Disney’s CEO, Michael Eisner, is Jewish; the chief of Miramax, Harvey Weinstein, is Jewish. Yes, there are plenty of Christian and other Hollywood executives who worship money above all else, promoting for profit the adulation of violence. Does that make it right for Jewish executives to worship money above all else, by promoting for profit the adulation of violence? Recent European history alone ought to cause Jewish executives to experience second thoughts about glorifying the killing of the helpless as a fun lifestyle choice.”

  19. 19
    EconWatcher says:

    In fairness, making your living as a glib contrarian pundit means you probably have to make a lot of s#!t up to keep the output flowing adequately.

  20. 20
    MikeJ says:

    Speaking of air crashes, a sucky day in Seattle.

  21. 21
    Tommy says:

    @Violet: It might have been Buzzfeed. Saw a ton of pictures about Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah. Terrorist?

    Saw him cooking. With his daughter. The pics looked about as “Western” as possible. No different then a pic taken in my house. IMHO if they are going to go after him as an “extremist” they are barking up the wrong tree.

  22. 22
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Penus:

    – Calling out TV shows for being unrealistic (Don’t these cops ever have to fill out PAPERWORK?!?!?)

    Well, I don’t know about you, but I find the filling out of paperwork to be extraordinarily entertaining, and can’t imagine why the producers of those shows don’t focus more on that aspect of police work. Or medicine. Or legal practice. Or military operations.

    Just further evidence that “shithead” isn’t strong enough a pejorative for Greg Easterbrook.

  23. 23
    Elizabelle says:

    @Violet:

    You aced me at posting that first.

    And Mr. Chris Goodfellow’s theory is Elizabelle Nutshell’s theory of the day.

    Massive fire or electrical problem onboard, turn towards the nearest large, safe airport, which is northwest of Kuala Lumpur, with an easier approach, but pilots incapacitated before arriving and overflew the island.

    A sad and reasonable one, which means a downed jet that may never be found, depending on where it hit the ocean.

  24. 24
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Tommy: BUT HE”S AN ATHEIST MUSLIM! OF COURSE HE”S A TERRRIST! DUH!!!!!!!

  25. 25
    srv says:

    @Belafon: Easterbrook isn’t talking about the current system, he’s been talking about re-engineering transponders (or whatever you want to call the followon) to make it happen since 9/11.

    Aviation radios/transponders don’t really last a long time. If the FAA had made a requirement in 2002, it would have been easy to get Class A airspace operators compliant by 2012. Problem solved.

  26. 26
    Tommy says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: I just looked at the pics and they could have been in my kitchen or living room. Maybe terrorist are all around us, but thinking that isn’t the case.

  27. 27
    Cervantes says:

    @Emily68: Kissinger is pathologically incapable of telling the truth deliberately. Once you know this about him, he’s easy to manage — if you have to interact with him at all.

  28. 28
    Violet says:

    @Penus: Thanks for the info. I don’t follow sports all that much unless one of my teams is in the playoffs. I rarely read any kind of sports coverage, so I wouldn’t know him.

    From your description it sounds like he’s highly qualified to weigh in on an airplane that’s vanished. I mean, sports, air travel–what’s the difference? Know about one, know about all. Etc.

  29. 29
    srv says:

    @Violet: I’d given up hope against all this insane conspiracy/hijacking stuff.

    This was a cockpit fire. Capt. Obvious is obvious.

    http://www.avherald.com/h?arti.....#038;opt=0

  30. 30
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Tommy: Thinking is not what the wingtards do. Thinking is for those liebrals!

  31. 31
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @MikeJ: It’s a glorious sunny cloud-free day down here in Tracktown.

  32. 32

    I’m naturally suspicious of people that have a redundant extra consonants at the end of their name.

    greggggg is a dolt.

  33. 33
    mainmata says:

    @Belafon: It was North Dakota and not even Fargo but a small town. Yes, you got it exactly right. Death by omission. I heard it on some NPR show.

  34. 34
    Penus says:

    @Violet:

    To be fair, he writes on other stuff too. I just have mostly seen his ESPN stuff. There are plenty of things he’s willing to be wrong about.

    Also, I forgot to mention the following in the ESPN post:

    – Perving out on scantily clad cheerleaders in his column under the guise of knowing who will win games based on “cheer-babe professionalism”
    – Making up pretentious nicknames for EVERY NFL TEAM, i.e. “Les Mouflons” for the St. Louis Rams. Partial credit given for jumping on the “Don’t use the Redskins’ nickname” bandwagon earlier than most pundits.

  35. 35
    The Other Chuck says:

    @srv: Fallows is an aviation geek who loves the tech, and free flight is a techie dream. Utopian flights (heh) of fancy are not uncommon with such people, which is why they have to be tempered with reality.

    Hell, this used to describe the dynamic of liberalism and conservatism, but somewhere the conservatives got in their head that they needed “big ideas” too.

  36. 36

    @Comrade Mary:
    I usually think ‘add this to the taglines/rotation’ requests are completely jumping the gun, but this… this so perfectly suits both the tone of debate at Balloon Juice and the problems of our journalistic system that it Must Be So.

  37. 37
    NonyNony says:

    Does turning off a transponder make a plane invisible to radar? No. It means that that the plane still shows up as a “primary radar return” — the famous blip, on a radar screen — rather than reporting detailed information about its identity, altitude, and destination. As you might imagine, military radar system in particular are designed to track planes even when they don’t want to be detected.

    This made me LOL. Fallows didn’t exactly say “My friend Gregg, he’s a bit stupid. Let me use small words.”, but he might as well have.

  38. 38
    The Other Chuck says:

    @Penus: I dunno, Le Peaux Rouges has a rather elegant sound to it. Ah French, it’s like wiping your ass with silk.

  39. 39
    MikeJ says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: KOMO’s news/traffic chopper crashed on takeoff from its pad directly under the space needle. Fell onto the street. Pilot and traffic guy killed, As far as I know nobody on the ground killed, but cars set afire.

  40. 40
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @The Other Chuck: “Merde” does sound a whole lot better than the Anglo-Saxon counterpart, I’ll grant you that.

  41. 41
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @MikeJ: HOLY FLURKING SNITT!

    Ouch, ouch, ouch. Pretty sucky, indeed.

    Well, I guess I know what the lead story will be tonight on KING and KIRO…

  42. 42
    Penus says:

    @The Other Chuck: It wasn’t all delightful French, though. His Redskins alternative is “Potomac Drainage Basin Indigenous Persons.”

    Other awful nicknames:
    Nevermores (Ravens)
    Peugeots (Lions)
    Hyperboreans (Vikings)
    Flying Elvii (Pats)
    Jersey/A and Jersey/B (Giants and Jets)
    Hypocycloids (Steelers)
    Squared Sevens (49ers)

  43. 43
    MikeJ says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: KING/KONG actually split costs on the chopper with KOMO and used it too, but didn’t bother with building a second pad for it.

  44. 44
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @MikeJ: That’s interesting. Makes sense for the stations to do something like that, share a very expensive resource. It’s very early, but any indication of why this happened? My first wild guess would be some catastrophic mechanical failure.

  45. 45
    Violet says:

    @MikeJ:

    KING/KONG actually split costs on the chopper

    I realize this is a tragedy, but that sentence made me laugh. Is King Kong a bit cash strapped these days? Needs to share chopper costs?

    @Penus:

    Other awful nicknames:
    Nevermores (Ravens)

    I’m a Poe fan, so I like that one. It’s stupid, but I still like it.

  46. 46
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    The sign of a true hack is never letting facts get in the way of a good story.

    The story of the Village. In one sentence.

  47. 47
    MikeJ says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: They had been out on another story early this morning. They had just landed and dropped of a reporter. Witnesses saw the pilot do a walkaround with a flashlight. When it took off there was a loud noise and it spiraled into the ground.

    One man was trapped in his car and managed to crawl out while on fire. He’s at Harborview with burns over 40% of his body. Two others in cars were injured much less severely.

    Witnesses say Fisher plaza was a “river of fire” from the burning avgas.

  48. 48
    MikeJ says:

    @Violet: KING-TV owns a second channel, KONG-TV. Obviously a name picked long before the beancounter era.

  49. 49
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @MikeJ: Tragedy all around. I’d think that a physical inspection of the aircraft before each takeoff would be pretty much routine and expected, though.

    For those not familiar with Seattle broadcasting, “Fisher” is the parent company of KOMO TV and radio.

    When I was 9th DivArty Signal Officer, we had two soldier-built radio trailers, one was called KIRO and the other KOMO. Each held a bunch of FM radios used for command and control of the 9th Division Artillery. Parked them on a hill away from the Tactical Operations Center.

  50. 50
    Elizabelle says:

    I get Gregg Easterbrook and Timothy Egan mixed up.

    That requires an apology to Egan.

    Although I can tell each of them from Malcolm Gladwell.

  51. 51
    CONGRATULATIONS! says:

    A pilot should be able to turn off anything on the plane, full stop.

    My dad started his aviation career in Vietnam, flying cut-up and patched Constellations from the 1930s with a fuckton of weird and often handmade spook radio equipment on board. He had an onboard fire every flight. Every single one.

    If you can’t turn that piece of gear off you and your crew dies.

    He was VERY glad to transition to another aircraft. One that caught fire a lot less often.

  52. 52
    Trollhattan says:

    @Elizabelle:

    Having a hard time wrapping my head around a plane with problems that severe that yet can keep flying for six or seven more hours, even autonomously. Wouldn’t some critical systems required to keep the thing in the air, flying basically level be likewise compromised?

    I wonder whether we’ll ever find out?

  53. 53
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Trollhattan:

    Obviously, it was a much, much smaller plane, but people had brought up the Learjet crash in 1999 where the plane flew autonomously for 4 hours even though the crew and passengers were unconscious. IIRC, it only went down because it ran out of fuel. So if it was an accident that incapacitated/killed the crew and/or passengers but didn’t damage the body of the plane, it may be theoretically possible.

  54. 54
    Dcrefugee says:

    As an aircraft owner, 40-year-long pilot and aviation safety professional, Easterbrook is all wrong. You MUST build-in the ability to disable power to any airborne equipment, even the transponder. Simple risk management tells us that: How many equipment failures have caused events like this over the years, versus the relatively small number of terror/suicide-related events? Except for, you know, that blip in late ’01, the terror- or suicide-related accident rate just hasn’t been that high.

    That doesn’t mean you can’t have a separate, self-contained GPS tracker.

  55. 55
    Amir Khalid says:

    I get a “Page not found” error on the link to Easterbrook’s NYT piece. Goodfellow’s piece is interesting and credible, since it doesn’t put suspicion on the flight crew, for which I see no real basis. But as with any theory, you need to see the physical evidence to verify it.

  56. 56
    Dcrefugee says:

    As an aircraft owner, 40-year-long pilot and aviation safety professional, Easterbrook is all wrong. You MUST build-in the ability to disable power to any airborne equipment, even the transponder. Simple risk management tells us that: How many equipment failures have caused events like this over the years, versus the relatively small number of terror/suicide-related events? Except for, you know, that blip in late ’01, the terror- or suicide-related accident rate just hasn’t been that high.

    That doesn’t mean you can’t have a separate, self-contained GPS tracker.

  57. 57
    Suffern ACE says:

    Really, even if we knew they had turned their transponders off as it actually happened, what would anyone have done about that? Located the wrecked plane sooner?

  58. 58
    Trollhattan says:

    @Mnemosyne:

    Based on what we (seem to) know the overarching and compelling piece for me is that the incident took place at the handoff point between Malasya and Vietnam. I can’t accept that a catastrophic failure occurred at such a precise time and place.

    Could it have? Yes. Did it? I don’t think so.

  59. 59
    MikeJ says:

    @CONGRATULATIONS!:

    My dad started his aviation career in Vietnam, flying cut-up and patched Constellations from the 1930s with a fuckton of weird and often handmade spook radio equipment on board

    My dad was in Connies, but only during training. Willy Fudds after that. He was Airborne Early Warning (what most people now call AWACS) in the Vietnam era who happily never had to go to Vietnam. In fact, when I was born his squadron deployed on a ship that turned out to be going and when my dad returned to duty he wound up going to the Med.

    One of the crews that did go reported a fire on board. They were on the radar of three different ships, radioed in exactly where they were, and said they were going to ditch. Helicopters were already in the air and on the way. They never found a trace. No wreckage, no bodies, no oil slick. And this was on a plane (the WF-2/E-1) with a huge radome[1] that would actually keep it afloat. This is one reason I don’t find it odd that a 777 could be hard to find when they don’t even know where to look.

    [1] The plane was sometimes called the “stoof with a roof” since it was the same plane as the S2F(stoof) ASW plane, but with a radome. Both planes were basically the cargo plane used for deliveries to carriers (C-1)with all the cargo space filled with electronics.

  60. 60
    Elie says:

    Although I was convinced yesterday that something nefarious happened, I have changed my mind after reading this article on a fire scenario:

    http://www.wired.com/autopia/2.....ical-fire/

    It seems totally plausible, but then what do I know?

  61. 61
    srv says:

    @Trollhattan: Big planes can take a lot of damage and keep going. A cockpit fire would have burned through the fuselage and probably gone out as the a/c depressurized.

    @Dcrefugee: NPR had an interview with 777 pilots and they had no clue how to turn off ACARs.

    You can pull the fuse on the flight recorder, but its battery still runs. Designing a mode-S like that would not be a moon-shot.

  62. 62
    Amir Khalid says:

    Meanwhile … I can understand their despair and frustration, but I doubt this will help.

  63. 63
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Trollhattan:

    Coincidences happen. Without some compelling piece of evidence to show that one of the crew deliberately sabotaged the flight, I’m not willing to assume that it was anything other than a terrible accident. So far, the aviation folks have been pretty compelling that most of what happened could be explained by a catastrophic failure of some kind, whether a fire or loss of oxygen.

    ETA: Also, the stories seem to assume that the ONLY way the transponder could fail would be if it were turned off manually, but an electrical fire that takes the transponder out is certainly possible.

  64. 64
    Trollhattan says:

    @srv:

    I get that, but in the spirit of Church Lady doesn’t it seem a little too conveeeenient that all comms and the flight crew were incapacitated before a single distress call could be made, yet the ghost plane flew on until the tanks were empty, meaning the autopilot was not incapacitated?

  65. 65
    fidelio says:

    @Tommy:

    And you also know that if you aren’t sure, need something clarified, or just plain flat aren’t knowlegeable about something, you go and find people who are, and then pay close attention to what they have to say. You might even go so far as to ask them to clarify things they tell you that you find confusing.

    Gregg Easterbrook can be entertaining (but never profound) about sports. He is a jingly frizz-brain one a wide range of subjects, and is a painfully conventional thinker who swims strongest in pretty shallow waters at all times. His nickname for my local NFL franchise, the Flaming Tumbtacks (known to Commissioner Goddell and the owner, Bud Adams, as the Tennessee Titans) is clever. Most of the rest of his writing isn’t.

    Point to Mr. Fallows, who not only knows to consult experts and then pay attention to what they tell him, but can get in two quick jabs that will leave ugly marks in such a short space

  66. 66
    fidelio says:

    @Comrade Mary: Yes, this. I second this. Do we need to call for a vote, or can the frontpagers pass it by accalamation?

  67. 67
    MikeJ says:

    @Trollhattan:

    incapacitated before a single distress call could be made,

    If they were fighting a cockpit fire they had bigger problems than a distress call. You have to remember that calling for help doesn’t actually help you. The only thing you can do is get it under control all by yourself, and then try to land the plane somewhere. Spending time on the radio makes it much more likely that you and everybody on board will die. The fire department will not show up.

  68. 68
    Violet says:

    Thai military radar data provides more evidence of the plane’s westerly turn:

    The Thai military was receiving normal flight path and communication data from the Boeing 777-200 on its planned March 8 route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing until 1:22 a.m., when it disappeared from its radar.

    Six minutes later, the Thai military detected an unknown signal, a Royal Thai Air Force spokesman told CNN. This unknown aircraft, possibly Flight 370, was heading the opposite direction.

    ….
    The Thai data is the second radar evidence that the plane did indeed turn around toward the Strait of Malacca.

    It follows information from the Malaysian Air Force that its military radar tracked the plane as it passed over the small island of Pulau Perak in the Strait of Malacca.

    “The unknown aircraft’s signal was sending out intermittently, on and off, and on and off,” the spokesman said. The Thai military lost the unknown aircraft’s signal because of the limits of its military radar, he said.

  69. 69
    Roger Moore says:

    @The Other Chuck:

    somewhere the conservatives got in their head that they needed “big ideas” too.

    I think it’s part of their general decline into salesmanship over policy. Their policies are extremely unpopular, so they need to sell their party better. One of the ways they’ve tried to do that is to come up with a conservative theory of government somewhat more sophisticated than “let our corporate masters do WTFTW”, and head in the clouds theorizing in the mold of Newt Gingrich seems to have been part of that.

  70. 70
    catclub says:

    @srv: “If the FAA had made a requirement in 2002, it would have been easy to get Class A airspace operators compliant by 2012. Problem solved.”

    Isn’t the FAA famous for having famously attempted and failed, for DECADES, to switch from early 60’s ATC radars?

  71. 71
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Trollhattan:

    The article Elie linked to at #59 explains that:

    Aviate, navigate, and lastly, communicate is the mantra in such situations.

    When you’re trying to prevent a crash or put out a fire, the last thing you’re supposed to do is get on the radio.

  72. 72
    Elie says:

    @Trollhattan:

    From the article that I read (see comment # 59), communication is not the first priority. Getting the plane ready to go to an airport and navigating it there while controlling the electrical issues in the cockpit would come way first. Other scenarios include chocking smoke in which activating oxygen masks would be a nono in the cockpit —

  73. 73
    fidelio says:

    @fidelio: Well, damn. I screwed up my blockquote.

    “I know a little about a lot of things. I know a ton about a very few things (and I still wouldn’t call myself an expert). But I try very hard to know what I don’t know.” was the remark Tommy made I was responding to.

  74. 74
    Violet says:

    @Mnemosyne:

    The article Elie linked to at #59

    And I posted at #15. And Elizabelle commented that I had beat her to it at #23. We’ve been talking about this article and theory throughout the whole thread, in case anyone is interested in other takes on it.

  75. 75
    rk says:

    Gregg Easterbrook is a genius compared to Don Lemon of CNN who was babbling about supernatural forces being involved in the flight’s disappearance. CNN needs a new logo e.g “CNN, crazier than FOX”.

  76. 76
    Calouste says:

    @Elizabelle:

    It’s not a reasonable theory. Why would the pilots not send out a mayday call when the plane was on fire and they still had the ability to turn it around to fly somewhere safe?

  77. 77
    Trollhattan says:

    @Mnemosyne:

    None of which can explain why everything occurred at the handoff point. Absent that, I’d be more inclined to buy catastrophic failure that somehow didn’t also directly cause the plane to crash, but that’s simply more coincidence than I am able to accept.

    We only have the information we’ve been spoon-fed or the media have somehow pried out of the authorities, but lacking anything further I’m in the human-involvement camp.

  78. 78
    Mark B. says:

    Pilots turn off the transponder as soon as they land and get the plane off the runway. ATC doesn’t want airplanes sitting at gates cluttering up their radar screens.

  79. 79
    Elie says:

    I hate to hope that the fire theory is true. It would mean that we had lost everyone and that there was no hope for survivors….

    I can just imagine (at the edge of my sense of horror), how horrific it would be to be in a fire aboard a plane— nowhere to go…

  80. 80
    Roger Moore says:

    @Trollhattan:

    Having a hard time wrapping my head around a plane with problems that severe that yet can keep flying for six or seven more hours, even autonomously.

    It isn’t that surprising. Things that have very little effect on the plane could have a drastic effect on the people on board. A smoldering fire could create smoke that would disable the pilot without necessarily doing a lot to the mechanical parts of the plane. So could some things that would result in a loss of cabin pressure.

  81. 81
    Elie says:

    @Calouste:

    From what the article cited by many upstring stated ( please read for yourself), there really isn’t much time in that situation and all your attention is on getting the plane down safely and as fast as possible.

  82. 82
    raven says:

    @Elie: There is no hope for survivors.

  83. 83
    Elie says:

    @Elie:

    and you cant land it in just any old field like you possibly could a small plane. You need a really long runway and emergency equipment AND it was night…

  84. 84
    Elizabelle says:

    @Calouste:

    Perhaps the communications equipment was disabled or off electrically while the pilots sought the cause of the electrical fire or malfunction?

    Also, there is one report of another pilot attempting communication with MH 370 and getting only static and mumbling. Don’t know if that pilot to pilot account has been walked back, like so much else in this sad, mysterious saga.

    Perhaps they could not get an SOS call off.

  85. 85
    Amir Khalid says:

    @Calouste:
    The first priority is “aviate” i.e. keep the plane flying. The second is “navigate” i.e. find some place to go where help is available. “Communicate” is the third priority because, until you have done the first two and landed the plane, no outside help can reach you.

  86. 86
    srv says:

    @Trollhattan: Given the flight path, I’d presume the ap was not functional.

    AFAIK, airliners are designed to be aerodynamically stable (as opposed to other choices aerodynamics folks may make with fighters or space shuttles). I stated a week ago that people need to be looking at wind directions at altitudes and any required fuel tanking for cg changes (IDK if 777’s have to do that or not, I know older a/c would). That might give a clue for where it went.

    A cockpit fire is a bit of a scary thing, I imagine. Making radio calls is somewhere below flying the a/c, fighting the fire, pulling non-essential fuses per checklist, etc… particularly if stuff is sparking/shorting your electrical bus.

    @catclub:

    It’s really about systems nobody really understands anymore. The people who did DEWS did ATC did Apollo did Shuttle and there was a lot of scratching of heads when someone wanted to move the radar TRAJ software off of the mainframe (I wuz there).

    That said, Mode S transponders and ADS-B are getting a lot of inertia out in the field because people want it. You’d think 9/11 would be able to get a few butts in gear.

  87. 87
    Mark B. says:

    @raven: Yes, because any plausible hijacking scenario involves killing the passengers by depressuring the cabin and letting them suffocate. It would happen very quickly. If they were left alive, it would cause way too much trouble for the hijackers.

    But I’m going to agree with most of the people above and say that it’s most likely that there was a catastrophic failure which the pilots tried to react to, but were not able to save the plane. They did change the heading. The plane is in the Indian Ocean, but it might be a long time before it’s found.

  88. 88
    Elizabelle says:

    Saw some website today saying the 1% are thankful for Putin/Crimea and the missing Malaysian jetliner for taking the attention off inequality/minimum wage/the 1%’s culpability/greed, whatever.

    As it ever is.

  89. 89
    Console says:

    To speak on the free flight point. You would still need the ability to turn off a transponder because of the possible transmission of false information. If a transponder is transmitting a bad altitude then TCAS definitely won’t work properly. Likewise for ADS-B. And for normal present day ATC operations, a broken transponder is an annoyance and a distraction… especially if the transponder manages to squawk someone else’s flight plan.

  90. 90
    Bitter and Deluded Lurker says:

    @Trollhattan: Unless the Vietnamese air force shot it down, I don’t see why this *wouldn’t* be a coincidence. I just don’t see what benefit any potential conspirator gets from doing something awful right at that spot.

    (Does Vietnam have an air force capable of shooting a 777 down?)

  91. 91
    Violet says:

    Not sure if this has been posted:

    13.52 Reports from a Maldives news organisation that islanders saw a “low flying jumbo jet”. The Haveeru news website reports witnesses saw a plane flying low at around 6.15am on March 8. It was apparently flying north to south-east. A witness told the news organisation

    I’ve never seen a jet flying so low over our island before. We’ve seen seaplanes, but I’m sure that this was not one of those. I could even make out the doors on the plane clearly.

    It’s not just me either, several other residents have reported seeing the exact same thing. Some people got out of their houses to see what was causing the tremendous noise too.

    Link to Maldives news organization:

  92. 92
    Another Holocene Human says:

    @Mnemosyne: It’s like those dipshits post crash who go on about how “I was blasting the horn but he didn’t stop”.

    Unless you are some sort of superhuman you avoid (steer) and brake. I for one can’t brake like my life depends on it and hit a frigging POS horn at the same damn time!!!

  93. 93
    Mandalay says:

    @srv:

    Fallows is a big proponent of things like Free Flight, which basically shuts down ATC management of Class A airspace and lets anybody up there fly-at-will-wherever-the-fcuk-they-want-to.

    Do you have a link for this?

  94. 94
    Mandalay says:

    @Elizabelle:

    Saw some website today saying the 1% are thankful for Putin/Crimea and the missing Malaysian jetliner for taking the attention off inequality/minimum wage/the 1%’s culpability/greed, whatever.

    Chris Christie must be pleased as well. No more absurd nightly histrionics on MSNBC about how it was “time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee” last September!

    If nothing else, the missing plane and Crimea have forced MSNBC to raise their game.

  95. 95
    Elie says:

    @Violet:

    I hope that they are able to find it, ultimately…

  96. 96
    Elizabelle says:

    @Mandalay:

    Chris Christie. There’s someone I haven’t thought of for weeks now.

    Good catch.

  97. 97
  98. 98
    Calouste says:

    @Amir Khalid:

    Well, they managed to turn west on course to an airport they were looking to land on, following the theory. It seems that aviate and navigate were reasonably well taken care off at that point. Might be time to let that airport where you unexpectedly plan to land in the middle of the night know that it’s time to start some preparations. Because the theory only makes sense if the pilots thought they had the time to make it to that airport, which was still 30 minutes away or so. And if they thought they had that amount of time, instead of say choosing the option to ditch the plane in shallow water, things can’t have been that desperate on board.

  99. 99
    Calouste says:

    Btw, why don’t modern planes have a dead man’s switch, like they have on train locomotives? Obviously, instead of shutting down the engine it would start sending out distress signals.

  100. 100
    PIGL says:

    @Elie: you write “at the edge of my sense of horror”. Well said. Mine, too. Unless you’ll allow me to add several huge nests of asian giant hornets, which my perverse mind dreamt up just now.

  101. 101
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Calouste:

    Might be time to let that airport where you unexpectedly plan to land in the middle of the night know that it’s time to start some preparations.

    Assuming the radio was still working after the fire. Which seems like a big assumption if it knocked out other electrical systems.

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