So long, Ol’ Gal


It could be a deadly plot. Or it could be the innocent transpiration of a very tragic airborne emergency spiraling into oblivion.

The Helicopter Hobbit

More than a month has passed since MH370 made international headlines. Along with what can be expected of an MIA aircraft, many theories over the event have been occupying illicit media space with nothing more on offer than propellants for a hot air balloon carnival.

Let us look at some facts of the matter and try and give impartiality a chance.

The disappearance replete with the preceding reciprocal heading manouvre ( now popularly called the ‘air turn back’) occurred at a most crucial moment in the aircraft’s itinerary. It was ‘released’ by Malaysian civil air traffic controllers to Ho Chi Minh Control at the reporting point known as Sigari.

The handover was acknowledged by the pilot communicating with the controllers with “Alright, goodnight”, or “Goodnight Malaysian 370”, either which essentially means the same thing and does not provide an edifying or illuminating edge to the narrative.

From this point onwards, ends all that we heard from MH370.

The people in control of MH370 were civil air traffic controllers up to the point of Sigari. Thereon, after release by Malaysia, MH370 should have checked in with Ho Chi Minh Control. But this did not happen. We know that by this time the transponder was no longer transmitting the aircraft’s identification, whether by fault or design.

A reciprocal heading was selected. The rest is recent history.

This is the dead space wherein MH370 did not fall under any controlling agency’s purview.

It was a perfect moment for everything to go wrong. If radio failure was the case, it could not have happened at a worse time when you have just been turned into nobody’s baby.

Pilots are trained to handle complete radio failure by proceeding to their destination and adhering to ETA, but with much of the journey to go, the selection of a reciprocal heading to the last known successful communications is not out of place.

The choice of home ground airspace for handling this emergency falls to logic. Yet why the eventual track to the Indian Ocean is indeterminable. To checkmate the proceedings and any possible intervention, by the time the three phases of SAR had graduated to launching actual SAR, Malaysian airspace was crossed and MH370 passed on its silent way with nothing to say to anyone.

On the other hand, if it was a commandeering of the aircraft for whatever intent, so too would this have been the best time to execute the watertight plan.

While this may appear to be grand coincidence, as with all things in life, timing is of the essence.

In a search and rescue effort off Mukah Head in 1996 for my squadron mates, the downed pilot and his crewman were right in the path of the search helicopter, not even a hundred feet overhead as they bobbed in the sea, yet they were not spotted by the search pilots.

In 2004, the downed pilot of a MiG-29 saw search aircraft many times pass overhead his location in the dense jungle but the search crew could not spot him, although the happy ending was that he was found late evening on the second day of the search.

Hence, when things go wrong, myriad factors can congeal into an irredeemable mishap should error rule the day.

Things can go terribly, horribly wrong. Else, the pilots of MH370 would have run through the Aircrew Check Lists and handled the emergency at hand, and this tragic end would not have come to pass.

Therefore, with regards to MH370 and all its attendant theories, this is really either a feast or a famine. It could be a deadly plot. Or it could be the innocent transpiration of a very tragic airborne emergency spiraling into oblivion.