lost aircraft, what if..
The" news" about the missing flight 370 is no longer headline news and much like what happened after 9/11, the memory of the public fades as does the drive to correct the mistakes that may have led up to the incident. This very reality is what gives hope to the enemies of our country. Rather than spending more time searching in order to provide "closure" for the families, focus should be aggressively shifted to insuring that this does not happen again. Steps should already be in place for monitoring aircraft with a system that cannot be turned off in the cockpit. Profiling of passengers and crew should be demanded by the traveling public regardless of what the politically correct crowd thinks ! Our own passivity may lead to our destruction.
With the missing Flight 370 fresh in our minds, another tragedy takes center stage on the world scene with the sinking of the South Korean ferry. As more information becomes available about the actions of the Captain and crew, a scenario unfolds showing us a degree of incompetence previously unheard of and only rivaled by the cruise ship in the Mediterranean and perhaps the Exxon Valdez. However, when that incompetence has cowardice and indecision added to it, the end result being unintended manslaughter, a whole new problem set surfaces. The real questions that now need to be answered are much more perplexing and far-reaching. Has our technology advanced to the point that we have become complacent, where watching and depending on monitors has replaced the very human "gut instinct" and common sense approach to managing problems ? I often reflect on how early aviators and seafarers with the use of a simple compass (or even wave patterns in the case of the Polynesians) were able to navigate vast distances and can only wonder if modern captains can do the same. As drone technology continues to develop, one has to wonder if continuing to remove human instinct from the equation is really progress....or are we setting ourselves up for more un-intended disasters. Even the search and rescue efforts have apparently been handled with confusion reigning supreme, for afterall, "these ships practically sail themselves..!" and since nothing can ever go wrong, why have contingency plans. The mainstream media has added to the turmoil, as they did with flight 370, by openly speculating about what was or was not done without any consideration for the consequences of said action should their suggestions be followed. One that was especially disturbing was the suggestion to cut holes in the submerged hull to extricate those trapped in air pockets. If there were any air pockets, just where would that air under pressure go once the "pocket" was entered ? Others say that the Korean culture of obedience led to the loss of many lives and that American kids wouldn't be that obedient ! That mindset of not following instructions during a crisis has likely led to more deaths from fires, hurricanes etc. than this particular case with the Koreans.
In the end, we should learn from these tragedies and try and understand exactly what led to the end result. We should look at the problem, not as a maritime or cultural disaster, but perhaps as a complacency issue related to our growing dependence on computers and computer generated data and control. Corrective measures that include improved monitoring of any commercial craft as well as improving the lost art of using "common sense" should all play a part.
Now that the search for the missing Flight 370 has passed the one month mark, I continue to wonder how and why some "experts" come to their conclusions. Reflecting on what is known, one can narrow the possibilities down to just one thing...a planned and well executed hijacking that was likely a dry run to see exactly what capabilities the various countries involved in the search really have. No need for spying to obtain the data, simply turn on cable news and let the pundits do the work! Since no debris has been found or washed up anywhere, a controlled water landing (miracle on the Hudson) is perhaps one of the few viable explanations. If the plane was commandeered by one or both pilots (or intruders), taken to the limits of its altitude capability after advising anyone still awake at 1:00 a.m. to "please turn off all electronic devices as we are experiencing severe navigational problems...", followed by a rapid decompression of the passenger compartment to kill all passengers and attendants, then a drop in altitude to avoid detection by any ground radar, following which the plane continued it's "dry run" to the deepest area of the ocean off Australia. A flight to the north is still possible, of course, but highly unlikely as the airspace of countries along such a route would likely pick up an "intruder" violating or approaching the airspace of a country with nuclear capability. If they were not able to detect an intruder, the world's safety from that standpoint is certainly suspect. Another factor against that scenario is fuel consumption as going up and down in altitude burns large amounts of fuel and then going back up to clear terrain leaves little or no reserves to reach a country like Pakistan, the popular destination for those believing this possibilty. Now that attention is directed to the southern route with the recent "ping" data, false hopes have again been raised. Sonar readings and detection of the location of "pings" is remarkably affected by thermoclines, something none of the "experts" have discussed. In WWII, the thermoclines were used by submarines to hide, mask, or misdirect "pings" that were being used to track them. The reverse is also true in that a "ping" orginating from the ocean floor can travel many miles and be deflected by the thermoclines. Although we hope for the best, the reality is that the pings may have come from somewhere other than where they are now looking. It is hoped that sincere efforts are underway to address all the issues brought up to prevent losing another aircraft in the future under similar circumstances. If another loss were to occur in the next several years, a far more dangerous situation is likely to be the end result.
As the search for the missing Boeing 777 continues, one begins to wonder how the airline industry allowed certain obvious shortcomings to continue, especially after the 9/11 attack. Worldwide cooperation is certainly necessary for things like passport checks, ticket purchases that are one way and paid in cash, realistic security monitoring etc. One would think that the measures taken by Israel, a country at the hub of terrorism as a target, would be considered as a standard. In this country, that would involve the politically incorrect useage of the dreaded "profiling" but if that allowed for a more efective and efficient way of running a security system, it just might be worth it. A muslim covered from head to toe should be just as appreciative of the extra steps taken if it insured their security as well as that of others. From the standpoint of the aircraft itself, however, overall monitoring of the plane seems to be inadequate at present. News coverage has now made the terms that most of us pilots are familiar with, but few outside that community really understood, common knowledge. Transponders send out a coded message that can be used for radar tracking, but this signal is only effective for line-of- sight radar when an aircraft is in range of a tracking station or at an altitude where the curve of the earth doesn't take the aircraft below the line-of-sight. When outside that range, a universal "squawk" code is often used thus helping to declutter a radar screen that otherwise might have hundreds of "hits". Even here in the U.S. there are blank areas of coverage for low flying aircraft, times when ATC (traffic control) will advise "Radar coverage lost, squawk 1200, maintain VFR (visual flight rules), contact _____ center in about 20 minutes for further flight following". Engine monitoring systems for commercial aircraft provide ongoing data about the performance of the aircraft engines, requiring things like airspeed, altitude, outside air temp etc. As all are now aware, the transponder code is manually entered and changed (per orders by ATC) by the PIC (pilot in command) or co-pilot. What is needed, and likely to now be required, is an ongoing radio signal that cannot be turned off by pilots of commercial aircraft and perhaps any aircraft over a certain weight. This signal would be similar to the ELT (emergency locator transmitter) signal that is triggered by a crash and sometimes even by a hard landing. The emergency signals now occupy 121.5, 243 and 406 mghz and can be picked up by a ground station, another aircraft, or a satellite, so certainly another frequency could be made available for this purpose. Common sense for security and added monitoring using technology already available are two postive things that can come out of this unfortunate mystery.
It is sad, and rather disturbing, that in this day of technology, the world finds itself wondering how a commercial airliner could just 'disappear'. The usual group of suspects including catastrophic failure, hijacking, or even a UFO abduction or some nefarious conspiracy will always fill the headlines of various news organizations. However, critical thinking demands one to search for logical, reasonable explanantions. We may never know for sure what event or series of events led to this terrible tragedy, but we can look at the real information available to help us come to some conclusions. What if it were a catastrophic explosion or depressurization of the airplane ? One only needs to look back on the Columbia disaster to realize that multiple large pieces of the craft would have hit the surface at some point and that much of the debris would float if it hit the water. Fuel on the water ? Could have been dumped before ditching or attempting a landing on some unknown runway, however this is not likely as the building of an 8,000ft-9000 ft runway capable of supporting a heavy aircraft would take considerable time and would be hard to hide. Also, if stealing the aircraft was for some master plan of terrorism, the runway has to be long enough to take off again. Any fuel found on the water would require only a simple fuel analysis to identify fuel type. Hijack to Iran? Not likely as fuel needed for scheduled flight would not be enough to make it to Iran non-stop. This also does not take into account other airspace violated during the flight that would (or should) raise questions with other countries. Perhaps an attempted hijack with terrorists accessing the flight deck, ordering transponders turned off, a fight ensues with fatal injuries to the pilots and others capable of flying, then loss of control and ultimatley a crash. Certainly this is a possible scenario. One other thought still remains an outside possibilty, that being rogue pilots contracted by an outside agency to bring them a 777 for whatever future plans that organization might have. Ultimately, we can't rule out the possibility that no answer will be found. In the meantime, we should learn again from something like this, learn that perhaps our current airplane monitoring systems with a transponder that can be turned off rather than one that sends out a constant transmission (like the current 406 mghz distress signal, or even the old 121.5/243 signal) just might be inadequate. Maybe we should review the way searches are done on the open ocean. Dropping GPS buoys at 1/2 mile intervals in a 50 mile radius around a suspected crash site might give us a better idea of how the currents disperse the debris field so if the search needs to be expanded, there is a better idea in which direction to go. Menwhile, the watch continues.