A sudden on-board fire disabling electrical systems or a gradual loss of cabin pressure due to structural failure have been named by aerospace experts as the most probable theories behind the Malaysian jet disappearance.
Despite the flood of various conspiracy and fantastical theories in the media about what might have happened to the MH370 flight heading from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on 7 March, industry insiders remain adamant a sudden equipment failure remains the most likely cause.
On his Google+ blog, Canadian pilot Chris Goodfellow published an elaborate and pragmatic analysis of what might have gone wrong aboard the doomed jet.
Putting all bits and pieces of available facts in place, he said he has no doubt the pilot was aiming to reach Pulau Langkawi. This picturesque island in the Andaman Sea has a rather large airport with a nearly 2km-long run-way – suitable for emergency-landing of an aircraft the size of a Boeing 777.
With 18,000 flight hours under his belt, Goodfellow argues, the flight’s captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah was an incredibly experienced old-school pilot drilled to always know the exact location of airports suitable for emergency landing along his route if such a need ever occurred.
And, according to Goodfellow, it did occur. The information that surfaced two days after the plane’s disappearance that Malaysian military radar had detected the plane southwest from its intended course seems to support Goodfellow’s theory.
He believes fire broke out aboard, disabling electrical systems, with the pilots unable to alert ground controllers about their situation. A similar story took place in the past – in 1998 in Nova Scotia, when a Swiss aircraft crashed into the ocean. In that case, transponders and communication channels too were unresponsive.
The last piece Goodfellow has tried to put in place is the fact that satellite operator Inmarsat announced its satellites have received automated pings from the aircraft several hours after it went silent.
Goodfellow argues all efforts aboard the plane to extinguish the flames were unsuccessful with the crew and passengers eventually perishing due to asphyxiation caused by dense smoke. The ghost plane might have continued to fly for several hours on autopilot before running out of fuel.
A similar scenario, though with a different cause has been put forward by Tommaso Sgobba, a former flight safety manager at the European Space Agency.
In his article in the Space Safety Magazine Sgobba outlines a scenario when the aircraft, affected by a structural failure unknown to the pilots starts losing air pressure leading to hypoxia and subsequent death of all aboard. It wouldn’t have been the first case in history of cabin pressure loss killing the crew.
In 2005, an unresponsive Boeing 737 crashed near Athens after flying for at least an hour on an autopilot. Despite original suspicions the plane could have been hijacked, it was later proved the crew and passengers aboard were already dead due to the lack of oxygen.
Sgobba says a structural failure that could possibly lead to such a disaster has recently been pointed out. Few days before the disappearance of the MH370, a 40cm crack was discovered on a Boeing 777, prompting the FAA to order all Boeing 777 fuselages to be inspected for cracks at the antenna location. The aviation authority mentioned the risk decompression among the possible consequences of such cracks.
View a series of infographics about the search for missing flight MH370