Malaysian military officials say the missing Malaysia Airlines plane made a U-turn about 40 minutes after taking off from Kuala Lumpur early Saturday morning. Flight MH370 suddenly vanished from civilian radar at 35,000 feet and descended about 600 feet. Military radar shows the plane flying in a westerly direction hundreds of miles off course, and at a low altitude for about an hour before the military radar lost track of it.
This is an interesting development because it means someone in the cockpit turned the transponder off. The transponder sends transmissions about the plane’s location to air traffic control radar.
Ships and planes from 10 countries are participating in the search for the plane. Officials are ruling out terrorism. Flight MH370 was carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew members when it disappeared.
The fact that the plane flew for another hour off radar and at a low altitude presents several scenarios: A) the plane was intact and flying under the pilot’s control, B) the plane was hijacked, C) the plane experienced a catastrophic depressurization at high altitude killing everyone on board and continued to fly on autopilot until it ran out of fuel and crashed.
That last scenario is similar to Helios Airways Flight 522 Boeing 737 that took off from London’s Heathrow Airport on August 14, 2005 carrying 115 passengers and 6 crew members.
The plane’s cabin and cockpit depressurized accidentally at 18,000 feet due to pilot error. The plane continued to climb to 34,000 feet where the air is too thin to sustain human life. Despite the Oxygen masks dropping down automatically, the crew and passengers were already incapacitated by hypoxia (lack of oxygen). Flight 522 flew on autopilot for over an hour — with no one at the controls — before the engines flamed out from low fuel and the plane crashed into a mountain. There were no survivors.
The difference between flight 522 and flight MH 370 is flight 522 was tracked on radar for the duration of its flight. Also, 2 fighter jet pilots made visual contact with the plane and saw the co-pilot unconscious at the controls. They also saw the oxygen masks dangling in the passenger cabin.
At that altitude icicles had begun to form inside the plane. About 5 minutes before the plane crashed, a male stewardess who held a civilian pilot license made an unsuccessful attempt to save the doomed 737.
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