Want China Times, Staff Reporter 2014-03-09
|A Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 commercial jet. (Photo/Xinhua)|
The disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which lost contact with aviation authorities en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur at 1:20am on Saturday morning, is most likely due to a sudden breakup of the plane mid-flight, according to Chinese experts.
An air search and rescue mission continues in the South China Sea where the Boeing 777 — carrying 239 passengers, including 154 Chinese nationals and one Taiwanese national — is likely to have crashed. The team is on a race against time to search for the plane's black box, which records flight data and cockpit voice transmissions, though at the time of writing the box's signals have yet to be detected.
On Sunday morning, Hugh Dunleavy, commercial director at Malaysia Airlines, suggested the reason why the black box — which can ordinarily radiate signals for 200km-300km — has not yet been found may be due to the seriousness of the plane's disintegration.
Song Wenbin, an aviation expert at the Shanghai Jiao Tong University, told Chinese-language Beijing Times that it is unlikely that the disappearance of flight MH370 was caused by weather. The plane lost contact around 40 minutes after departure, which means it would have likely exceeded an altitude of 10,000 meters, where influences of the weather become minimal, Song said.
Ma Wei, a lecturer at the same university, said it is unusual for a plane's signal to be completely severed. Even if flight MH370 experienced an engine problem that affected its communication system, there are sufficient backups in place to keep the system up and running, Wei said. It is also improbable that the communication system was shut down manually as a plane has more than a single communication system and has other ways of notifying air traffic control, he added.
A hijacking has been considered another possibility, though Chinese air force test pilot Xu Yongling said it is unlikely for this to have occurred without anyone on board making contact with the land before the plane crashed. Cockpits of modern commercial flights have excellent safety features, Xu said, adding that pilots can activate the SOS system without leaving their seats.
Zhou Jisheng, an aircraft designer at Guangdong Changsheng Aircraft Design Co, told the Beijing Times that the most likely possiblity is that the plane experienced a sudden breakup which did not allow the plane's crew sufficient time to notify aviation authorities.
Song concurs with Zhou's assessment but said that if this were the case, the debris would be scattered across a large area and should have been easily spotted by rescue teams. Given that the plane has not yet been spotted, it is also possible that the entire plane, or at least most of it, crashed into the sea at the same time, he said.
Zhou said there are two possibilities if the plane did disintegrate mid-air. The first is some kind of catastrophic structural failure stemming from corrosion and wear and tear over time or the plane's pressurization and depressurization system. The other is an explosion caused by a bomb or similar device.
The Beijing-based Economic Observer reported, citing aviation experts, that the probability that flight MH370 was brought down by a terrorist attack or bomb is higher than that of mechanical failure. If there was some kind of mechanical failure which caused the plane to drop from the sky, it would still take at least six to seven minutes, providing crew plenty of time to make contact with ground control, the paper said.