The Malay Mail
March 12, 2014
KUALA LUMPUR, March 12 — An airplane’s transponders can be manually disabled from the cockpit to render the aircraft invisible to civilian radar, aviation experts said as authorities broaden the search area for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 further west.
After Malaysia’s military radar showed the Beijing-bound jumbo jet may have turned back west from where it came, the biggest question is how it completely vanished from sight of all tracking maps.
Mikael Robertsson, the co-founder of Flightradar24, a global communicating system for commercial aircraft, suggested that the transponder aboard MH370 may have been switched off by the pilots as the plane had not sent any signal to the ground receiver.
“I guess to me it sounds like they were turned off deliberately,” he was quoted saying by the New York Times (NYT) in a report yesterday.
Flightradar24 has been reported to operate a beacon in Kota Baru and Robertsson said its systems picks up all aircraft signals sent its way.
He noted that the last known contact with MH370’s transponder happened about the same time the pilots stopped communicating with ground controllers by radio, which supports his argument although he added that the transponder will stop transmitting if it is damaged.
Another expert added that it was also unlikely for one of the two pilots to manipulate the system without the knowledge of the other.
Former US Federal Aviation Administration safety inspector David Soucie told news service CNN in a broadcast interview that both pilots of MH370 were needed to man the controls while making the transition from Malaysian to Vietnamese airspace, leaving neither one an opportunity to manipulate the system.
The author of “Why Planes Crash” also explained in the broadcast that that it was unlikely for all electrical systems aboard MH370 to have been wiped out completely.
“The chance that all the electrical system was out on that aircraft indicated a much more massive failure of some kind,” he told CNN in a broadcast interview yesterday.
He explained that all the electrical, charging, battery, communications systems, including its transponders, aboard a Boeing 777 was highly sophisticated and made to be “triple redundant”.
“So to think that all of that happened to make the aircraft invisible and to turn around and go the other direction, like you said, if this information is correct, it really stands a lot to reason to me that someone forced those pilots to take control of the aircraft and take it off course,” Soucie said.
He noted that investigators had expanded the search area for the missing plane to include the Straits of Malacca on the opposite side of the country from where it was headed, after Malaysia’s military radar showed the plane had turned back west.
“There’s a huge area where it could go. But if this information is correct, it’s very significant indeed and that would narrow the search down,” Socie told CNN.
“Without that, the chance of finding that aircraft, particularly if it didn’t have an inflight breakup and strewn material in a long direction, the chances of finding that aircraft are very, very slim,” he added.
Robertsson said the MH370’s fuel could last a great distance beyond its last reported position as it was bound for Beijing, a six-hour journey away from Kuala Lumpur.
“The aircraft could have continued another five or six hours out into the ocean. It could have gone to India,” he was quoted saying by NYT.
Responding to speculation of foul play, MAS said it has “no reason to suspect the experienced pilot” of MH370.