What happened to Malaysia Airlines flight 370: three similar cases

What happened to Malaysia Airlines flight 370: three similar cases

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The search continues for Malaysia Airlines flight 370.

With no debris or wreckage found in the flight path, no distress signals received and no signs of equipment failure, experts and the rest of the world are left baffled and frustrated.

The flight had 239 people aboard the plane. It lost contact with air-traffic controllers shortly into the flight early Saturday morning. Malaysian controllers lost touch of the plane over the South China Sea and the pilots failed to report to Vietnamese controllers along their anticipated path.

The Boeing 777 has had an exceptional safety record since entering service in May 1995. The only two earlier 777 incidents where an aircraft was lost were in January 2008 when British Airways Flight 38 suffered icing inside its fuel lines and crash-landed just short of London’s Heathrow Airport, injuring 47. The second was Asiana Airlines Flight 214 in July last year, which clipped a sea wall on approaching San Francisco International Airport. Three passengers were killed.

Experts are now comparing this to other flights that experience sudden loss of contact. Three examples that we at Blue Sky have discussed are Stendec, Air India 182 and Air France 447.

“STENDEC” was the last message air traffic controllers received from a British South American Airways flight that was lost in a snowstorm of the Andes in 1947. Morse code was used to transmit messages at the time and Santiago Airport received the transmission “ETA SANTIAGO 17.45 HRS STENDEC”. This was four minutes before the plane was schedules to land. The controller did not understand “STENDEC” – what he thought was an acronym, however the pilot never clarified and the plane wreckage wasn’t found until nearly 50 years later in 1998.

A pair of Argentinian rock climbers ascending Mount Tupungato discovered the engine wreckage and reported their findings back in Santiago. Additional wreckage as well as human remains were found two years later by an Argentinian army expedition.

Although it was never fully confirmed, experts believed the vehicle crashed into the side of the mountain during the snow storm, likely causing an avalanche that buried the aircraft leaving it trapped in a glacier.

This case, although similar in that air traffic controllers had a vague location, highlights the difficulties weather can pose in locating and finding wreckage. It’s been four days since Malaysia Airlines flight 370 went missing.

Air India Flight 182 disaster involved a passenger jet explosion off the coast of Ireland on June 23, 1985 that claimed the lives of all 329 passengers and crew members.

The flight was en route from Toronto to London, continuing to Bombay. Canadian officials removed three suspicious packages from the aircraft at a routine stop in Montreal but the flight departed for London as scheduled and established communication with Heathrow Airport’s tower. 45 minutes away from its destination, the jet disintegrated in midair. No warning or emergency calls were issued.

The cause of the crash was not immediately known but Sikh extremists were accused of sabotaging the Air India aircraft, and one suspect was convicted in 2003. In the early 1980s India was embroiled in violent civil unrest between Sikh and Hindu factions.

Terrorism remains a possible outcome for Malaysia Airlines flight 370 although many experts have ruled out terrorism based on the evidence they have already gathered.

The final example is what most experts and speculators are reflecting on now. The 2009 crash of an Air France flight from Brazil over the Atlantic is similar in that both cases saw commercial jets disappear over the ocean with more than 200 people on board and no distress calls issued from the pilots.

However, the first signs of wreckage were found a day after the crash and the Airbus plane sent automated warning messages to its manufacturer as it began to lose control. Investigators still have no debris, despite a floating object in Vietnamese waters which was written off as moss covered rubbish, and Boeing received no messages from the aircraft.

Other similarities between the flights include that both planes were cruising at 35,000 feet (where experts say catastrophic accidents are rare), both planes have good safety records and both went missing over large bodies of water.

Yet no storms were reported in the path of Malaysia Airlines flight 370 on Saturday, Malaysia Airlines flight appears to have disappeared closer to land  and Malaysia Airlines indicated that the flight may have turned back, possibly indicating distress.

[Picture: mikebaird on flickr]

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