As more time passes since Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappearance on March 8th, 2014, the chances of finding survivors alive decreases, assuming that what catastrophe befell the airplane was survivable in the first place. Sadly, all 239 lives on board may have been lost.
There’s a lot of disparate pieces of information regarding Flight 370, and wild speculation, but the truly plausible scenarios must account for all these pieces of information, and the more likely the scenario the better.
Here’s what I think are the most pertinent pieces of information to date:
1. The pilot and co-pilot didn’t report any mechanical failure or terrorist threat on board the plane.
2. Another airplane pilot 30 minutes ahead of the Flight 370 reported hearing “mumbling” and static from Flight 370 when he attempted to contact the plane on an emergency frequency, then nothing during subsequent attempts to make communication.
3. Flight 370 appears to have tried to turn around before disappearing from radar.
4. No debris has been found of Flight 370, and searchers are having difficulty locating any trace of the plane.
There’s been some speculation that terrorism might have lead to a catastrophic accident for Flight 370, but I find this to be unlikely based on the available evidence.
Firstly, it would have been difficult for terrorists to enter the flight deck, and hence the pilot and co-pilot likely would have had time to report a disturbance that didn’t lead to the immediate disintegration of Flight 370 over the open sea. Should Flight 370 had disintegrated above the ocean, you might suspect that some sort of debris would have been discovered at this point, though this is assuming that the searchers are looking in the right place.
Secondly, the co-pilot ‘mumbled’ in response to a query from an airplane 30 minutes ahead of Flight 370. I might be going out on a limb, but I think that this “mumbling” was actually incoherent speech from either the pilot or co-pilot, and most likely indicated an altered state of consciousness. If this is the case, the most likely explanation is depressurization, and the effects of the resulting hypoxia on the flight crew.
Normally, the pilot and co-pilot would barely have enough time to put on their oxygen masks, but this assumes that they correctly interpreted what the instrument panel was telling them with regards to the functioning of the aircraft. There might have been difficulty with securing their masks, or another serious mechanical issue may have distracted them.
I think that a serious mechanical issue, in addition to subsequent depressurization, is likely as the plane was apparently observed returning to Malaysai, not necessarily addressing possible loss of cabin pressure by immediately descending to a lower elevation. At 40,000 feet, the time of useful consciousness after depressurization is about 15 to 20 seconds, and the first course of action is to get the plane to a lower altitude, not to change course.
It is also possible that Flight 370 suffered a gradual decompression of the cabin due to a mechanical issue that began at the airport. Also, 70 minutes passed between the “mumbling” observed on an emergency frequency, and the disappearance of Flight 370 from radar, which may indicate that the plane was flying on autopilot and that the pilots had succumbed to hypoxia. If so, Flight 370 may have traveled a considerable distance from the site of the presumed crash.