By WILLIAM B. SECREST
As I am writing this I am flying on an American Airlines 777 — the same aircraft that has everyone’s attention as Malaysia Airlines flight 370. All my friends keep asking me “What happened?” as I am a retired airline captain. I have an Air Transport Pilot rating from the FAA on the Boeing 707, 727, 747, 757, 767 and the Lockheed 1011. The Boeing 777 is not as large as the 747, more like a giant 767.
During this flight to Shanghai China I had a revelation, if you will, about flight MH 370.
For two weeks we have read and heard about speculations but not about some of the perennate facts, primarily, how much fuel was pumped into the center tank (located in the fuselage, near the wing root)? Next, how much of this fuel would have been burned by the time of the incident — the U-turn?
If there had been a fire in the forward cargo compartment (forward of the wing root) caused by lithium batteries then several things could have happened:
1. The electrical power from the generators could have been totally or partially terminated.
A. If so, any remaining fuel in the center tank would have been rendered useless — no electricity to those pumps.
2. The radios and ACARS (automatic reporting) would have been shut off, hence no mayday calls or emergency signals from the transponder.
3. The wing tank fuel would have still had gravity feed.
4. The fire could have burned a hole in the floor and caused a decompression which generated one of two additional events:
A. The pilots ability to control the aircraft now terminated due to no electrical power could not make a rapid descent — everyone died due to a lack of oxygen, OR
B. The pilots may have climbed the aircraft with minimal control to 45,000 feet in an attempt to put out the fire — no oxygen in the air, no fire.
5. Depending on the magnitude of the effects of the fire the pilots may have had very limited control of the aircraft as the B-777 used a fly by (electrical) wire system VS manual control by cables and pulleys.
What were the cloud conditions?
If the B-777 was in the clear above the clouds, in the dark, the pilots would not have descended into the clouds offer specific information, i.e., instead of stating the “Cargo met international standards” why not state what the cargo with no flight instruments functioning to be able to keep the B-777 wings level.
Later, in daylight the pilots may have descended to get below the clouds to find a place to land. With no navigation systems they would not have known where they were except for being over water trying to find an island to land — Diego Garcia ?
The media did not ask the right questions and the Malaysian officials did not offer specific information, i.e., instead of stating the “Cargo met international standards” why not state what the contents were? Were there lithium batteries onboard?
I seriously doubt there was any conspiracy by the pilots acting together. Most airlines have their pilots bid for flights on a monthly basis based upon their position and seniority. Thus these pilots were assigned together by chance, not by predetermined design by collusion.
I believe when all is said and done the pilots will be exonerated and determined to have done an outstanding job trying to save this flight.
WILLIAM B. SECREST is an area native and retired airline captain with Trans World Airlines.