Malaysia 370: Unexplored possibility

Malasia Air flight 370With nearly a month since the disappearance of Malaysia Air flight 370 with 239 souls on board, the pundits have put forth many theories to explain the mystery of the missing jumbo jet. They explore possibilities such as mechanical failure, terrorist passengers, a mentally unbalanced pilot or copilot, a fire or electrical problem caused by batteries or something stored in the cargo bayand the leading early theory: a plot to steal the plane.

But I have not seen another explanation—one that, to me, seems entirely more likely…

Malasia Air pilot & copilot

Zaharie Ahmad Shah,      Fariq Abdul Hamid

A reasonable explanation for the disappearance of this plane is the accidental lockout of authorized individuals from the cockpit. In the past decade, the cockpits of large planes have been turned into fortresses. The cockpit door has been fortified to withstand attack by axe or explosive. To enter the flight deck, a layered security protocol requires a passcode from the outside in combination with authorization from the inside or 3rd party cooperation. If the flight crew rushed to the doorway due to an innocent event (say the injury of an attendant who was just entering or someone falling as they stood up), or if the crewman remaining in the cockpit was incapacitated by accident or illness, it seems entirely possible that the plane could fly on autopilot while the crew struggles in vain to re-enter the flight deck.

No one at the controls

No one at the controls

Cabin-Ground Communication?

I wonder if Boeing or a jumbo jet pilot can tell us this: If all individuals are locked out of a cockpit as a plane flies on, is there any way to establish voice contact with the flight controllers in Malaysia, Vietnam, or even via satellite? I can imagine that a call might be possible from the cabin phone or perhaps there are Bluetooth-like devices in the galley. But with the recent fortress-like upgrades, I wonder if designers had sufficient foresight to ensure that every plane shipped in any configuration was equipped with cabin-ground capability—and that the all devices were charged and the crew regularly tested on their location and use.

New Topic: Black Box Pinger

While we’re discussing the disappearance of Malaysia Air flight 370, here is something else that I could never figure out.The media informs us that the best batteries we can achieve in a small, indestructible container last for only 30 days. (And that assumes that they are fresh, were recently charged, and stored at the proper temperature!). But this raises a very obvious question (obvious to Wild Ducks, that is)…

“Pings” broadcast from gray cylinder (left)

“Pings” broadcast from gray cylinder (left)

Rather than using a limited reserve to continuously ping for help, why not listen instead? After all, the ping can only penetrate ocean water for a mile or two. It would consume far less power to wait in “standby” mode until the unit is interrogated by a roaming device seeking response. In fact, if the pinger was primarily in a passive state until polled, I bet that the designers could budget for a much bigger energy burst on the ping. After all, when sensing an interrogation, someone is getting within range and we saved all the energy we would have spent on thousands of useless pings during past months!

Ellery Davies is a partner at CRYPSA, the Cryptocurrency Standards Association.
He is a frequent contributor to Yahoo News, Forbes and The Wall Street Journal.

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