Malaysia Airlines MH370: the missing aircraft, and what investigators will be looking for

 

The aircraft apparently lost over the South China Sea was a Boeing 777. This twin-jet entered service in 1995, and it has become one of the world’s most successful aircraft - as well as one of the safest.

The 777 is the long-haul mainstay of dozens of airlines, including British Airways, which operates more than 50 Boeing 777s from Heathrow and Gatwick. It was the first airline to suffer the loss of a 777 in an accident when flight BA38 from Beijing crashed short of the runway at Heathrow in 2008. All the passengers and crew survived. The cause of that accident was found to be ice crystals forming in the fuel supply to both engines. Modifications were made to aircraft worldwide.

The Malaysia Airlines jet in this incident was fitted with the same Rolls Royce Trent engines.

Until now, the only 777 accident in which there has been loss of life was last July, when an aircraft operated by the Korean airline, Asiana, crash-landed on arrival at San Francisco. Three passengers died.

Malaysia Airlines, like other large international carriers, has an excellent safety record. The airline’s last fatal accident was a small passenger aircraft that crashed on landing in 1995 with the loss of 34 lives.

 

Social media speculation about Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has been rife and often misleading. On Twitter, it was wrongly reported that the aircraft had landed safely at Nanning airport in southern China; that the jet had run out of fuel; and that it had been lost on the Malaysian mainland.

The loss of flight MH370 raises many questions. Investigators will study a wide range of possible causes of the aircraft apparently disappearing while in a normal cruise at 35,000 feet with no distress messages sent.

Possible failure of both engines will be looked at, but in such circumstances the crew would be expected to have sufficient power, and time, to broadcast emergency messages. The weather appears to have been good, but the chance that the crew lost control because of clear air turbulence will also be considered. At this stage, the possibility that the jet was deliberately downed cannot be ruled out - whether by a hi-jacker, a bomb or even pilot suicide.

The last event involving a large long-haul jet that shares some similar characteristics to the loss of MH370 was Air France flight 447 from Rio to Paris in 2009. An Airbus A330 crashed into the Atlantic with the loss of all 228 passengers and crew on board. It suffered a high-altitude stall after the flight crew reacted incorrectly to a loss of air-speed indication.

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