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  (Source: Youtube China)
Search is still on for the wreckage and black box, with several spottings reported

Today in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, more than two weeks of mystery and searching came to a close. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced that compelling evidence existed that missing flight MH370 had crashed into the Pacific and that the 239 people on board (227 passengers and 12 crew members) had perished.
I. At Last, the Answer to One Big Question
The story was intriguing, in part, because the aircraft involved -- the Boeing Comp.'s (BA) Boeing 777 -- had previously owned a near perfect track record.  The Boeing 777 had previously only seen 4 incidents that damaged the hull of a plane -- two of these incidents involved overrunning the runway.  Only the most recent incident -- the July 2013 crash of an Asiana Airlines passenger craft at San Francisco International Airport -- led to any fatalities.  That incident, still under investigation, led to the deaths of 3 of the craft's 307 passengers.
Flying on a Boeing 777 from a historic standpoint would be considered a pretty safe travel plan from a statistical standpoint.  Unfortunately, the Malaysian Airlines (Malaysia Airlines System Bhd (MK:MAS)) flight would buck that track record, becoming the deadliest crash in the aircraft's history.

Malaysian Airlines Boeing 577
A Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 jet [Image Source: The Washington Post]

Flight MH370 took off from Malaysia's capital and most populous city, Kuala Lumpur, on March 8.  Scheduled for a relatively short flight to Beijing, the aircraft never arrived.  It veered sharply eastward, travelling over Thailand, while reportedly making wild changes in altitude.
From there the aircraft seemingly vanished leaving everyone wondering where it went.  The two leading theories were that it flew south, which would place it in somewhere off the west coast of Australia, or north, which would put it somewhere in the northern Indian Ocean, off the east coast of India.

Malaysian Airlines
The Malaysian airlines flight (not pictured) deviated sharply from its course after taking off from the Malaysian capital city, en route to Beijing, China. [Image Source: AP]

The U.S., China, UK, India, Australia, and various European nations set aside their political differences for the moment and embarked on an ambitious international hunt to find the wreck of MH370.
Critical clues to the craft's final destination came via UK satellite company Inmarsat plc (LON:ISAT), which built semi-autonomous location services into every Boeing 777.  Working in unison with the UK's Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB), the data from responses to "pings" -- data requests to the aircrafts computer -- eventually allowed the crash site to be narrowed to a patch of ocean 1,500 miles (2,500km) off the southwest coast of Australia.
According to BBC News, Inmarsat's engineers worked all through this last weekend to try a never-before-used technique to analyze the data in the face of lacking data to further triangulate the craft's trajectory by traditional means.

Malaysia authorities say they are now confident that the aircraft went south and crashed.
[Image Source: BBC News]

The new technique reportedly compared data pings from past aircraft traveling over both locations in order to zero in on where exactly the craft was.  The tactic was, by all accounts, a remarkable and brilliant success.  With a refined location searchers from China and Malaysia were reportedly able to spot debris, likely the remains of MH370.
II. Debris Sighted
In his statement the Malaysian PM said it was "beyond reasonable doubt" that the plane had crashed.  He went on to state:

[We] have concluded that MH370 flew along the southern corridor, and that its last position was in the middle of the Indian Ocean, west of Perth.  This is a remote location, far from any possible landing sites. It is therefore with deep sadness and regret that I must inform you that, according to this new data, flight MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean.

As of late yesterday the actual crash site had yet to be located definitively.  French satellite images showed what appeared to be belts (possibly seatbelts from destroyed craft, a wooden pallet, and other items that might be buoyant pieces of a wrecked Boeing 777.  China, meanwhile, spotted a 72 ft. by 43 ft. sunken object that was roughly in the same region via satellite.
But investigators have to line those reports up with an actual location in the remote stretch of sea, something they were unable to do on Sunday.

[Image Source: Graphic News]

While it's perhaps dangerous for family members of the passengers to hold too much hope that their family members survived the crash, some have held on to hope that some passengers might have been able to deploy a life raft and survive.  Roughly two-thirds of the passengers were Chinese.

An infographic shows the nationality of flight MH370's passengers. [Image Source: AFP]

China's Foreign ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, announced a fresh finding of possible debris at a press conference, stating:

We are still racing against time.  As long as there is a glimmer of hope, our search efforts will carry on.

The race has high stakes, as whatever debris is floating could easily float miles away in hours, driven by ocean currents.  On Monday, China's two search planes in the region spotted two large objects and several smaller ones scattered across several kilometers.  According to Mr. Lei, one of these objects was white and rectangular.  A second flyover by a US Navy P8 Poseidon, a large Boeing military aircraft, was unable to spot the objects the Chinese planes had seen.
III. Hunt for Black Box Continues, as Chinese Family Members Express Outrage at Malaysia's Government
The latest hopes come courtesy of a Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT) P3 Orion deployed by Australia, which spotted two objects -- "the first grey or green and circular, the second orange and rectangular", according to a news report by The Guardian.
China has diverted an additional six warships to help scour the region.

A Chinese sailor searches the possible wreckage are for signs of debris. [Image Source: Xinhua]

Reactions from family members have been varied.  In Malaysia, there seemed to be a grim acceptance among the family members and loved ones of passengers, most of whom were Muslim.  Selamat Omar, the father of a 29-year-old junior aviation engineer onboard the flight, told the Associated Press:
We accept the news of the tragedy. It is fate.
In China, the Malaysian PM's statements were greeted with fresh fury, however.  A statement read to the media from the family members and loved ones of the Chinese passengers, stated:

[The Malaysian government] misled, delayed the research and rescue, wasted a lot of man power, and material resources and we lost the most valuable rescue opportunity. If our 154 relatives lost their lives because of it, Malaysia Airlines, the Malaysian government, and the Malaysian military are [their] killers.

Even if debris can be located, it is unclear whether they will be able to solve the biggest mystery -- the events that doomed the flight.  Some have speculated that the airline was hijacked.  Theories towards that end have ranged from speculation that perhaps one of the pilots incapacitated the other and decided in order to carry out a suicide flight, or that one or more terrorists were hidden among the flight's passengers and hijacked the craft.
Once the crash's wreckage can be definitively found, the hunt for the blackbox can step up.
[Image Source: 9bytz]

On the other hand, it's possible that the craft suffered some sort of catastrophic damage that may have left the pilots struggling for control.  The craft was carrying 200 kg of flammable lithium-ion batteries.  While that backup power system was reportedly inspected and deemed safe, Boeing has suffered past issues with battery fires with a similar pack used in the newer Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft, which forced it to commit to a series of redesigns.  
Some have suggested that the plane's autopilot systems could have kicked in and kept it flying at cruising altitude for several hours as a "zombie plane" if some catastrophic failure incapacitated and/or killed the passengers and crew.
The plane's black box could yield vital clues as to what happened.  The U.S. Pacific Command has a vessel en route with a black box detector that is towed behind the craft.  If the backup power is intact and the wreckage is at 6,100 metres (20,000 ft.) the detector may be able to locate signals in the wreckage region, and dispatch manned submarines and/or autonomous deep-water vehicles in a recovery attempt.

Sources: Malaysian PM via AP on YouTube, The Guardian, BBC News, Associate Press

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RE: Zombie airplane not likely
By zozzlhandler on 3/24/2014 10:32:46 PM , Rating: 2
I think your speculation is pointless. That said, if the aircraft climbed to 45000 feet, it is likely that no passengers were conscious after that. 45000 feet is beyond its operational altitude.
If the climb were to help overcome an on-board fire, then the passengers and crew may have been overcome by smoke or combustion products. That scenario seems likely, as the first turn the plane made was toward the nearest 13,000 ft runway, which makes an emergency response to *something* seem very likely. Depending on what *something* was (fire?), then the aircraft might well have flown on with an unconscious or dead crew. We will have to wait for the flight data recorder (if it can be recovered).

RE: Zombie airplane not likely
By Lord 666 on 3/24/2014 11:09:21 PM , Rating: 5
Everything surrounding this situation smells of conspiracy and/or cover-up.

RE: Zombie airplane not likely
By Flunk on 3/25/2014 9:48:52 AM , Rating: 4
I think you have conspiracy-theoryitis. I think they haven't figured out what the hell happened yet.

RE: Zombie airplane not likely
By bug77 on 3/25/2014 6:45:53 AM , Rating: 2
If the climb were to help overcome an on-board fire, then the passengers and crew may have been overcome by smoke or combustion products. That scenario seems likely...

You're forgetting the pilots had contact for over 10 minutes after the ACARS was turned off and they did not report anything out of the ordinary. That makes any scenario not involving foul play on the pilots' side, very unlikely.
More specifically, if there was an incident on board, I'd look for the nearest airport to land, not head out into the ocean.

RE: Zombie airplane not likely
By MozeeToby on 3/25/2014 10:59:57 AM , Rating: 2
I've seen this argument before and I have to say it's bunk. ACARS does not transmit constantly, only every 30 minutes or so. The last pilot transmission occurred between planned broadcasts of the ACARS system, a failure could have occurred at any point between the two scheduled broadcasts including after the last voice broadcast.

More specifically, if there was an incident on board, I'd look for the nearest airport to land, not head out into the ocean.
The first course change to the west was in direct line with the nearest airport with a safe approach over water and a long runway. The airport they were coming from was closer, but there was also an 8,000 ridge line between them, making the approach dangerous if the plane was having mechanical difficulties.

The later course changes are harder to understand but it's possible that the plane was flying dead stick with the auto-pilot off. Small instabilities can cause heading changes before the fly by wire safety systems override and level the plane out again (doesn't happen until the plane is rolling 30 degrees or more to one side). Of course, it's also possible that the flight crew was suffering from hypoxia (either from smoke inhalation or decompression) and was simply not making good decisions by that point.

Altitude changes, if they can be trusted at all (and bear in mind altitude readings at the edges of the radar's effective range or of questionable reliability) could be the result of the aircraft being improperly trimmed for speed. That would produce a smooth, stable, gradual increase in altitude until the plane stalls out. Then it would pitch forward and fall until the increasing air density along with the plane's trim settings pulled it out of the dive and back into the same gradual climb.

RE: Zombie airplane not likely
By bug77 on 3/25/2014 12:23:05 PM , Rating: 2
I've seen this argument before and I have to say it's bunk. ACARS does not transmit constantly, only every 30 minutes or so.

The way I understand, ACARS talks continuously or very often if turned on. Only if it's turned off it will go into passive mode and only respond to pings from satellites. This is the signal that was used to determine the aircraft's final location.

RE: Zombie airplane not likely
By drycrust3 on 3/25/2014 12:33:44 PM , Rating: 2
Finally! An explanation that doesn't involve some sort of intrigue! I think the idea that there was some sort of system failure on the plane and the pilots behaved in a professional manner and were trying to save the plane needs to be encouraged, instead of those endless conspiracy type theories.

RE: Zombie airplane not likely
By bug77 on 3/25/2014 2:37:36 PM , Rating: 3
I'm very skeptic when it comes to conspiracies, but a technical issue causing a plane to fly over 2,000 miles in the opposite direction it was supposed to, is just as much of an imagination stretch in this case.
Either way, the irreparable has happened (we know that now). Who's right now is of far lesser importance.

RE: Zombie airplane not likely
By Solandri on 3/25/2014 3:12:55 PM , Rating: 2
Altitude changes, if they can be trusted at all (and bear in mind altitude readings at the edges of the radar's effective range or of questionable reliability) could be the result of the aircraft being improperly trimmed for speed. That would produce a smooth, stable, gradual increase in altitude until the plane stalls out. Then it would pitch forward and fall until the increasing air density along with the plane's trim settings pulled it out of the dive and back into the same gradual climb.

Phugoid oscillations for larger aircraft with improper trim are typically less than a minute to a few minutes. On United 232, it was about 40-60 seconds. That was a 55 meter DC-10, not much different from a 61 meter 777.

It's highly unlikely that the reported altitude variations (~20,000 feet) could've been caused by a phugoid. At most you'd expect to see a variation of a few thousand feet.

RE: Zombie airplane not likely
By geddarkstorm on 3/25/2014 7:34:33 PM , Rating: 2
As Bugs points out, you are actually mistaken about ACARS and how it works. See:

One thing to note about ACARS is it automatically sends mechanical health data to controllers. If there is a mechanical problem, failure, or fire, ACARS would immediately send an alert. It is a continuous communication system, actually several different systems, unless the entire package is turned off. The satellite passive pinging system is what has the 30 minute intervals, not the active part of ACARS, and that backup only activates if ACARS is turned off.

So yeah, the zombie plane theory makes no sense. Note also that if ACARS had been mechanically damaged or destroyed, by say a fire, then the satellite pinging system would have been lost. ACARS was fully intact, just turned off.

Here's the user manual for ACARS by the providers of the Iridium satellite link, for additional information:

RE: Zombie airplane not likely
By Keeir on 3/26/2014 6:52:13 PM , Rating: 2
I think your confused.

Just because an ACARS system CAN do something, doesn't mean Malaysian's implementation DID do it.

I am fairly sure there are levels of ACARS implementation, probably with increasing cost. All Malaysian's implementation had to do is meet the requirements of it's country of registry/certification. I do not have enough knowledge to know what that is...

RE: Zombie airplane not likely
By sorry dog on 3/25/2014 11:45:11 AM , Rating: 2
It is very doubtful it made it to FL450. That is probably an erroneous primary radar reading. Primary radars don't directly measure altitude and have a significant margin of error especially at their edge of range. A heavy load trent powered T7 is going to be doing well to make high 30's. It will quickly stall or mush into the backside of the power curve it's forced higher. The same radar indicated a 40,000 foot a min decent after that... I'd like to see a supersonic T7 (on remote with nobody on board of course).

Here's an example of what happens and this was with an empty plane.

RE: Zombie airplane not likely
By Iketh on 3/25/2014 12:49:31 PM , Rating: 2
lol no... going 5000 feet over the aircraft's ceiling is NOT going to cause a failure in cabin structure. Please think before posting. Boeing is not going to design a plane with not even a 5k altitude buffer for structural integrity. Ceilings are set for aircraft because that is where the ENGINES begin losing too much power.

When cruising at 39k, you can point the aircraft into a steep climb and reach 45k in SECONDS...

RE: Zombie airplane not likely
By Keeir on 3/25/2014 1:15:56 PM , Rating: 2

Aircraft are pressurized to an internal gauge pressure. This means there is a maximum difference between the external pressure and the internal pressure.

Humans have difficulty functing at altitudes above 15,000 ft above sea level. A rapid change from 35,000 ft to 45,000 ft would expose the passengers to several minutes of ~20,000 ft above sea level. This would create sickness, black-out/possible death in a small subset of the people (those already ill or otherwise senstive to changes in airpressure).

It is entirely possible that a controlled decompression event caused by a fire/etc at 35,000-45,000 ft would result in numerous/complete death if the airplane did not return to 15,000 ft within a limited time-frame.

For example, if a fire occured near the oxygen bottles. This fire could remove the pressurization (lowering the oxygen levels) and reduce the time frame to get back down to an appropriate altitude.

In the above case, the pilots reacted quickly to the controlled decompression event and desended in 7 minutes to the 10,000 ft. Well within the ~15 minutes typically assumed as adequate with a FULL oxygen supply on board.

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