Missing MH370: Descent likely quick, catastrophic, say experts

Missing MH370: Descent likely quick, catastrophic, say experts
A giant screen shows the number of hours since Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 went missing, in Beijing.

Whatever happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 in the wee hours of Saturday, aviation safety experts say it must have been quick and catastrophic.

This would explain why the pilots did not send out a distress signal, and why the Boeing 777-200 aircraft with 227 passengers and 12 crew members suddenly lost contact with air traffic control 50 minutes after it left Kuala Lumpur for Beijing.

More than two days after the plane disappeared, there is still no confirmation of its whereabouts, though all signs point to an ocean crash.

At this early stage of the probe, bad weather is an unlikely cause, given the clear skies at the time. But everything else from pilot error to structural and mechanical fault is possible, experts told The Straits Times.

Foul play cannot be ruled out either, said Mr Paul Yap, head of Temasek Polytechnic's aviation department, which teaches topics such as air safety and security.

He said: "Right now, there are many questions and no answers."

If the plane broke apart midair, the debris field would be large. Otherwise, the plane probably broke up upon contact with the water.

Explaining how planes are tracked, Mr Yap said that air traffic control centres can typically detect aircraft within a 250 nautical mile range.

When out of range, the plane's transponder, a device that emits signals, provides air traffic control with data on the aircraft's position, altitude and speed.

In this case, the transponder likely malfunctioned, either due to mechanical failure or human interference. This is why the plane fell off the radar.

But it still does not explain why the pilots did not send out a distress signal. Even if both engines suddenly failed, they would have had time to make an emergency call, experts pointed out.

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