'Water landing is a remote possibility'

IT is almost impossible for an aircraft such as the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777, to sink underwater without leaving a trace.

Retired pilot and flight instructor Captain Abdul Latif Mohd Hassan said the only way it could happen was in the event the pilots, with full control of the plane, successfully carried out an emergency water landing.

"Pilots call it 'ditching'. If done correctly, the craft would be able to float for about an hour before sinking into the water intact, leaving no debris.

"It would also leave enough time for the passengers and crew to evacuate, and for the pilots to radio for help," he told the New Straits Times.

However, in the case of MAS flight MH370, which disappeared over the ocean at night, such a possibility was extremely remote, given that the pilot would have had to land the plane by gliding slowly over water in pitch-black darkness.

"As far as I know, there has never been a successful ditching attempt at night.

"Even with altimeters, it would be very difficult to do so because there's no horizon or anything else that could help a pilot navigate. "In most cases, the aircraft body would break apart upon impact," said Latif, a pilot with 38 years of experience under his belt, including 10 years with the Royal Malaysian Air Force.

He said a water landing could also crack the underbelly of the craft while leaving the rest of it intact, causing it to sink faster.

"But, even in that situation, the pilots would have sent out messages to tell ground controllers that they were attempting a water landing.

"The emergency locator transmitters (ELTs) would also be triggered as soon as they came into contact with water."

He said any kind of catastrophic failure on flight MH370 would have had to have happened quickly, leaving no time for the pilots to indicate distress.

"Commercial planes are equipped with many safeguards. Even during a power failure, there are still backup generators and batteries to make sure communications instruments do not fail.

"Such a rapid turn of events would leave behind a trail of debris. The lack of debris, or any signal from the ELTs, is simply a mystery."

Latif also debunked a popular Internet theory, which suggested that a structural failure led to slow decompression on the flight, lowering oxygen levels and rendering the passengers and crew unconscious.

"The cabin pressurisation system would have detected decompression, triggered an alarm and deployed oxygen masks.

"If the system malfunctioned for any reason with the autopilot engaged, the plane would continue flying along its preprogrammed path to Beijing.

"Even if the plane deviated slightly off-course, military or primary radars between Vietnam and China, including those in Cambodia or even the Philippines, would have detected it as it passed."

He advised the public not to speculate on the crisis and to allow the search-and-rescue mission to be executed smoothly.

"There are many professional experts involved from the United States Federal Aviation Administration, the National Transportation Safety Board, Boeing and others.

"They have even deployed four Orion aircraft, which are designed for maritime surveillance."

The last communication received by air-traffic controllers from MH370 came at 1.07am on Saturday.

Multinational search-and-rescue operations are underway.