The Travel Detective

Your MH370 Questions Answered

MH370_searchAfter Peter published his three theories on the disappearance of MH370, many of you wrote in with questions—remember you can reach Peter on Facebook, Twitter and, of course, on Peter Right now, there remain many unanswered questions surrounding MH370 and some may never be answered. But some of your questions CAN be answered. We hope that some of Peter’s insight can help you put at least some of  the stories, rumors, and speculation in perspective:

Why is there not a device “on” the plane that transmits to an outside source where the aircraft is located all the times…and is the radar so obsolete that there is not a known location of the plane at all times?

There is a device—the transponder—that broadcasts on a specific frequency and identifies the plane by flight number, altitude, direction,  and speed. But this transponder was disengaged/disconnected within an hour of takeoff.

Aren’t all planes required to have radar location devices that can’t be turned off (as they were on 9/11)?

There was a move after 9/11 to install transponders that could not be disconnected, as well as to install CVRs (cockpit voice recorders) that didn’t record—they transmitted all live conversations in the cockpit from 30 minutes prior to pushback until 30 minutes after blocking at the gate. But, those never got enough support within the FAA or the DOT to affect formal rule-making. Hopefully, MH370 will be the catalyst to make that happen.

If it HAD been a terrorist explosion, wouldn’t there also be a large debris field? I don’t know, but that seems like a reasonable assumption.

Yes, that is a reasonable assumption. When Pan Am 103 was blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988, the explosion happened at 31,000 feet and the debris field stretched out hundreds of miles, all the way to the North Sea.

Doesn’t the 777 have only one single incident behind it, the careless crash while landing in SFO months ago?

Yes, the 777 has a great and remarkable safety record, and you’re right. Other than the Asiana crash at SFO last year—which was clearly pilot error—there have been no other fatalities aboard a 777.

One question I have is, if the plane redirected and flew for several hours, why did not one passenger have the ability to call someone and tell his/her loved ones something odd was happening…especially if there was a FIRE being fought for hours?

This is a question that has been asked often about cell phones. There are two reasons why no passengers could have called anyone. First, cell phones can’t get a signal/reception at 35,000 feet, or even at 3,000 feet, and then, assuming there could have been a cell phone capable of getting reception, there are NO cell towers in the Indian Ocean, so it is technically impossible. As to your question about an on-board fire, it is highly unlikely that anyone on any aircraft would be fighting an on-board fire for hours. Fires are either extinguished quickly, followed by an emergency landing, or they spread quickly and are uncontrolled, which is usually followed by the pilots losing control and losing the aircraft.

If the satellites are so powerful that Big Brother watches our every move, how did a large plane go undetected?

This question makes a reasonable presumption—that satellites are everywhere and that every aircraft is closely tracked. Over the main North Atlantic routes, that’s the case. But, in the Southern Hemisphere, that is often not the case.

What do you think about how the Malaysian authorities have handled communication with the families? I heard that a lot of families found out the plane was in the ocean, via text message.

When this complete story is finally written, it’s likely that neither the Malaysian government nor Malaysia Airlines will win any awards in crisis public relations. Indeed, it appears that both the government and the airline treated the world press the way they are used to treating the Malaysian press—by trying to control the story. It was the worst thing they could have done. It also appears the airline didn’t really have a crisis plan and was initially almost paralyzed in terms of an effective response.

What do you think about how the media has handled this news, 24/7, since there’s very little news to share? 

As a member of the media—and one who has covered airline accidents for more than 40 years—I was quick to point out from the start of this story that the process would be slow, long, and that investigators had to painstakingly and systematically rule out a lot of things before they could rule any one thing in. That process is still going on—very slowly—because of the lack of debris or any evidence that could effectively start an intense forensic investigation. I understand the 24/7 news cycle and I’m certainly a part of it, but I also believe you go on the air when you have something to say, and when there is real news to report.

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By Peter Greenberg for