News that the flight almost certainly crashed into the ocean is not really a surprise, for had it landed, or crashed, on terra firma anywhere there would have been some news of it long since.
Hopefully the flight data and cockpit voice recorders will be found so that some understanding of why this tragedy occurred. That the transponder and ACARS system were turned off is certain, but whilst this must have been a deliberate act this may not have any sinister reason for this could have been due to the crew experiencing some electrical problem that they were trying to trace. Shutting down systems to try and establish where a fault lies is not beyond reason.
The slightly odd last radio transmission is a little puzzling as an acknowledgement of the instruction to change to the Vietnamese air traffic control to precede those would have been more normal; something along the lines of “120.9 MH370 heavy” perhaps to read back the radio frequency before saying goodnight, but the more curious point is that it is alleged that the course change had been made 12 minutes earlier. If they had a problem and had decided to turn back why did the co-pilot not take the chance to say so? They would, in such circumstances, have wanted to stay with Malaysian control if they had turned back, so to decline the handover and, whilst not declare a full emergency, to at least say that there was a problem and request a diversion would have been a more obvious course of action.
It is possible that, if there were a technical problem, that having turned to go back the pilots were incapacitated and the flight proceeded out into the southern Indian Ocean until it ran out of fuel. It seems strange that they did not get a message off though for they appear to have made the course change followed by at least second one if not a third which implies that they had a degree of control for another 20-40 minutes after that last radio message. If they were experiencing a problem and wanting to return to a suitable airport why no PAN call or Mayday? Had they lost the radio as well?
Suicide? It has been known, and quite recently too, but why go so far when a dive into the ocean close to land would have been quicker.
Hi-jack? A possibility, and again there is a precedent for a hi-jack demand for a destination beyond the range of the aircraft, but why go the way that they went as the next land mass would have been Antarctica, hardly a likely refuge.
There are so many questions at this point with the only certainty that the ‘plane crashed and all on board are lost. Hopefully time will tell because finding the answers to these mysteries helps to make flying safer. (The fact that I will be boarding a Boeing 777-200 bound for Beijing shortly has nothing to do with my interest).
The reaction of relatives of those on board is fairly predictable and, as I wrote elsewhere the other week, understandable to a point, but to be reasonable what information is there to give? As I’ve just pointed out there are only questions at this stage, not answers. It may seem a little odd that military radar could not give more answers, but we don’t know what systems were available or their range. Here the aircraft would have been detected and, with no operable transponder the RAF would have sent a couple of chaps up for a shufti, but we can’t assume that other people’s systems are as sophisticated as ours. At one stage I did wonder if it would become apparent that the aircraft had been assumed to be a threat and had been shot down by one or other country, but we now know that it went down mile from anywhere so that scenario seems very unlikely.
Eventually we will know roughly what happened, but whether we ever know why is less certain. The sea bed where she seems to have crashed is some 4000 feet down and it is not the most benevolent piece of ocean to work in. A lot of people are applying themselves to solving this and there is much international co-operation. Hopefully we will know more soon.