|The aircraft arriving at LAX in 2013 courtesy Jay Davis|
These wise words from the former director of aviation safety with the National Transportation Safety Board should serve as a mantra for everyone reading, writing and jawboning about the Boeing 777 that left Kuala Lumpur for Beijing on March 8th and never arrived.
Several days ago, I went out on a limb, writing here that despite the groundswell of opinion, I was not convinced that the plane's disappearance was the result of a criminal act. Since I was ready to be embarrassed if I was wrong (and I still could be) let me take a public bow for having been at the forefront of a flood of subsequent similar suggestions.
|Tracking courtesy FlightAware.com|
On day 11, I find intriguing a fact reported by ABC News late last week that someone on the flight deck of Flight 370 changed the heading before subsequent losses of the plane's communication systems. (Disclosure, I am working in KL as a consultant to ABC News.)
If the information from David Kerley and Matt Hosford is correct, it is one of those course changing data points.
To recap, during many days of briefings in the packed ballroom of the Sama-Sama Hotel at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, we have been told that the order of known events on the flight deck was
- loss of ACARs transmission
- pilot handoff to Vietnam air traffic control
- acknowledgement by first officer with "Alright, goodnight"
- turning off of transponder
|Zaharie Ahmad Shah from his YouTube post|
According to investigators this pointed to a deliberate, sequential plan by someone in the cockpit to hijack the airplane. And no surprise that theory soon was embellished with news accounts some more sensational than others. The plane flew a purposeful path dodging radar, one newspaper reported. The captain's bearing when leaving his gated community the morning of the flight was uncharacteristically distracted and militaristic, reported another.
But on Monday, we got a different order of events, the turning off of the ACARs, was not the initiation of a number of sequential acts. In fact, investigators could not say exactly when the ACARs was turned off, or even if it was. Only that a data transmission scheduled for 1:37 a.m. did not arrive.
What this leaves us with is that the pilots got the hand-off at the edge of Malaysian air space and this was followed by the turning off of the transponder. At some point in this flight, the pilots would have turned the transponder to the out of radar range 2000 setting. How close to that point they were at the time, I can't say. But certainly this leaves open the idea that something else caused the loss of transponder and ACARs including pilot error, rather than deliberate actions of the pilot or cockpit intruder.
All of which elevates the reporting of a pre-programmed turn to verrrrrrry interesting status. Entering a turn into the flight management system which then beamed the info to the satellite before a 1:07 data transfer can only mean they knew they were taking the plane off course and did not communicate that in the air space hand-off. It could mean pilot action, it could mean pilot action under duress.
It's a big development ladies and gentlemen. But is it known for sure, or is it, like the order of communication shut down, a fact one day that will be disputed on another?
Or as Tom Haueter might have said, "Today's data point, tomorrow's equivocation."