Airline pilots can be simultaneously the most professional lot and the bawdiest, not unlike surgeons with a God complex, while also being sailors of the old high seas.
When Malaysian Airlines Flight MH 370 went missing on March 8 pilot cross talk, along with texting and cocktail conversations, evoked conspiracy theories, technical reports and regurgitation of speculation not unlike what us “passengers” have been watching on television news programs.
There are only four facts we can be sure of…. that someone deliberately diverted Flight 370, shut down communications with the ground, the jetliner continued flying for many hours, or it’s a hoax.
This examiner sought out his old pilot buddy, not so much because he is a friend, but because he is an excellent pilot with more than 30 years of flying experience, and some interesting information and conjecture about Flight 370. Harty (his real name changed because he is still flying for one of our country’s largest air carriers) intimated that a new round of cocktail stories and conjecture from pilots - killing time before their return flights - includes the most colorful conspiracy theory to date, one that is offered exclusively in this report.
“There never was a Malaysian Flight MH 370,” he offers. “This was a challenge from one government to the Chinese, just to see what they’ve got (in terms of spy satellites, surveillance, reconnaissance and search and rescue). “Sure, we have some reported pings off of satellites and some crying Asians, but we have no airplane. Do you remember Wag the Dog?” asked Harty.
The 1990s Wag the Dog film featured consultants distracting us, the electorate, from a president’s sex scandal by hiring a Hollywood film producer (Dustin Hoffman) to construct a fake war with Albania.
“I think our intelligence agency did a head fake on the Chinese just to find out what they’ve got. Hey do you guys know where that airplane is? In true Oliver Stone conspiracy fashion, someone said, ‘What are you guys talking about, there was no airplane.’ So, to beat that theory, they bring us video of sobbing Malays and Chinese, but they could have paid those sobbing Malays and Chinese.
“The only way to truly know is to interview people none of the media have interviewed… the tug driver who pushed the plane back from the terminal, the air traffic controller in Kuala Lumpur who saw it take off, and start looking at each and every person on the passenger manifest.”
To paraphrase Harty, the incident could be a fake like Capricorn One, where O.J Simpson and others faked a NASA landing on Mars, or every conspiracy theorist’s view that the first Moon landing was filmed in Hollywood. The pings off satellites can be “manufactured” and crying Asian families can be videotaped actors. What about the pilots? Well, they could be real, and could be pawns in the dangerous game.
After all, we have an incredibly inept Malaysian investigative team and a treacherous Chinese government which seems intent on stirring up trouble in the oceans near the alleged disappearance. Within a couple days after the disappearance a Colorado Springs, Colorado satellite company said it had offered its images of the oceans near Malaysia to the government; the images showed nothing in the water. Then the Chinese offered a satellite image of a piece of debris in the ocean which was not of airline origin. And then Interpol said that all Malaysian Air had to do was ask; that the international police agency would have given them the list of stolen passports.
“Anyone can buy a passport. In Thailand, they have them hanging for sale next to the girly magazines in the 7-11,” said Harty. “You gotta watch the watch list,” he said chuckling. “And you gotta use your real name, people. Yes, paying cash for a plane ticket is a tipoff but you have some gate agents who don’t give a flying *uck, and others who think they’re Inspector Clouseau. Some say ‘put these people on the plane so I can take my lunch break,’ and others who want to solve the case and nab the culprit."
One political pundit summed it up perfectly, saying the NSA knows what we ate for breakfast, what time we took the kids to school and how much debt we owe, but it can’t find a Boeing 777 in 260 feet of water (the depth of the Gulf of Thailand). In perspective, the wreckage, and 104 bodies, from Air France Flight 447 was found in depths up to 13,000 feet off Brazil’s coast in 2011, two years after it crashed.
So maybe Flight 370 is a Hollywood movie. But it isn’t all the Makers Mark induced conspiracy talking. Bailey understands fully the need for broadcasters to rush what little information they have on the air; after all, he watched me go through 14 years of television news production. “Get the widow on the set, we’ve got dirty laundry.”
“Yes, it is correct that the satellite pings could be providing information about the engines and pressurization,” Harty said. But he is as skeptical as this writer about the network news’ animated graphics showing zigzags and wild changes in elevation because the news teams just don’t know.
“The Rolls-Royce engines do send data to satellites so Rolls can monitor performance, and components that Boeing installed in the Malaysian plane can determine the number of cycles on the plane (numbers of times it gets pressurized for a takeoff and landing), pressurization differential between the inside and outside, how many kilovolt amps the generator is using in case it looks like the generator is going down, tire pressure, humidity and other data.”
And the wild speculation over oxygen masks dropping down is just that. “It is possible,” Harty said, reluctantly, “that we would know if the masks dropped because we would be speculating on that data about pressurization, or even if they got that data from the pings.”
Flight 370 likely had oxygen generators for the passengers and oxygen bottles for the pilots. Those bottles require a specific pressurization and Boeing might have received that data in a ping. “We call it the rat check,” admitted Harty. “The air data recorders will spit out a lot of info. It knows when I scratch my ass. ADRs could have sent elevation readings for Flight 370.”
He said the correct question for journalists to ask is: of all the data that is recorded, what is sent to whom and when?
Harty pilots one of the Airbus models on international flights. Built by a consortium of mostly Europeans, the Airbus does the same thing – engines pinging to the engine manufacturer about performance and the plane systems pinging to Airbus about voice and text messages along with mundane data collection of tire wear. There is also “communication by intent” – radio, high frequency radio, the text system known as ACARS. In addition, both the airplane manufacturer and the engine manufacturer have lines of communication so you don’t have to bother pilots with engine readings, exhaust gas temperatures, the RPMs, but what it doesn’t have in that data is position.
“Rolls Royce could care less about where the plane is, it just wants to know how high you are, what the temperature is outside; it wants to know how the engine is working at a particular altitude and a particular temperature environment,” said Harty. “You can sort of work on where it is by looking at outside air temperature. If it’s minus 56 degrees, you’re probably not in Florida. And the pings won’t tell you if it’s zigzagging back and forth toward and away from Viet Nam.
“But where that data is stored, is in the ‘black boxes’ and we need the wreckage first.”
It is very possible someone turned off the cockpit voice recorder with just a flip of a switch.
“My cockpit voice recorder also has an erase button, thanks to the pilots’ union,” said Harty, “and I suppose the flight data recorder could be disabled if the pilot knew which circuit breaker to throw.
“Can we get some of the data on the flight data recorder before they find the flight data recorder?” he asked hypothetically. “The answer is yes, some of that data from Boeing and Rolls Royce pings is probably available. I know what they have and what they’re looking for and it is probably not enough of a proprietary data set that they would not share that with the national security agencies.”
Harty first “took me up” in the 1970s in Cessna 172s and 182s. All of his friends and me knew he would be a success because he took the responsibility of flying people very seriously, and he never missed a check off box on his pre-flight checklist. With his seniority, he pilots the Airbus to coveted locales. His father was a captain for TWA for decades. Both reminded me that TWA stands for “try walkin’ across.”
On March 8, Bailey taxied to the gate at the Paris airport and came to a stop next to a Malaysian jetliner. As he deplaned, he noticed a lot of buzz amongst the Frenchies and his flight crew, so he inquired.
“You don’t know?” they asked.
“Well, I know I’m the all-knowing, all seeing man behind the curtain, but I was kind of busy flying a couple hundred people over here.”
One of the Frenchies motioned to the nearby Malaysian plane and said, “We lost one. In the sea near Viet Nam.”
In part two of this report, Harty describes in more detail the technical operations of Flight 370 and what we may never know, along with his disagreement that it was only the transponder and the Aircraft Communications and Reporting System (ACARS) that were disabled. He will also address why he thinks this mishap could be “another Payne Stewart” where hypoxia led to a Learjet corkscrewing into South Dakota, and the differences between Air France 447’s crash in the Atlantic and this mishap.