Friday, March 6, 2015

My Ptolemy Problem

As I sorted out the puzzle pieces of MH370, I pondered all of the possibilities. Of course I could not help but to think about what was going on in the cockpit.

As the reported facts began to coalesce from the flotsam and jetsam of different news sources (I must admit I did not watch one second of CNN non-stop coverage), details emerged. The fundamental recurring theme was that after failing to check in with Vietnam controllers, the airplane made a sudden turn away from its path, did some kind of crazy climb to an altitude that seemed implausible, performed a lowish pass back over Malaysia, headed up as if to join airways going to the north west, then turned and headed south towards the Indian Ocean.

This was difficult to wrap my head around. There must have been hijackers on board, some kind of crazy fight for control, then the hijackers must have defeated the crew, and flew…south? Why there? It’s simply ocean. Lots of it. Why would “they” bother to go through all that just to crash in a remote area.

Maybe my premise was wrong.

What about the crew? The horrifying thought that this could be a crew-based incident.

My last blog entry was about decompression/no pressurization accidents. I established documented histories involving what happens when a plane decompresses (or in some cases, fails to pressurize). It’s time to turn towards another taboo topic: pilots who commit homicide/suicide by killing themselves and a plane load of people with them.

And yes, the sad truth is that it does indeed happen.

Pre-dating MH370, a website published some pilot suicide cases: Some of the best known in the industry would be Silk Air 185, Egypt Air 990, and LAM 470. The captain is blamed for two of the crashes after the first officer left the flight deck. In the other, the captain is encouraged to leave the cockpit by the suicidal first officer.

Silk Air 185. The captain is suspected of pulling the circuit breakers to the flight recorders, and taking a supersonic nose dive into the water. The wreckage, or what was left of it, was recovered. The captain’s wife denies that he was capable of such a horrendous act, and is still trying to clear his name. She cited evidence that he called her to remind her to pick him up at the airport to suggest that he had no intention of killing himself.

Egypt Air 990. The first officer in a relief pilot role dove the plane towards the ocean right after the captain left the flight deck. The wreckage was found, and the flight data recorders were recovered. A transcript of the last moments is terrifying to consider the bedlam in the cockpit. The blame placed on the relief pilot is in contention by authorities in Egypt who claim mechanical problems. The family of the blamed pilot expressed outrage that their loved one could have done such a thing. “they are running out of things to say, so they are ruining the guy’s reputation” said his nephew.

LAM 470. The first officer leaves the flight deck, and minutes later the captain starts a nose dive. The cockpit recorder contains sounds of someone banging on the cockpit door, trying (presumably the first officer) to get back in. The wreckage was found, and forensics were able to reconstruct what happened. In this case, there was sufficient motive to suggest why the captain killed himself and passengers. Again, horrific.

There are other whisper campaigns about other pilot-suicide accidents. But these three are the ones that come to mind.

Here’s the thing: in all cases, a pilot leaves the cockpit, in one deliberate deactivation of the flight recorders, and for all three, the wreckage was recovered and a suicidal pilot blamed for the accident. In at least two of these, the families refuse to accept that their loved one could have ever commit such a horrible act.

And in ALL of the pilot suicide cases, aircraft wreckage was found, and forensics established many clues to pin the blame on a pilot.

So that got me thinking about MH370. The awful reality is that it is possible that one of the crewmembers was responsible for the disappearance of the aircraft and people. Which one? I quickly dismissed the first officer. Not enough time, not enough technical expertise.

The captain? Certainly. He had all of the skills required to disable communications, and redirect the aircraft in such a manner as to hide it within the normal traffic, and the knowledge to fly a route to minimize exposure to radar.

But how to prove such a thing?

Putting myself in the cockpit, I imagined how it could be done. The proof? None. Purely conjecture. But I came up with a scenario that explained it all.

Everything. Even the choice to fly south.

But first I have to acknowledge that I have a Ptolemy problem. Claudius Ptolemy was a Greek mathematician who lived in Egypt in the beginning of the last millennium. His claim to fame is that he concocted tables and charts that correctly predict the locations of planets, both in the future and past. His Ptolemaic system of tables were famous for their accuracy. He was also able to correctly predict the troublesome retrograde movement of Mars.

He did all of this amazing work based on the assumption that the Earth was the center of the universe, and the sun revolved around us.

In short, his accuracy was astonishing. But he was also dead wrong.

So let me end today’s blog, as I build my case, by acknowledging that although my theory perfectly can explain what happened, I, like Ptolemy, could have the whole thing based on wrong assumptions. Just because I can give a perfectly reasoned description of what happened to MH370 I could have it all totally wrong.

But I don’t feel I do.

NEXT: Why the South Indian Ocean.


  1. Got to tell you! I am with you so far! Very near to what I tweeted in March 14! only I am Certain 'no proof" just gut and My logic! This was in effect Premeditated Murder 1 There is no way you could do this on a whim! There is no such thing as a Typical Suicide with ability to Know beforehand by their behaviour! in my book! and the Co pilot was a kid!

    Interesting about the Phone call when CP went for coffee! he may have dropped the phone on cabin floor ...Still active....posible ring out from Incoming Call! but obviously not Answered!

    I await with Anticipated Suspense on your "withheld Clue"and Splashdown point!

    Give up Flyboy! Go with Writing!!

  2. Thanks...I've been busy with looking over what Malaysia released the other day before I put out my full theory. I'm going to try and get Part 2 out by 0900 UTC. My withheld clue is a really important component to figuring this out (if my theory is right, that is).

    Thanks for the recommendation...I love to fly, but I also love to write. Maybe I'll write during retirement!