Chapter 3: Plane and Pilots

We are insatiably curious creatures, and we like to move around: two reasons there is big money in newspapers, websites, cable television, and airplane accidents. And we never seem to tire of news, especially if it’s mostly someone else’s news. Not a flattering comment on our proclivities, but not necessarily bad either. We learn from adversity, and that is important. It plays a huge role in how we adapt and progress; and if we do.

At least two cable providers: CNN, and Sky News began almost 24/7 coverage of the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777. That, unfortunately, led to the broadcast and assimilation of a lot of conjecture, wild speculation, and outright fabrication. But in between, we picked up a few facts not widely known.

Boeing 777-200ER:
Among the first things we learned was that Boeing 777 is one of the safest commercial airliners in the world. There are six models of the plane currently in service, and another in development.

MH370, also known by its Registration Number, 9M-MRO, was a model 200ER, meaning Extended Range. It was the first 777 variant built by Boeing. The first 200ER entered service on February 9, 1997 in British Airways livery. As of March 7, 2014, Malaysia Airlines owned 17 Boeing 777-200ERs. But, with the subsequent loss of MH17 over Ukraine in July 2014, the company was reduced to 15 of the planes in its fleet. As of May 2015, MAS owned 13 Boeing 777-200ERs.

When MH370 disappeared on March 8, 2014, only two 777s had been lost in accidents worldwide; and, between those two losses, there had been only three deaths in 19 years of service. But now, just over a year later, four 777 airframes have been lost with a horrific loss of life (a total of 540 deaths from three complete airframe losses).

The first loss of a 777 airframe occurred on January 17, 2008 when British Airways Flight 38 from Beijing crash-landed short of the runway at Heathrow after ice crystals clogged a fuel-oil heat exchanger on its Rolls-Royce Trent 800 engines. There were no deaths, but there were 46 minor injuries and a broken leg.

Then, on July 6, 2013 loss of a 777 airframe included the first loss of life when Asiana Airlines Flight 214 from Incheon Republic of Korea approached too low, and failed to clear a seawall on final at San Francisco International Airport. Flight 214 had been carrying 307 passengers and crew; there were 187 injuries, 49 of which were “serious”; and there were three deaths. All of the fatalities were seated in the back of the plane near the tail. It was the tail that failed to clear the seawall.

Neither British Airways Flight 38, nor Asiana Airlines Flight 214 called the 777’s air worthiness into question. Rolls-Royce remedied the defect that allowed ice crystals to clog a heat exchanger. The other two engine models used for Boeing 777s were General Electric’s GE90 and Pratt & Whitney’s PW4000, and they were not effected.

Similarly, the loss of MH17 over Ukraine, believed to have been shot down by a missile did not call the 777’s air worthiness into question.

The Pilot:
MH370‘s pilot was Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53. He was the father of 3, and had flown for Malaysia Airlines since 1991: four years longer than the Boeing 777 had been in service. He had been an Instructor and Examiner since 2007 and had 18,365 hours of flying experience.

Shah was an aviation and electronics enthusiast, built his own flight simulator, was active on social network websites, and produced “How To” YouTube videos. Shah’s aircraft skills were well regarded.

Shah was politically active in Malaysia. He supported the opposition party, including its leader, Anwar Ibrahim, who had been sentenced to prison the day before MH370 disappeared. There is no known connection between the two events.

Now, more than a year later, there have been no claims of responsibility related to the disappearance of MH370. Similarly, no suicide notes or other parting messages have been found. It simply happened and there is no explanation for it.

In addition to searches and investigations of the Captain’s home, his websites, and his family and associates, the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation reconstructed deleted data found on Shah’s home flight simulator. Nothing suspicious was found.

The First Officer:
MH370’s First Officer and co-pilot was Fariq Abdul Hamid (27), who joined Malaysia Airlines as a cadet in 2007 at the age of 20. He joined Malaysia Airlines in 2007 and became a Second Officer on Boeing 737-400s in 2010. Two years later he transferred to Airbus A330-300s.

In November 2013, Hamid trained to be First Officer on Boeing 777-200s. Flight MH370 was to have been his final training flight. He was scheduled to be examined on his next flight. He had 2,763 hours of flying experience.