Malaysia Jet's Flight Path Raises More Questions Than Answers

Mar 20, 2014
Originally published on March 20, 2014 5:37 am
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Now there have been so many theories about what might have happened to Flight 370. And to sort through some of them, we reached Todd Curtis. He's a former Boeing safety engineer and also the founder of Curtis told us finding the possible remains of that aircraft has been an unprecedented challenge. One initial step, of course, was trying to figure out the plane's last known location based on radar.

TODD CURTIS: Then figure in what the currents and winds may have been for the last 10 days and start searching for surface debris - not where they think it went down, but where the debris may be floating.

GREENE: I wanted to explore with you some of the theories that have been getting a lot of attention and people are talking about in offices and with friends. One I saw all over social media, this former pilot, Chris Goodfellow, contends there was some sort of fire that broke out on the plane. And he said the experienced pilots simply turned the plane to try and land at the closest airport that could accommodate a jet that big. What do you make of that?

CURTIS: Well, that particular theory...

GREENE: Mm-hmm.

CURTIS: a plausible one, but it's one of a broad category of potential activities that could have been going on with the airplane. And that's a broad category of the crew was dealing with some significant system problem or series of system problems - loss of electrics, loss of propulsion; any number of things that could have put them into one an emergency mode. That is, they're going through their checklist and going through their procedures. But probably one that was so overwhelming that they had to go beyond the checklist and execute both initiative and creativity in trying to get the aircraft on the ground.

GREENE: Could this also explain why there was no Mayday call, if the crew is dealing with an event like this? Because we've been told that crews are trained in terms of priority to aviate, navigate, then communicate.

CURTIS: That's correct. The priority is to continue to fly the airplane safely no matter what, and to then figure out a way to land the airplane or fly the airplane in a safe direction. And if you have the opportunity, yes, by all means, communicate with the ground, communicate with the cabin crew, but communication is not a priority.

GREENE: Well, let me ask you about another theory that's been getting a lot of attention. And this one, I mean it strikes me as something out of a James Bond movie. There's an aviation blogger named Keith Ledgerwood who thinks that this plan might have hid in the radar shadow of another flight - a Singapore Airlines Flight that seem to be in the same vicinity. Could that have been possible? Would that have allowed this Malaysia Airlines plane to not be picked up?

CURTIS: It is possible. But is there a documented case - one or more - of this thing ever happening before? Now, of course, military aircraft fly in close formation all the time, that's rather normal. But large jet transports like an airliner flying close in formation, I don't know of a case where this has happened before. Nice theory, I don't see any evidence.

GREENE: Is there any likelihood that this plane could have been landed somewhere and those people are still alive in a place that we just haven't found yet?

CURTIS: The possibility exists. The possibility exists. They could have landed somewhere on the land or somewhere on the water and there could be one or more people who have survived. But it's increasingly unlikely because as time goes on, even if there were a successful landing in any of those two places, these folks have not had any outside help if they were alive somewhere. And if they're on the open ocean in life preservers - and I say life preservers and not life rafts, because apparently, the life rafts have some sort of beacon associated with them. So if you had a water landing and you deployed the life rafts, there should have been some sort of radio beacon.

GREENE: Mm-hmm.

CURTIS: There have been no beacons like that found.

GREENE: Todd Curtis is the founder of He's also a former Boeing safety engineer who worked on the development of the 777 aircraft. Thanks very much for joining us.

CURTIS: Well, thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.