Kevin Garrison: No answers, but a pilot's view on the case of the missing plane

March 21, 2014 

Kevin Garrison, a retired airline pilot, is a columnist for the Bourboun County Citizen and author of The CEO of the Cockpit.

I hope the Malaysian Air Boeing 777 will be found with all hands healthy and alive.

After the amount of time that has passed, I doubt this is true.

But there is always danger in pontificating about things you don't know for certain, unless you work for CNN or Fox News. Then, it is a profession.

What we do know for certain was that a Malaysian 777 disappeared with hardly a trace while flying to Beijing non-stop from Malaysia. Every little tidbit of information — most of it unchecked and unverified — that has been filtering in from the media and the various governments involved may be totally wrong. This is a dangerous world and each nation is more than a little shy about letting potential future enemies know their capability to track things in the air and the sea.

It is possible that the jet was tracked the entire flight with sophisticated satellite devices, but I seriously doubt it. I know from personal experience that the Boeing 777 is an immense airplane, but the world is so much bigger than even a big airplane that it is easy for it to get lost and stay lost.

I flew the Boeing 777 for a few years during my career with Delta Airlines. I went to school on it, got rated on it and flew it over oceans. While I don't pretend to know everything about the airplane, I know more about it than any of the talking heads you've seen making stuff up on the news channels.

Here are some things I can tell you about the Boeing 777 and flying over oceans:

■ Oceans are really huge. We tend to think of our world as controlled and civilized. The oceans are huge, deep and sometimes angry. Almost none of the oceans have been sufficiently explored for us to think we know very much about them. Airplanes, ships and people have been getting lost in them since the beginning of time.

The Titanic took over 70 years to be found and we knew almost exactly where it went down. How easy will it be to find a sunken airliner in the huge expanse being searched now?

■ There is no air-traffic-control radar over oceans. For example, when we "coasted out" over the Atlantic on the way to Europe, we were on radar only a little over 100 miles over the ocean. Ireland picked us up a little over 100 miles from land on the other side. We all navigated on our own, were unseen by radar and had to make position reports just like you see in old movies.

■ Cell phones don't work over oceans and uninhabited areas of Asia. Who would have put cell towers in the South China Sea?

■ The Boeing 777 is a wonderful airplane. It was designed with pilots in mind and it is absolutely the best airliner I ever flew and I have flown a lot of them. It has the capability to fly from Atlanta to London with a full load of passengers on a half a tank of gas.Think about that: How far could a 777 go if it was empty of passengers and had a full tank of fuel?

■ Do pilots need psychological testing? Maybe, but if you do that, you might lose about half of the pilots flying. Most of us are a little crazy — but not stupid enough to kill ourselves.

■ Why did the airplane keep "pinging" if the pilots had disabled the communications systems?

Because, even though I knew about the transponders and the automatic computer communications and also knew the airplane talked to the ground through data link, I had no idea where to find the circuit breakers for the engine reporting system. I suspect they are below in what we call the "E and E compartment" for electronics and equipment.

I have absolutely no knowledge of the criminal mind or how it works so I don't know where they took the plane. I suspect that if they went to all that trouble, they most likely did not intentionally crash it.

My best guess and hope is that they landed it somewhere on the northern arc of their last known line of position. There are hundreds of old airports that we built during World War II to support airplanes flying the "hump" from India to China.

I hope they are all alive and will be found healthy with a great story to tell. Like I said, though, the world is a very big place and it is possible they will never be found.

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service