New clues about MH370 from cockpit transcript?
posted at 2:31 pm on March 22, 2014 by Jazz Shaw
Even in the midst of the Chinese finding something new floating in the ocean, questions continue to swirl around what happened to flight 370. CNN’s Jake Tapper had an interview this morning regarding the release of what is alleged to be the transcript of the cockpit communications from the flight, and it might shed a little more light on the mystery. (The network is quick to point out that they haven’t confirmed that this is the actual transcript, which Malaysian officials had said would not be released for some reason, but why would you fake something this seemingly mundane?)
The Telegraph reported Friday it had a transcript documenting 54 minutes of back-and-forth between the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370’s cockpit and ground control – from taxiing in Kuala Lumpur to the final message of “All right, good night.” CNN hasn’t confirmed that this reported transcript it genuine, and The Telegraph said Malaysia’s prime minister said the transcript wouldn’t be officially released.
The transcript reported by the Telegraph contains seemingly routine conversations about which runway to use and what altitude to fly at.
But does anything stand out?
The report from the Telegraph, as well as the transcript, is available here. The majority of it, as Jake pointed out, is fairly routine, mundane tower chatter, dealing with permission to taxi, take off, what altitude to fly at, etc. But at the very end of the conversation, just before 370 essentially went dark on the radio, there was at least one possible item of interest.
01: 01: 19 ATC: MH370
01: 07: 55 MH370: MH370 remaining in flight altitude 350
01: 08: 00 ATC: MH370
01: 19: 24 ATC: MH370 Please contact Hu Chi Minh City 120.9, good night
01: 19: 29 MH370: All right, good night
This transcript brings us right back to that short, curious communication from the cockpit right at the end of transmissions… All right, good night. But it wasn’t until we saw the transcript that something potentially odd stood out about it. It wasn’t what the pilot said, but what he didn’t say, and that was both his call sign and a confirmation of the instructions he’d just been given.
For those who tend to fly a lot like me, and who occasionally use the in-flight headsets some airlines still offer, you’ve probably listened in on the cockpit chatter. The pattern of identifying yourself on every communication and echoing back instructions is so routine as to be buried in the hind brain of the pilot. This is almost identical to the clear communications protocol in the military. If you’ve ever seen a bridge watchstander in the Navy performing their tasks, the order of business is nearly identical. When the Officer of the Deck gives an order to the helm, such as all engines ahead one third, the watchstander will respond, all engines ahead one third aye. They never just say, “aye.” This is to ensure that they heard the order correctly and gives the officer a chance to stop them if they did not.
Reading through the full transcript, the pilot follows this same protocol. When Air Traffic Control (ATC) tells him, please get on the runway from 32R A10, the pilot responds, runway from 32R A10, copy that. When ATC gives him an altitude and a target waypoint to navigate toward, he repeats the information back. This repeats for pretty much the entire flight, and the pilot say “MH370” in nearly every single transmission, again following the protocol showing ATC that they are being answered by the correct aircraft of the many planes currently in their coverage area.
But on that final transmission, he’s given another order and simply says, All right, good night. Does this show that something else was going on at that point? Many of the aviation experts on cable news are still speculating about a fire in the electronics bay or a massive decompression, but this probably wouldn’t be the cause of a sudden lapse in the pilot’s communications routine. If that were the case, the pilot certainly may have been too busy to answer at all, but if he was able to take the time to answer, you’d think he might add something like, All right, good night. And by the way, my plane is on fire. Or, before I sign off, I thought I’d mention that the top just ripped off my aircraft.
So what makes more sense? Perhaps he was a bit too busy, along with his crew, beginning to switch off transponders and program a new destination into the auto-pilot. At that point, it might have been more along the lines of, Yes, yes, good night. Leave me alone. Of course, this still doesn’t prove anything. It may have just been a momentary lapse or a sign of a tired pilot being a bit lazy in his comms routine. But it’s darned curious to be sure.