A new report into missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has revealed the doomed airliner came from a batch of aircraft beset by potentially disastrous windshield flaws.
The report – written by aviation researcher Mick Gilbert – centres around the discovery that “windshield heater fires” were extremely common in Boeing 777s built in 2002.
The Boeing 777 that operated flight MH370 was also manufactured in 2002.
MH370 disappeared on March 8, 2014 with 239 people on board. It is presumed to have crashed in the southern Indian Ocean and has not been recovered.
In his report Mr Gilbert hypothesised that the combination of a fire (triggered by a windshield heater failure) and leaking oxygen masks caused MH370 to fly unpressurised to its crash site.
Boeing 777 windshields are fitted with heaters to prevent fog and ice obstructing pilots’ line of sight.
Mr Gilbert wrote that in the late 1990s and early 2000s Boeing 777s began to experience “problems with windshield heaters either failing or shorting and catching on fire”.
Through his research, Mr Gilbert concluded: “The rate of incidence of windshield heater fires/failures by years of service for B777s [Boeing 777s] produced in 2002 is more than 12 times higher than the incidence rate for the entire B777 fleet, and more than 30 times higher when compared to the remainder of the fleet (i.e. the fleet excluding the 2002 sub-group).
“9M-MRO [the 777 that flew MH370] was manufactured on 14 May 2002.”
Mr Gilbert told The New Daily in more simple terms: “There were about 1400 777s flying in 2014. Eight had had windshield problems. Of those eight, four came from the 40-odd aeroplanes that were built in 2002. MH370 was built in 2002.”
Leaky oxygen seals grim fate
Mr Gilbert then hypothesises – based on maintenance data – that the pilot’s oxygen masks had a leak, or the oxygen mask hose was torn when the pilot stood up with his oxygen mask on to retrieve an extinguisher to fight the fire.
The mixture of the fire and rapidly leaking oxygen would have been catastrophic for MH370, Mr Gilbert wrote.
“The cockpit displays are liquid crystal and quite vulnerable to heat damage, in all likelihood they would have all been destroyed,” he wrote. “There are no analogue back-up instruments. Moulded plastics such as keypads and switches together with oxygen masks and hoses, headsets and microphones would have been burned or melted.”
The cabin would have suffered a depressurisation and “within 20-25 minutes of the depressurisation event, 5-10 minutes before reaching Penang [via autopilot], almost everyone on board would have been dead”, Mr Gilbert wrote.
He said that even if a pilot had survived, the cockpit controls were destroyed meaning the pilot’s only option would be to fly the plane to a crash point far from humans.
“I believe that MH370 ran out of fuel about 695 kilometres north-east of the ATSB hot spot and about 200 kilometres outside the current search area.”
Mr Gilbert told The New Daily his research has strengthened his belief that mechanical problems and not a “rogue pilot” led to MH370’s demise.
“I got in touch with John Cox, the ex-NTSB investigator, he looked at my work and said he had changed his mind on the probability of the ‘rogue pilot’ scenario.
“He had believed ‘rogue pilot’ was the most likely answer to MH370 … he now believes ‘rogue pilot’ is no more likely than any other theory.”
In August The New Daily revealed Boeing 777s had three emergency incidents in the space of weeks.
The New Daily has contacted Boeing and Malaysia Airlines for comment on the report.
Mr Gilbert’s research comes at the same time as another report, which claims MH370 might have passed six airports where it could have performed an emergency landing after potential trouble struck it.