Why computer failure should be examined in disappearance of Malaysian 777

By Byron Acohido, Last Watchdog

SEATTLE, Wash. — Malaysian officials — and the  global media — have fixated on the  pivotal assumption that someone must have deliberately shut down the Boeing 777 twinjet’s ACARS and transponders just before, or around the time,  the co-pilot said “All right, good night.”

But the facts as disclosed  could just as conceivably support a cascading systems failure  scenario. A faulty proximity switch caused the thrust reverser on one engine of a Lauda Air 767 to deploy disastrously while climbing out of Bangkok in 1991. In that case, one of the  pilots is heard taking note of the  reverse thruster cockpit indicator flickering on, just before the reverser deploys, throwing the jet into a deadly dive.

That Lauda twinjet crashed on land, and the  flight recorders were recovered from the wreckage. The recovered data painted a  clear picture of how a cascading systems failure unfolded in a way too quickly for well-trained pilots to react.

Background: Lessons learned from Lauda Air.

Bigger picture: How Boeing pushed edge of the envelope in certifying 777

If the flight recorders of Malaysia MH370 are never recovered, speculation blaming pilot malfeasance or criminal intervention will likely remain in the forefront. Yet someone should be  checking 777 service difficulty reports and airline maintenance histories for any pattern of problems that involve failures of the ACARS, transponder, com and nav systems, separately, and in combination. That should be done if for no other reason than to boost confidence in flights of highly-computerized twinjets over long ocean routes.

Here’s a 777 fly-by-wire failure scenario that should be thoroughly vetted:

1.) A systems malfunction  shuts down the ACARS.

2.) Pilots don’t notice. co-pilot  says goodnight.

3.) The malfunction cascades and the  transponders shut down
4.) Communications systems shut down.
5.) Navigations systems fail.
6.) The cockpit goes dark.  Altitude possibly fluctuates.
7.) Plane deviated from planned route.
8.) Flying with communications and navigation systems knocked out,  the 777  stays airborne over the open ocean until it runs out of fuel.
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