Illustration for article titled A Problem With The Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 Fire Theory

On Saturday, professional pilot Chris Goodfellow posted a very interesting theory on Google Plus on the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight 370, saying there may have been a fire on board the plane. The theory has gained some massive traction as we all look for the most hopeful solution — but many have failed to notice that Goodfellow later admitted he may be wrong, after hijacking evidence was presented by the Malaysian Government.

Many have wondered why in the world an innocent pilot would turn off the plane's transponder in flight without any communication to the circumstance. Goodfellow offered a great explanation for that, saying:

"For me the loss of transponders and communications makes perfect sense if a fire. There was most likely a fire or electrical fire. In the case of fire the first response if to pull all the main busses and restore circuits one by one until you have isolated the bad one. If they pulled the busses the plane indeed would go silent. It was probably a serious event and they simply were occupied with controlling the plane and trying to fight the fire. Aviate, Navigate and lastly communicate."


Goodfellow proposed that a tire on the nose gear may have over heated on takeoff, and then smoldered once stored in the wheel well below the flight deck. This is plausible if the tire had any undetected damage or was improperly inflated. He explained the Flight 370 pilots may have made the left turn after communications were cut off, because they were going to divert the flight to Palau Langkawi, with a 13,000 foot runway and an obstacle-free approach over water.

Here's the part of Goodfellow's post that I am in disagreement with:

"What I think happened is that they were overcome by smoke and the plane just continued on the heading probably on George (autopilot) until either fuel exhaustion or fire destroyed the control surfaces and it crashed. I said four days ago you will find it along that route - looking elsewhere was pointless. This pilot, as I say, was a hero struggling with an impossible situation trying to get that plane to Langkawi. No doubt in my mind. That's the reason for the turn and direct route. A hijack would not have made that deliberate left turn with a direct heading for Langkawi. It would probably have weaved around a bit until the hijackers decided on where they were taking it."


That last sentence. Would hijackers really seize control of a massive jet with over 200 people on board with no planned destination? Absolutely not. They would immediately demand to be flown somewhere very specific.

Goodfellow's theory is very well-written, and provides a lot of insight from someone with professional experience. It makes sense, and paints the pilots as heroes rather than villains (they may be, we don't know). But here's the kicker — in the comments of his post, he admits that after Sunday's revelation of the hijacking theory from the Malaysia government, the fire theory may be wrong, saying:

"I wrote this post before the information regarding the engines continuing to run for approximately six hours and the fact it seems acars was shut down before the transponder."


In the post's comments, Goodfellow went on to revise his fire theory, adding more detail:

"We know there was a last voice transmission that from a pilot's point of view (POV) was entirely normal. The 'good night' is customary on a hand-off to a new ATC control. The good night also indicates STRONGLY to me all was OK on the flight deck."


But there was no further ATC contact. If you view this from the perspective of the hijacking theory, that's exactly what the pilots would want ATC to think if they had ulterior plans for the flight — "Everything's great. Nothing to see here..."

Goodfellow also said that the reports of the altitude fluctuations may have simply been an error caused by atmospheric anomalies, but said in the event of a fire, maybe they took the plane to the dangerous altitude of 45,000 feet where hopefully the lack of oxygen would extinguish the fire. He said it wouldn't make sense to take the plane to 45,000 feet in a hijacking situation.


But it would have also been an easy way to kill everyone on board.

Finally, Goodfellow proposes that the pilots were overcome by toxic smoke and the plane continued on the same path for six hours after the initial left turn, running on auto pilot and finally exhausting its fuel over the south Indian Ocean.


I initially hesitated to address this theory, for the fact that Chris Goodfellow had revised his theory after the Malaysian government had presented the statement supporting the hijacking theory on Sunday and acknowledges he could be wrong. But because the fire theory had become so popular, I thought it necessary to provide a counter point that correlates with what the satellite data and government agencies are telling us at this time. Some may question the factual legitimacy of the Malaysian authorities, but Flight Club will continue to present plausible theories until the facts are fully known.

This afternoon, a U.N. backed nuclear tracking organization said it had not detected an explosion or plane crash related to the missing flight.


Top image: Palau Langkawi Airport - From Google Earth

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