Flydubai 981: What Really Happened?

FZ981 Final Alt w desc sm

After a Boeing 737 operating as Flydubai Flight 981 crashed in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don Saturday, preliminary accounts suggested that the plane had clipped a wing or struck the ground with its tail while attempting to land in stormy weather. Indeed, in a story published later that day, RT.com quoted Rostov region governor Vasily Golubev as saying, “The plane was descending and then suddenly dived down. Experts say this was an air pocket that dragged the plane to the left of the runway center. And the plane debris were scattered to the left as well.” Obviously, there is no such thing as an “air pocket.” But it makes intuitive sense that a plane attempting to land in high, gusty winds might succumb to shear at low altitude and low airspeed as it nears touchdown. But this, it appears, is not what happened at all. Frequent contributor Victor Iannello has created a graphic based on ADS-B data transmitted by the plane during its final moments. What it shows is that the plane had descended to land, then aborted the landing and climbed, accelerating as it went. It had already gained 3000 feet altitude and reached a speed of 200 knots when it suddenly plummeted from the sky. Here’s the data in graph form:

FZ981 Final Alt sm This security-camera footage offers a visual sense of what happened:

What happened? Authorities on the scene have found the black boxes and hopefully will have answers soon. For the time being, some have speculated that the plane encountered severe windshear or a microburst, causing it to stall and plummet. But the plane’s descent was nose-down at high speed, so the pilot should have been able to at least attempt to pull up. Personally, I’m reminded of AA587, which crashed in 2001 on takeoff from Long Island after the pilot flying applied to much rudder after encountering wake turbulence from the plane ahead of him on climbout, causing the vertical stabilizer to rip off; the plane dived nearly vertically into the ground. If something similar happened here, parts of the tail should be found at some distance from the main wreckage. Another case that may offer parallels was Kenya Airways Flight 507, which crashed in 2007 while on climbout in bad weather. The pilot lost situational awareness while the autopilot was only partially engaged, the plane entered into an increasingly steep bank, and plunged into the ground. What’s different in the present case is that the plane impacted right on the runway it had been trying to climb away from, implying that it stayed on the same heading the whole time. (That is to say, it hadn’t gone into a roll.) Another unusual aspect of the case was the fact that the pilots had been holding for two hours before making a second landing attempt. I asked Phil Derner, an aircraft dispatcher and aviation expert, for his take. He replied:

For me, as a dispatcher, 1 hour is my max to let an aircraft of mine hold. It’s just a waste of gas; might as well divert and wait for conditions to improve. Shit, even fitting an additional 2 hours of holding fuel to a flight is tough as it is, and then to burn it away in a hold? Also, I only let my flights sit in a holding pattern if I think they WILL get it. If conditions don’t look to be improving right away, I won’t even have them hold…I divert and would rather have them wait it out on the ground. It saves gas, and is safer on the ground. But then again, I don’t know all of the conditions they were facing, what conditions were at their alternate airports, etc. There are so many variables and we just don’t have a lot of info, so it’s tough to determine or judge. But 2 hours….damn.

Meanwhile, on an unrelated topic, I might as well put up a picture of the latest piece of aircraft debris, this one found on a beach in South Africa. Not many details forthcoming yet, but it’s worth noting that MH370 was equipped with two Rolls-Royce Trent 800 engines. South Africa debris

South Africa debris 2

A quick glance at there not-very-high-res images suggests that the piece is roughly similar in appearance to the two pieces recently found in Mozambique, though perhaps somewhat more discolored/weathered. Apparently the piece is on its way to Malaysia.

UPDATE: Here’s another picture that @Susie provided a link to in the comments section:

South Africa debris 3

717 thoughts on “Flydubai 981: What Really Happened?”

  1. @warren

    english may not be my native language, but i did not understand what you were trying to say.

  2. @littlefoot

    its due to we are not having the same definiton of the word suicidal.

    one can commit suicide without being suicidal. there are different states: like being depressed (becomes suicidal), or there is no future (so logically end life), or one thinks there are virgins waiting for you in the afterlife (reward). the state of mind is different in all 3 examples.

    when i was using the word suicidal i meant depression. however from the media they all said nothing was wrong with the pilots life, their daily activites, no moodswings, they stayed in character.

  3. “Hishammudin said in an interview that what happened was so terryfing that it must never be revealed to the public.”

    well he was very uncomfortable in a tv-interview when asked about scrambling jets.

  4. @Matty

    “No sooner did we start talking about absence of internal debris, it shows up.”

    Yes, its beginning to sound like Murder on the Orient Express…

    Whodunnit?? Good ‘ole Oleksander there in the corner? Stroking his handlebar moustache, “Mr 50/50 intentional or not”? Or DennisW? Leading us on a wild goose (or rather, barnacle) chase to CI while mwahahah-ing on a deck chair sipping bubbly in sunny Cali? Or myself and my protestations of Malaysian innocence, long absences filled by beach holidays to Mozambique and South Africa (ha! I wish!). Or… dare I say it… heaven forbid… the ultimate sacrilege… (nerves jangling)… our gracious, generous host, gleaning and gouging opinions and moods, and army of unwitting experts at his disposal, busy planning the next Grande Diversion…

    Disclaimer: all characters in this badly written snippet – even those based on real people – are entirely fictional. Please forgive my insolence if I’ve used your names, or alternatively any offence caused by your omission. This can be easily rectified in the next chapter…)

    Hahaha !!!

  5. @Trond, let me say first that you language is no problem. English isn’t my native language either and I also make many mistakes 😉
    Let me say that I agree with your modified statement to a certain degree. There’s a big difference between a suicide because of depression or a suicide as a political statement or terrorist act, although it goes sometimes hand in hand. People can get very depressed because of the political situation and are therefore more ready to sacrifice themselves. And even depressed people sometimes use strange and prolongued methods for killing themselves. You could also argue that the flight to the SIO isn’t so much part of the actual suicide itself but merely a preparation or journey – like a long hike to the place where a person wants to end his/her life. You could even argue that he didn’t have the nerve to end it quickly and pull down the nose and therefore he just let the plane run away until the choice wasn’t in his hands anymore. Some people swim out into the ocean until they don’t have the strength to swim back to the shore. Again: there are as many different methods as there are suicides. The problem with Shah is that nothing in the SIO-suicide scenario seems to fit with what we know about the guy. I could well imagine that he was involved somehow – maybe even prepared to die for his convictions – but I think he would’ve come up with a more effective scheme. And he would’ve let the world know about it.

  6. @Sajid UK,
    That must be it. We’re a chess pool of shady characters and many are desperate to prove that their scenarios are correct. What we are looking at right now is nothing less than the war of the planters. But all planters like apparently a beautiful beach. Forget stencils and distinctive pattern The location quality is a very overlooked common denominator 😉

  7. @amp yes I do believe that debris arriving on a south African beach will have been subjectedited to different physical action than debris terminating on the beaches of Mozambique. The shoreline of Mozambique is sheltered in its entirety by the island of Madagascar which causes the calmer shoreline environment I described. I was once camping on a beach in Beira in a violent storm. The wind and rain were immense but the waves barely altered. There is simply such a short fetch.

    On the other hand the beaches of SA have no such shelter. This makes the sea much more turbulent and the waves more violent. I would therefore expect any debris terminating on an SA beach to be more damaged and potentially more fragmented. I would expect that a piece of debris may spend quite some time in the breaker zone, being dropped on the beach, sitting for a day or so then being picked up by the water again for a spell then being dropped on the beach again, all the time being moved westwards. The SA coast has rocky sections too. Large pieces coming ashore on the rocks would be likely to be dashed to pieces.

    Yes I too witnessed the most extraordinary reuse of materials in SA and Mozambique. I would expect any large unrecognised pieces to be used for something. Body pieces would for example make roofing pieces for a home etc.

    The population density north/east of Durban is I believe lower than that of the garden route coast out to Port Elizabeth and beyond to Durban. The section of coast west of Durban has a string of smaller and larger towns along it.The population west of Durban is most certainly more urbanised. My feeling is that items coming ashore west of Durban have a greater chance of discovery,identification and reporting than items coming ashore to the east of Durban. Indeed this is what we have seen so far – whether or not they turn out to be from MH370.

  8. Warren – a fragment of bulkhead doesn’t really point to a ditch?? And covering the bases it also fits with the accessible-removable-portable-distinctively marked category of debris. If it’s legitimately part of a crashed plane then we now know what happens when people actively tune into debris and keep the eyes open for it. If it’s there, they will notice. But a high impact crash in the search area would have sent hundreds of pieces here and I can attest people were hyper vigilant about anything that appeared on the beach – to the point of stopping for a towelette. If a piece of smashed bulkhead was part of a ditch then it’s a failed ditch – totally. As far as I’m concerned this is a spanner in the works for a lot of people. A lot of people who have really thrown their weight around in the press to think of a few. Smashed bulkhead = no smooth ditch. But where is the Australian debris??

    And also uncanny how developments have often followed the discussions in this blog??? After all that time??

  9. Is it possible that the plane debris that’s been found originated from the MH17 crash site?

  10. @Jeff

    Haha! Thanks for being game for a laugh (I hope Oleksandr and DennisW will be equally as obliging!) Well you are certainly a gracious and generous host (that much is true), and in the process you’ve also managed to create a brilliant forum here. Certainly no place else even comes close!

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