No, Larry Vance Did Not Lead the Investigation Into Swissair 111

Those who have closely followed the investigation into the disappearance of MH370 will be familiar with the name of Larry Vance, a former air accident investigator who has caused a big stir with his claims that MH370 glided to a crash landing, rather than plummeted in a dive, as official investigators believe. He made these claims in a 2016 documentary made by Australian “60 Minutes,” and in another released this year.

I never found Vance, or his claims, credible; no serious accident investigator would claim to determine the cause of a crash on the basis of a single piece of debris, let alone one he hasn’t seen in person.

Moreover, he seems not to understand what the different parts of the aircraft are. In the “60 Minutes” documentary, explaining why the trailing edge of the flaperon was torn away, he points to its trailing edge and says, “the flap was extended down and the force of the water would be enormous.” But a flap and a flaperon are different things. Flaps extend down during a 777’s normal approach to landing, as seen in the image above (taken from a YouTube video off a 777 landing in New York), but the flaperons behave differently, bending downward along with the flaps but also moving up and down like ailerons.

Vance makes an equally egregious misstatement when he declares that “most people will agree that the flaps were down–not only were they down, they were fully extended.”

In fact, page 101 of the official Australian final report, “The Operational Search for MH370,”says: “Critically, a section of right outboard main flap (Figure 81) was found near Tanzania on 20 June 2016. The item was shipped to the ATSB for analysis. This analysis indicated that the flaps were most likely in a retracted position.”

This finding competely nullifies the claim that Vance has been trying to make over the last few years, and indeed demolishes the central argument of the “60 Minutes” documentary.

Vance has been treated as a credible source in the press because of his professional background. The bio on the Amazon page for his book describes him as “Investigator-In-Charge for over 200 field investigations, including the Swissair 111 crash investigation.” The BBC described Vance as “a world-leading air crash investigator” and “formerly investigator-in-charge for the Canadian Aviation Safety Board and the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, and has led more than 200 air crash investigations.”

Suspicious, I reached out to the media relations team at the Transportation Safety Board of Canada to find out if Vance really had worked there, and if so in what capacity. I received the following reply:

Larry Vance is a former employee of the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) who occupied the position of Senior Investigator/Operations Specialist with the Standards and Performance Division of the Air Branch. He was with the TSB from 1990 to 2008. During the course of his employment, Mr. Vance contributed to a number of investigations, including the Swissair 111 crash investigation for which the entire investigation team received a Government of Canada Certificate of Recognition. Mr. Vance was not the investigator-in-charge of the Swissair 111 crash. He was one of two deputy IIC. No further details of Mr. Vance’s employment are available as employee records are retained for only 2 years after their departure and then transferred to government archives.

Please note that Mr. Vance’s opinions are his own and do not reflect those of the TSB. The TSB does not endorse any statement made by Mr. Vance.

So there you have it. Vance indeed, actually, once earned his living in the aircraft accident investigation business. But has inflated his bona fides in a way that casts doubt on his truthfulness.

It’s a sad reflection on the state of the media that Australia’s Nine Network had the poor judgement to build a documentary around Vance’s misinformation, and that its message was then amplified around the world by prestige media outlets like the BBC, Time magazine, and the Washington Post.


28 thoughts on “No, Larry Vance Did Not Lead the Investigation Into Swissair 111”

  1. I maybe raising a few eyebrows here. I don’t always agree with Jeff Wise, but we have always had cordial, professional and respectful discussions in private. We’ve gone toe-to-toe at times publicly. But I made a personal commitment to myself at the beginning of this year to try to do better at finding some common ground with those I may disagree with you on some issues of this case. But you nailed it on here today with this piece.

  2. @JeffW
    @Ge Rijn
    Ge Rijn said last thread: “What stands out to me now is from the start all theories and arguments assuming a fully controlled flight by a pilot (and a glide/ditch impact) have been systematically ruled out, ignored and frustrated…”

    With qualification, I agree with Ge Rijn’s sentiment, that the believers of active-pilot MH370 flights theories, which may well be the majority of arm-chair MH370 observers, are frustrated by the apparent complete lack of consideration of this possibility by the powers-that-be.

    The unstated official policy seems to be that we must not speculate unfairly on active pilot motives, because that would be speculation. Therefore, the official search has stuck instead to speculation that the flight was an unintentional ghost flight, which somehow a more fair and just speculation.

    That brings me to Larry Vance, who some feel lacks the technical credentials to speculate that the crash was active-intentional. But we do not have an IG#2 group (better known as FBI or equivalent) to investigate the crash as a crime.

    The MH370 situation is a little like Egypt Air Flight 990, where according to Wikipedia, the NTSB wanted to turn the investigation over to FBI as an apparent-crime. Egypt blocked that move, which forced NTSB to do their best FBI impersonation.

    MH370 we do not have NTSB nor FBI. So nobody has freedom or inclination to think that way. Walking on eggs, we are. Larry Vance to his credit broke a few eggs.

  3. @JeffWise

    Jeff, an excellent post if I may say, and that is praise indeed particularly as I’m not one of your greatest fans ☺️. The Larry Vance debacle shows us that being an “expert” does not necessarily mean that your judgement should necessarily be placed centre stage.

    BTW, the Australian media are not the best people to sort the wheat from the chaff. Their standards are not particularly rigorous. Don’t get me wrong, they are a warm hearted and genuine (MH370 excepted) nation, but they were totally out of their depth when it came to sussing out the facts pertinent to the greatest aviation mystery of all time.

    If you want confirmation of this all you have to do is Google “Sir Les Patterson”. He was a respected Australian politician, no less.

  4. @Jeff Wise:

    Good catch about Larry Vance ‘bigging’ himself up and the that the guy doesn’t seem to know his stuff, despite all his experience in the highly politically charged air accident industry. However, on MH370 he seems to be part of a duo with a guy named Terry Heaslip M.A.Sc., P.Eng, who is the Principal at Accident Investigation and Research Inc. Perhaps he’s the brains of the outfit – his CV is certainly up to scratch…

    “…Terry has investigated more than 1500 aircraft accidents and over 350 motor vehicle, marine and rail accidents. He has also carried out over 1000 failure analyses for government laboratories, AIR and FAIR. He has special expertise in total accident reconstructions to establish the man, machine and environment factors. A prominent lecturer and author, Terry’s numerous publications include the United Nations ICAO Course Manual Investigation of Aircraft Accidents (as Co-author in 1981). In addition, he is a contributing author of the US Air Force Manual for Safety Investigation Techniques (1987). Terry was also an adjunct staff member of several international schools’ faculties of aviation safety (University of Southern California, International Institute of Aviation Safety – Sweden), teaching a broad range of failure analysis and accident reconstruction subjects’…”

    Link to more info here…

    So why is he pushing pilot suicide meme alongside his buddy Larry? I don’t think it gets us much further forward regarding finding MH370.

  5. Tbill: Re: “…active pilot …” and “…apparent complete lack of consideration of this possibility by the powers-that-be….” This claim (“apparent complete lack of consideration”), posted over and over here and elsewhere is 100% false. Why are you repeating it yet again? It is not true. Not even close.

    In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Just because they did not ultimately decide to search as you might have preferred does not mean they did not consider it. They did.

    ATSB considered the active pilot and glide scenarios separately and together from the beginning. They spent considerable time and resources interviewing Hardy (and others that shared his views). They stretched the width to nearly 100 nm in the southern 7th arc area Hardy recommended.

    I know from personal contact with key ATSB officials that they lean heavily towards the active pilot, deliberate diversion scenario. But for how long was an active pilot in control? No one knows or can know from the data available. It could have lasted to only ~18:40, or to the end. The final BFO data strongly supports a rapid descent more consistent with an uncontrolled descent, but even if it was a wacko controlled descent, it had to be consistent with the BFO data, thus a very rapid descent.

  6. This search has officially ended without finding the plane:

    Probably ‘mission accomplished’ for some.
    Sad news for the NoK and all who invested so much with the true intend to help finding the plane and everyone else who has been affected by this tragedy.

  7. Just a technical point; the photo above is a photo of a 777 on the ground after landing with speedbrakes deployed. The following is an extract from the AMM which explains flaperon movement in normal mode.

    “The flaperons droop to 10 degrees TED when the flaps are at the 5 position. They droop to 20 degrees TED when the flaps are at the 15 or 20 position. They droop to 31 degrees TED when the flaps are at the landing position (25 or 30).

    On the ground, the PFCs remove the flaperon droop command in proportion to the speedbrake lever movement from 17 to 55 degrees. When the speedbrake lever goes back to the DOWN position, the flaperons gradually droop to the position commanded by the flaps.”

  8. Jeff Wise said:

    “Flaps extend down during a 777’s normal approach to landing, as seen in the image above (taken from a YouTube video off a 777 landing in New York), but the flaperons do not.”

    Oh yes they do.

    As Oz has also said, but put another way…

    Your statement is wrong and your photo providing evidence of your claim is misleading.

    Misleading because it shows the *only* time during a landing when the flaperons *are* retracted – they retract *only* while the ground spoilers are extended after touchdown.

    1. The flaperons extend as the flaps are extended on approach.

    2. When the ground spoilers are extended to kill lift after touchdown, the flaperons retract.

    3. As landing speed reduces and the ground spoilers are retracted, the flaperons come out again.

    Watch this video of a Swiss 777 landing at Geneva and see for yourself – the ground spoilers come out (and the flaperons retract) at 10:29:

    Edited to add:

    Ah, I see you’ve just changed your text to modify that statement after Oz’s post.

  9. @PS9, @OZ, You were both right and I was wrong, which is particularly embarrassing in the context of calling someone else out for being wrong. But I believe that the essence of my point still stands, namely that a) a flaperon is not a flap, and does not deploy like one, and b) one cannot say that in a ditching scenario the flaperon would be sticking down into and be ripped of by the rushing water. Indeed, looking at images of 777s touching down, it seems that the engine would hit before the flaperons, while the inboard flap sticks so far down that it probably would hit before the engine.

    Here’s an excerpt of Foley’s recent testimony before the Australian Senate:

    “… we also looked at other possible mechanisms for the damage that was evident on that flaperon, and we couldn’t conclude. There are many scenarios that will damage the flaperon. For example, it sits right over the top of engine and in most crash scenarios you’re going to liberate the engines and they’ll come adrift. If your wings are reasonably level, there is going to be consequential damage, and you can’t conclude from a missing trailing edge on a flaperon that it was deployed at that time. So we didn’t make that conclusion.”

  10. @jeffWise. Although I do agree with you that Larry Vance does seem to be eating up this attention and exaggerated his role in Swissair….. I don’t understand the criticism of his theory of how the plane ultimately ended. Obviously no one knows what really happened to this plane until it’s found but he is really just giving his theory about what happened. And is his theory really that crazy? If you look at everything that we know about what the plane did until it disappeared from radar, somebody being in control of that plane till the end is really the most plausible explanation of what happened. I don’t think he’s basing this suicide theory off of one piece of evidence either, as you have suggested. It’s a combination of very few pieces of debris that have been found, the exact point where the plane initially turned back, the plane skirting the boarders of countries to possibly avoid detection, the captain’s flight path on his simulator and so on. It’s really no more crazy than your theory that the plane landed in Russia. I’m not saying Larry is right….obviously no one know what happened but I just don’t understand the criticism.

  11. Andrew, perhaps you might consider the fact that Captain Zaharie is being accused of mass murder on the basis of no evidence whatsoever. To the contrary, there is evidence that this was not a suicide ditching. Vance and others are making these allegations without a thought for the distress that all this causes to Zaharie’s relatives. It is outrageous. How would you feel if it was your brother or husband who was flying the plane that disappeared and was then accused of mass murder?

  12. @Andrew, Valid question. You are quite right to point out that a case can be made that Zaharie stole the airplane, and that the reason that the plane hasn’t been found yet is that after putting the plane into a terminal plunge he had a change of heart and pulled it out into a long glide. “60 Minutes” did not just make this case, however; they presented erroneous information to support it, then declared that it was “case closed,” resulting in headlines around the world that erroneously gave the impression that “experts” has achieved some kind of closure on the case.

    It’s not the theory that bothers me, it’s the misinformation.

  13. “he had a change of heart and pulled it out into a long glide”. Oh , come on. Why? You’ve murdered over 200 people, and 6 hours later and half-way to Antarctica, you want to make a soft landing? If INMARSAT didn’t know they could track him, how would he have known? The controlled glide thing is just preposterous.

    The most rational explanation is that it was a foiled hijacking. The early part of the flight was under direction, the later (zombie) was after the pilots had been killed.

    Remember Sherlock Holmes? “when you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”.

  14. I have a nagging doubt about the importance of the position of the flaperon(s). Perhaps someone can enlighten me.

    Is the flaperon control manual or is it under software control ?

    The 777 is fly-by-wire so, with or without a pilot, would it not have continued to try to stay airborne until it lost lift and hit the water ?

  15. @Andrew

    The extraordinary complexity and deception of this case is difficult to explain with only one culprit who died on the 8th March 2014. Also it is intensely unsatisfactory not to have an airframe after more than four years. Is it reasonable to step into a plane knowing that only one person can make it disappear. Various media outlets and blogs are inferring that this is acceptable.

    Something else is going on.

    Also the post by @David is interesting reading . There are a lot of issues/problems with what Vance is proposing in his book (which I have not read). Its not cut and dried his hypothesis is correct.

  16. I’m not sure if this point has been raised before since I only visit this discussion occasionally, but Vance’s contention that the flaperon trailing edge was “eroded” by water contact is dubious at best. Instead, I think the damage could be due to impact, possibly with the right engine/pylon that separated from the aircraft during a ditching maneuver.

    Pylon designs include a “fuse pin” (at least on the 747, not sure about the 777) which is designed to fail during a hard landing and allow the clean separation of the engine from the wing. This is to prevent rupture of the wing box and a dump of fuel leading to a fire. A ditching maneuver could result in the same sort of engine separation, as occurred in the Hudson River ditching of US Airways flight 1549 when the left engine separated from the aircraft.

    Now that we all agree that the flaperon is drooped along with the flaps during landing, the severe damage to the flaperon trailing edge is consistent with the impact of an engine which has separated from the wing during a ditching maneuver and has been thrust backwards under the wing. The flaperon is located directly behind the engine and would be in the trajectory of its separation.

  17. @Steve Barratt@others

    I also think ‘something else is going on’.

    Indeed like @airlandseaman said; the ATSB initially did consider glide-scenarios within ~100Nm width till ~36S. But why did they abandonded this approuch after? Just when it became more and more clear after the flaperon find a glide and ditch scenario was more likely than ever before? And after more and more, only trailing edge, wing related pieces arrived during 2016 (flap/aileron related, flap-fairing pieces, engine cowling pieces, nose door piece)?
    All without crush damage (only the V. Stabiliser piece had crush damage), no kinked fibres only pulled c.q. only tension related damage on pieces examined by Malaysia?

    Who persuated/ordered the ATSB to narrow the search-width after ~36S just at the time there was more reason then ever to consider a glide and a ditch?:

    The three found interior pieces only prove the fuselage got opened somewhere in a way (I assume the tail section broke off like in Asiana 214). They cann’t serve as evidence of a high speed nose-down impact (on the contrary). The Rodrigues-piece shows no crush damage and seperated too big and too clean with its intact fuselage- and floor edges. It could not have survived a high speed nose-down impact this way especially while it was situated in the far front of the plane.

    The monitor-cover is a clipped on piece which is easily seperated with not much force needed.
    During the Asiana 214 crash-landing several of them seperated. And it was relatively undamaged. No high speed impact needed to seperate this piece the way it did and survived. On the contrary.

    The recovered nose-gear door-piece with its intact edge and no crush damage, to me is finally conclusive proof the plane did not end in a high speed nose-down impact.
    But ditched. No way this piece could survived this way in a nose-down impact.

    The found interior decoration-panel is a very light weight piece with no structural function at all and attached with only the lightest necessary fastening. Those panels are the first ones to seperate and brake in any crash landing (see Asiana 214 interior pictures).

    In fact it’s all so obvious. Why has this been ignored by the ATSB when the info was there? They never adjusted their strategy accordingly. No they even narrowed the search-width after ~36S.
    And OI even narrowed it further.

    Who adviced OI not to take a wider width and ignore the controlled glide/ditch scenarios while so much allready was pointing towards this and mentioned for so long by me and many others?

    And OI narrowed it even further while knowing all this information.
    Who adviced/convinced/ordered them to not widen the search-area along the Broken Ridge trenches or at other ‘hot spots’?
    While I and others tried with numereous arguments and tenancy to motivate them to have a look while it was still possible?

    Who systematiccaly frustrated these assumptions, arguments and views?
    One group I know for sure they did this throughout by all means: the IG.

    And now they are playing nice and start to discuss the possiblities they fiercly attacked before. Easy.. now it’s too late. None of them is taking responsability for their failures now and misguiding advice to OI, or their disgusting, intimidating attitude towards other opinions (Godfrey, Thompson).

    The IG showed themselfs fishy at last. And if Victor Ianello is not behind it himself I would advice him to start screening some of his IG-members at least.
    In the end they are co-responsable for this failed search on a high level. Let not anyone forget this. Especially not the NoK who put so much faith in them.
    They brought you nothing.
    And this was predicted by me and others since the start of this OI search.
    Many of you read what happened during that time on Victor Ianellos blog. How they systematically ignored, ridiculed, intimidated and ultimately banned people for voicing there arguments on an all controlled flight and glide/ditch impact beyond the search-zone.

    Think twice and think good.
    Like @Steve Barrett says: ‘something else is going on’.

  18. @Damon
    ““he had a change of heart and pulled it out into a long glide”. Oh , come on. Why? You’ve murdered over 200 people, and 6 hours later and half-way to Antarctica, you want to make a soft landing?”

    That’s actually a potentially important line of thought. My thoughts are evolving on this. It seems to me (from reading Inmarsat web page) it could be known to saavy pilots that there were hourly pings to Inmarsat, not to mention the satellite phone calls, though unanswered, went through to the aircraft telling both the pilot and the ground that the flight was still in the air as late as 23:14. A rogue pilot might have anticipated the pings would at least be telling us the flight was still in progress.

  19. @PSother

    A FBW system is generally not just an electronic link between the pilot controls and the aircraft surfaces. It can revert to this basic capability, but it can also provide other computer controlled modes. It is common for the FBW system to set roll rate proportional to yoke angle so when hands are off the aircraft somewhat holds a bank angle. It is also common for the pitch rate to be proportional to the push or pull. The angles of the control surfaces are generally not set by the yoke – but reversion to this type of operation following failures is possible. It is possible to design the system to provide a gradual wing leveling function – which is separate from the autopilot.

    I had originally assumed the 777 had a wing leveling FBW function and without AP engaged could keep the aircraft stable all the way into the ocean following engine failure. A Ram Air Turbine (RAT) deploys (without pilot action) to power the hydraulics and FBW. If the 777 had this basic FBW mode, it would glide after engine failure without a pilot.

    BUT, the 777 does NOT have a basic FBW wing leveler. If the wings were level with the pilot incapacitated the aircraft would keep wings because of dihedral following small upsets, but beyond a certain bank angle the aircraft would enter a terminal spiral dive – with the roll rate being actively held to zero.

    If the autopilot remained engaged the aircraft would not have entered a spiral dive and would have glided into the water. But it is most likely that it tripped off. It had to be engaged until fuel exhaustion or the aircraft would have spiraled in much earlier.

    It is logical that the A/P disengaged when both engines failed and that he aircraft banked beyond where dihedral would level it and it rolled off into a spiral dive as ATSB decided.

  20. @Ge Rijn

    Ge Rijn says “Many of you read what happened during that time on Victor Ianellos blog. How they systematically ignored, ridiculed, intimidated and ultimately banned people for voicing there arguments on an all controlled flight and glide/ditch impact beyond the search-zone.”

    Yep, I too am one of those “soldiers” banned for stubbornly refusing to lie down and submit to the IG doctrine. I consider it as an enormous privilege to be called an “asshole”. But be reserved a unique punishment for me. Victor didn’t publicly ban me in the way he banned Ge Rijn and others. No, what he does is subject my posts to moderation, and summarily deletes them! That way he avoids having to justify why he took the extreme measure of banning me.

    And guess what? His newest post is devoted to an even more northerly path for MH370. What an intellectual bankrupt!

    I have advised him many times, too many times that the plane was extremely unlikely to be found where OI were duped into looking. It’s now clear to anyone with just a modicum of perception, that No1: the Malaysians have always had a policy of actively denying the guilty pilot scenario. This forced the ATSB to promote a non-credible search zone further north, and also prevented OI from even considering the heresy of searching any extended glide zone outside the 7th arc. Have you noticed that as the northerly routes were progressively snuffed out by OI’s search operations, the IG top brass in response conspired to move their goal posts ever further north, rather than go back and question the fundamental tenets of the innocent pilot charade. BTY, how can you have a flight begin with a guilty pilot, and end with an exonerated pilot? The pilot was controlling the plane to the very last.

    That No2, the IG were constrained by inflexible dogma and obeisance to the ATSB to follow the innocent pilot line reluctantly pursued by them, and consequently the IG are unwittingly supporting the Malaysian deception of covering up the murder of 238 innocent people. In other words an unwitting and unintended obstruction of justice.

  21. @Rob,

    It is in Malaysia’s interest to never find MH370 if the wreckage would confirm that a crew member diverted the aircraft to the SIO. Bad Bad Bad.

    My view is that MH370 was actively flown by someone across the peninsula and then most likely put on autopilot for the long flight to the SIO.

    Whether or not the diversion pilot (not necessarily the assigned crew) remained in control until water entry can be questioned. An alert pilot could have glided it at the end, could have just let the plane rollover in a spiral dive and watched it until the end, or died en-route after setting up the A/P. Who knows? But a controlled entry is possible. And the pilot could have turned 90 degrees to the west after engine failure and glided 100 miles West just to deviate from a great circle route at the end.

    Going to max glide range around each possible longitude for arc 7 crossing greatly expands the search unless they revisit the DTSG modelling to narrow the probable longitudes for crossing arc 7.

  22. “…If INMARSAT didn’t know they could track him, how would he have known?…”

    However, I’m not sure IMARSAT did not know about the ping rings. They took part in a cross industry team, the ‘Triggered Transmission of Flight Data Working Group’ following the loss of AF447. The service information that INMARST receives is stored on their server.

  23. @Jeff Wise. Nicely written and summarised Jeff.

    A couple of comments. “…..the truth must lie among one of the possibilities they haven’t yet deemed worthy of consideration.”

    Or else it has been missed. That possibility tends to undo the Gallo conclusion, as do all those of your other ‘possibilities’.

    About Gallos’s final, “Turn over controls to a small independent group and let them work out the way forward”, I think a teaming of Boeing and OI would be the most efficient, though it might not with the breadth you and Gallo have in mind.

    In particular I think there is more work which could be done or prompted by Boeing over the next few months which could help clarify whether and where to search next, as I have posted in the other place.

    Who otherwise should be included do you think?

  24. @David, Thank you. As you can see I’ve just posted that piece here, so I’ll be shutting down the comments here.

    To answer your question, I haven’t thought much about who should be on the panel, but I think David Gallo and myself would be good candidates! As a general principle, they should throw the doors open wide, and seriously address the many various issues that they have turned a blind eye to in the past, including the question of the primary radar trace and the issue of how the flaperon floated.

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