New York: After 2 Deadly Crashes, Is It Safe to Fly on a 737 Max?

Every airline crash is tragic, but the loss of an Ethiopian Airlines 737 Max on Sunday was more than that. It raised questions about the safety of an entire type of aircraft and suggested that a whole a swath of aviation might not be nearly as safe as we’d assumed.

Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 took off from Addis Ababa and went into a steep dive shortly thereafter, killing everyone aboard on high-speed impact. The circumstances were eerily similar to those under which a Lion Air 737 Max crashed in Indonesia five months ago. It’s still too soon to say if the same factors were at play in both accidents, but the coincidences were spooky for some. By Tuesday, Australia, China, Indonesia, Singapore, and the U.K. had grounded all aircraft of that type, as had 25 individual airlines.

Here in the U.S., meanwhile, the three U.S. carriers that fly the 737 Max continued to stand by the plane. After the Federal Aviation Administration announced that it would require “design changes” by April, Boeing said that it would be updating its software and training guidelines. In the meantime, both the FAA and Boeing said the 737 Max remained safe to fly. So who had it right? If your next airline reservation shows you booked on a 737 Max, should you roll with it or rebook?

First, the strictly rational answer: statistically, the 737 Max still has a decent track record for safety. With 350 in service since the type was introduced in 2017, with each flying an average of 3.5 trips per day, the percentage of the planes that have come to grief is quite small. With the investigation into last year’s Lion Air crash still underway, and the Ethiopian crash still so fresh that we know next to nothing about the cause, it’s way too early to conclude that anything’s wrong with the 737 Max.

To be sure, there may be a problem with the plane. A preliminary report into the Lion Air crash suggests that a new autopilot system called MCAS can, under rare circumstances, put the plane into an unprompted steep dive. Even so, that doesn’t mean that the plane is unsafe to fly. It’s a sure thing that every 737 Max pilot is now aware of the MCAS issue and will know how to disengage it if the plane starts to go nose-down.

Passengers don’t need to make every decision on a purely rational basis, however. The natural human aversion to being suspended by invisible forces miles above the earth is such that the traveling public wants flying to be as close to 100 percent safe as possible. If your anxiety is making you miserable, it’s perfectly fine to accept your emotional reality and plan accordingly.

If the majority of the public ends up feeling that way about the 737 Max, then Boeing has a big problem on its hands. A reputation of being unsafe is hard to shake. The McDonnell Douglas DC-10 passenger jet earned the nickname “Death Contraption” and “Daily Crash” after a string of high-profile accidents soon after its introduction in 1971. A fault in the design of a cargo door was to blame for some of them, and the FAA temporarily grounded all DC-10s in 1979. Though in the long run the plane’s statistics weren’t particularly bad, the optics were not sustainable. Four years later, McDonnell Douglas pulled the plug.

If you’ve got an upcoming flight and are keen to avoid the 737 Max, check your reservation to see what type of plane you’ll be on, or run your flight number through a site such as seatguru.com. In the U.S., Southwest has the largest fleet, with 34 737 MAXs, while American has 22 and United has 14.

If you do decide to rebook, be prepared to take a hit: U.S. carriers currently aren’t waiving change fees over passengers’ 737 Max anxieties.

The issue may become moot, however. While the FAA has said it’s in wait-and-see mode until the crash investigations progress further, political pressure may force its hand. On Sunday, Senator Dianne Feinstein wrote to the agency asking it to temporarily ground all 737 Maxes in service with U.S. carriers, saying, “Continuing to fly an airplane that has been involved in two fatal crashes within just six months presents an unnecessary, potentially life-threatening risk to the traveling public.”

66 thoughts on “New York: After 2 Deadly Crashes, Is It Safe to Fly on a 737 Max?”

  1. Thanks Jeff, for a good summary based on what we know now. The UK CAA grounding the B737-8 Max was a bit of no-brainer for them, as few planes in use by British operators. If the cause of the latest crash was the same problem as in the Lion Air disaster, then I think Boeing have big problems and and this updated 737 could quickly become their DC10. I hope the Black Box data is recoverable and is produced quickly to clear things up one way or the other.

  2. @Jeff Wise: “Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 took off from Addis Ababa and went into a steep dive shortly thereafter, …”

    I didn’t see that (a steep dive) in the NYT article you linked to. Is that correct?

  3. @Gysbreght, I guess I’m inferring the steep dive from the size of the crater. It must have augured in rather than come apart in a crash landing.

  4. @ Jeff Wise
    Just read your book. You’re an excellent writer. Very engaging style of writing. Read the whole book in one sitting.
    I also watched the channel 5 interview, and I couldn’t help noticing when you mentioned the ‘planting’ of the debris, you’re voice got lower, and you glanced at the camera.
    Was it deliberate on your part, or was that an ‘off camera’ moment that got included in the documentary?

  5. @CliffG, Thank you! I haven’t had a chance yet to see the doc, so I’m not sure what you’re referring to, but the segment was shot at the home of a couple who live outside New York City–the husband is a cameraman, the wife a producer, and they have a 15-month-old dog with a lot of energy who didn’t like being left out of the fun. So our takes getting interrupted by the dog whimpering or busting into the shot… last year I did a shot for another British production and they came to shoot at my house, and my cat found a spot on a bench just over my left shoulder where he could play with the cord hanging from some blinds. Very hard to convince him to sit somwhere else!

  6. @Jeff
    I realize my prior scenario didn’t stir debate. Just to reiterate. Russian oligarchs lost a good chunk of change in 2013 in Cyprus banks. They then moved some money into 1MDB bonds. When it came out that 1MDB had lost billions in fraud and embezzlement they weren’t going to sit idly by. They couldn’t go public and use the courts because they were laundering the money through these bonds. They fired 2 warning shots. The new government came in and worked to start recovering funds.
    “Malaysia’s finance minister “realistically” hopes to recover 30 per cent of the money misappropriated from 1MDB, the state investment fund from which at least $4.5bn was allegedly diverted.”

  7. Boeing woes continue following the Ethiopian disaster…

    “Boeing shares fell 6.1 percent on Tuesday, bringing losses to 11.15 percent since the crash, the steepest two-day loss for the stock since July 2009. The drop has lopped $26.65 billion (£20 billion) off Boeing’s market value.”

    According to Slashdot, Boeing have just announced they are making changes to the flight control hardware and software…

    “A company spokesman confirmed the update would use multiple sensors, or data feeds, in MAX’s stall-prevention system — instead of the current reliance on a single sensor. The change was prompted by preliminary results from the Indonesian crash investigation indicating that erroneous data from a single sensor, which measures the angle of the plane’s nose, caused the stall-prevention system to misfire. Then, a series of events put the aircraft into a dangerous dive.”

    If the above is true, it seems a strange time to announce it just before the results of the Ethiopian crash are known. Have Boeing shot themselves in the foot by admitting problems with the plane so soon?

  8. @Boris
    Keep in mind Boeing stock was up I think 31% year to date, so it was soaring. 11% drop is significant and could be worse to come.

  9. @TBill:

    Yes, Boeing stocks have been doing really well, mainly due to a firm order book for over 5,000 B737-Max. I’m not sure how many orders this double debacle will cost them. According to Bloomberg…

    “…Indonesia’s Lion Air plans to drop a $22 billion order for Boeing Co. 737 Max jetliners and switch to rival aircraft from Airbus SE as a rift between the companies widens following this week’s crash in Ethiopia, a person with knowledge of the proposal said…”

    Still early days, and much will depend on how well Boeing handle this double debacle. Let’s hope they do a better job than they did regarding MH370.

  10. @Boris
    I would note Indonesia is sitting on the Lion Air voice recorder data. I realize it is confidential but they could characterize what it shows, for example NTSB has done that for Atlas Air already.

  11. Agree with @TBill. I’m not usually a conspiracy theorist but I find it extremely odd that the FAA so strongly supports an aircraft with two seemingly similar fates and came out and said so days before we find out what the block boxes say. Should caution be the prime directive rather than hubris? I was in flight test for 9 years of my career and this is very odd. It also seems quite odd to me that the voice recordings from Lion Air have not been released. Also unusual that Ethiopian officials don’t seem to be selecting US as the destination for recorders to be read. Not sure the world trusts us right now.

  12. @Jeff, I want to applaud you for a great e-book. It was compelling and persuasive. I’ve long admired your theory for being original and still plausible, in the sense that no one has been able to disprove it. While I think you posit too much credence on the plane’s not being found as evidence of its absence, I think you more than make the case — particularly with your VERY compelling new evidence on the Ukrainians. Great sleuthing!

    Reading about Blaine in both your book and in the most recent post got me thinking anew about the provenance of the Reunion flaperon. I haven’t had a chance to review old posts, but what if anything did you/do you make of the August 9, 2012 incident at Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport involving 9M-MRO colliding with the tail of a China Eastern Airlines A340 plane, B-6050. Specifically, in that repair, do we know what happened to the old parts? I know during the flaperon analysis this was covered but I think it’s time for a refresher, because I don’t know where the find the most reliable info. My lingering questions are:

    1. Who repaired the wing?
    2. Was it done in Shanghai?
    3. What happened to the damaged wing?
    4. When we heard that the serial number on the Reunion flaperon matched that from 9M-MRO, what exactly does that mean? From the factory? What of the repair?
    5. Let’s just say the Russians planted the flaperon — would planting the flaperon from 9M-MRD/MH17 have been immediately detected as fraudulent?

    Anyway you get where I’m coming from with these questions. I know it’s been covered so if you could refer me to the most recent/most reliable analysis on this I’d be ever appreciative.

  13. Not to get too crazy here…but was anyone else surprised by the small size of the debris field? What could explain essentially no debris? Did the plane go below ground? Did the debris get picked up before the camera crew arrived? The “parts” looked more like scrap metal. A rusty engine? A bald tire? How does that happen to a 4 month old plane? I saw a pile of dirty clothes but not 150+ suitcases. The passports that were recovered…they all had the exact same crease across the cover.

  14. @Sunken Deal, Thank you! Interesting questions… from what I understand about the serial numbers found inside the flaperon, if it had been taken from MH17 that would have been detected.

  15. @Todd Vernon, Since you wrote your comment the US govt at last gave in to pressure and grounded the fleet. Took too long, IMO, but better late than never.
    Meanwhile, I did a little digging and it seems that when Ethiopian had a fatal crash in Lebanon they sent the black boxes to the BEA. So it seems that the US has never been the destination of choice.

  16. Concerning the Ukrainian passengers on MH370, “Yet when Chustrak and Deineka’s families joined a lawsuit against Malaysia Airlines filed by next-of-kin in a Kuala Lumpur court in 2016, their lawyer said that each man had been earning US$2 million a year.” Might the lawyer have been wrongly instructed with a view to maximizing any compensation that might arise in respect of the deaths?

    Further, this sudden Boeing MAX business is eclipsing the fifth anniversary of MH370’s disappearance. Who benefits from that I wonder? Did Trump instruct the FAA to ban flights at Putin’s request? Probably not, but who knows for sure.

  17. @Ventus, thanks very much — this is indeed a great starting point. I really want to fully understand the 9M-MRO 2012 Pudong tarmac collision and feel that it’s a mini Rosetta stone of sorts to the MH370 enigma. I’ve always thought it to be an unfortunately oft-neglected aspect of this story, and when considered against the backdrop of the mysterious Malaysian warehouse records fire, it just reeks of suspiciousness, like everything else in this whole frustrating saga.

    The flaperon that was found in 2015 was either from:

    1. 9M-MRO, after naturally floating from the SIO crash site
    2. 9M-MRO, after being chopped off the plane from its final resting spot in Kazakhstan and planted by the Russians
    3. 9M-MRD, after Russians looted the MH-17 carcass, and planted in the area for someone to find
    4. the “original” 9M-MRO, but from a Malaysian parts warehouse, having been saved from a post-Pudong 2012 repair
    5. some other 777 from a graveyard (a la Ken St. Aubin’s decoy plane silly-yet-possible theories)

    And the list actually goes on and on, with loads of other possibilities.

  18. @Sunken Deal: Is there any evidence that a small fire in an avionics shop destroyed maintenance records of the wing tip repair?

  19. Well, this is interesting – probably nothing significant, but curious nonetheless… Jeff gets a mention, of course 🙂

    https://www.news.com.au/travel/travel-updates/incidents/death-threats-force-mh370-hunter-blaine-gibson-into-hiding/news-story/777109012716aed1909d3fd728cf73dc

    Authorities are actively investigating a possible link between the discovery of two suspected MH370 fragments that washed up on Madagascar and the assassination of a Malaysian diplomat, it can be revealed.

    Honorary Consul of Malaysia Zahid Raza was gunned down in the centre of the island nation’s capital Antananarivo on August 24, 2017 — eight days after American plane hunter Blaine Gibson handed over the “promising” pieces of debris to local police.

    Mr Raza had been tasked with the job of escorting the wreckage to Kuala Lumpur for analysis but was murdered before he could do so.

    In an exclusive interview with news.com.au, Mr Gibson has revealed those fragments never made it to Malaysia.

    Instead — more than 18 months on — they are gathering dust in an evidence room in a Madagascar police station while the investigation into Mr Raza’s murder continues.

    Malaysian officials recently acknowleged the debris was being held in Madagascar while the local investigation into the assassination continued.

    Mr Gibson said MH370 investigation team chief Kok Soo Chun told him Malaysia had requested delivery of the fragments but had yet to receive a response.

    “The diplomat was murdered eight days after I handed those pieces in,” Mr Gibson told news.com.au.

    “I don’t know if they are related, but the timing is highly suspicious.”

    The refusal of Madagascar police to surrender the parts suggests they are not ready to rule out a possible link between the diplomat’s murder and MH370.

    That’s despite speculation Mr Raza was killed as payback for his alleged involvement in the 2009 abduction of several residents of Indo-Pakistani descent known collectively as Karens.

    “Zahid Raza was the manager of an office supply business, Z & Z Center, in the Malagasy capital. He lived a few years in La Reunion before returning to Madagascar about three years ago to take up the post of consul in Antananarivo,” French-language news website ZINFOS 974 said in an article published a day after the slaying.

    “In Madagascar, his name is associated with the kidnapping of members of the Karen community in Fianarantsoa in 2009. Suspected of having participated, he is imprisoned in Tsiafahy and then in Antanimora prison. He was able to return to his country freely in December 2010, provoking indignation within the Karen community.”

    ‘HE WILL NOT LEAVE MADAGASCAR ALIVE’

    Mr Gibson has been credited with finding more than half of 32 pieces of suspected MH370 wreckage that have washed up on the Indian Ocean islands of La Reunion, Rodrigues, Madagascar and Mauritius and the coastlines of South Africa and Mozambique.

    While only three parts have been declared “100 per cent” because they feature serial numbers that could be matched to the missing Boeing 777, several others are categorised as “highly likely” to have come from MH370.

    Mr Gibson, an American lawyer and explorer who has travelled to all but 10 of the world’s 195 countries and speaks six languages, began an independent, self-funded investigation into MH370 in 2015.

    At first his mission took him to Cambodia and Myanmar to explore the possibility the plane had flown north. He then travelled to the Maldives to investigate (now discredited) sightings by fishermen of a plane on the morning MH370 vanished.

    He also travelled to Australia to explore coastlines on Western Australia and South Australia before the discovery of the first confirmed piece of MH370 — a wing part known as a flaperon — washed up on La Reunion and narrowed down his search.

    In February 2016, Mr Gibson and a local man found a large triangular chunk of metal washed up on a sandbank in Mozambique that became known as the “No Step” piece.

    “I went out and searched along the shorelines, and I started to find pieces of the plane,” Mr Gibson said.

    “Many other people were also finding pieces of the plane, debris that was naturally washing ashore, and they would bring them to me. I told the local people what to look for and offered small rewards.

    “People started questioning how it could be that I was finding all these plane parts — which in fact were found by many different individuals, not just me — and it became another conspiracy.

    “But I was only doing as a private citizen what the authorities should have been doing themselves — which was searching the coastlines where debris started turning up.”

    Inevitably, people started gossiping about Mr Gibson’s intentions, spreading false rumours about the debris having been planted and even suggesting his ability to speak six languages was proof he was a spy.

    The hostility intensified when he took his search to Madagascar, and he started receiving death threats.

    “The death threats began in December 2016,” Mr Gibson told news.com.au. “(On one occasion) Someone called a friend of mine and warned them that I would not leave Madagascar alive. A few months later, the diplomat was murdered.”

    This week a blog by US aviation expert, filmmaker and former CNN commentator Jeff Wise titled “Who is added fuel to the fire

    HORROR NEW CONSPIRACY THEORY

    This week Mr Gibson has found himself the target of a particularly vicious — albeit far fetched — smear campaign.

    A pair of MH370 obsessives, Andre Milne and Daniel Boyer, have accused Mr Gibson of “pillaging” the debris field of MH17 and passing off the fragments as MH370 wreckage.

    “We have identified evidence that said suspect Blaine Gibson has personally tampered with and or planted aerospace debris wreckage in the matter of MH370,” Mr Milne wrote in an email to news.com.au.

    “As such, should evidence be discovered that verifies the crash site of MH17 was pillaged, any and or all parties directly and or indirectly associated with said pillaging ‘may’ be subject to prosecution for participating in a war crime.”

    Mr Boyer aired his allegations in a UK tabloid, telling the Express he found it “suspicious” Mr Gibson had found so much wreckage.

    “It’s hurtful and defamatory and scary, and I’m trying to figure out why they are doing it,” Mr Gibson told news.com.au.

    “The death threats, the stalking, the intimidation has been going on for more than two years. I’ve stopped posting my location (on social media). I do find myself looking over my shoulder in a state of fear wondering if somebody is going to in fact kill me.

    “I don’t know if it’s lone individuals protecting their pet (MH370) theories or if it’s part of a campaign of disinformation or something more sinister.”

    Malaysian Airlines flight 370 vanished on March 8, 2014, 40 minutes into a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, with 239 people on board.

    Satellite data indicates it travelled south for several hours before crashing into the remote southern Indian Ocean off Western Australia.

    However, a three-year search by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) failed to find any trace of the plane.

    A second mission by underwater exploration company Ocean Infinity last year also failed to locate the wreckage.

  20. I’ve just been reading the same article.

    Jeff – Z&Z center is listed on Google as an unfinished furniture business.

    Furniture keeps coming up in this case!

    Interesting that all the countries where the debris has been found have developed their relationships with Russia significantly in the last 4 years.

  21. @Crobbie, Yes, I’m sure there are a great many thoroughly honest furniture merchants in the world but the business does seem to keep turning up in tales of skullduggery…

  22. @Will, For what it’s worth, none of the journalists who’ve written about Gibson’s ‘death threat’ claims seems to have made any effort to validate them.

  23. @TBill: I really like Paul Smithson’s analysis of the improved resolution primary radar data from Kota Bharu. Perhaps it would not be a bad idea to read the time scale markings on Paul’s charts. They are 172.8 seconds (0.002 day) apart. According to Paul’s chart for 10 steps and 39,500 ft geometric height the airplane accelerated from 480 t0 520 kts in 156 seconds. Based on Victor’s SET it would have been climbing and accelerating. The rate of climb varied considerably, between about 100 fpm and about 1000 fpm.

  24. @Brian:
    “…anyone else surprised by the small size of the debris field? What could explain essentially no debris? Did the plane go below ground?…”

    No, I don;t think you’re crazy, the photos from the crash site are very strange. One picture shows the view looking up from the crater at ‘ground zero’ and an estimate from the people standing on the rim it looks like the plane debris is around 50-60ft down. There is no sign of a major fire, with none of the aircraft parts showing blackening or melting, and I would have though a plane laden with fuel would have been engulfed in flame due to the high impact pressure.

    This quote seems to confirm how the crash happened…

    “An Ethiopian pilot who saw the crash site minutes after the disaster told AP that the plane appeared to have “slid directly into the ground.”

    Curiously none of the pieces in any of the photos show the metalwork wrinkling that I would expect after such a major nose first crash. Don’t know what to make of this?

    This is another odd quote from the same article…

    “Boeing’s technical team joined U.S., Israeli, Kenyan and other aviation experts in the investigation of the Ethiopian Airline crash, led by Ethiopian authorities.”

    If true, anyone know why Israel would be assisting the crash investigation team, as I don’t think they have any skin in the game?

  25. Anyone following the Atlas Air 3591 Houston developments lately? I really hope the nefarious pilot chatter is unfounded.

  26. Re Israel and the Ethiopian crash, 2 Israelis were among those killed, and also the non-profit Israel-based NGO ZAKA is on the ground there – they retrieve fatalities after accidents and attacks, unfortunately with much experience in particular with body parts.

  27. @Will

    Yes the death of Mr Raza received a fair bit of discussion at the time. Initial thoughts were petty crime gone wrong, but shifted toward assassination. That Madagascar is keeping the fragments suggests the latter.

    Clearly targeted for a reason, maybe he knew too much.

    Also I note a recent terrible tragedy at two mosques in NZ after a terrorist attack. Thoughts and prayers with the families of course.

  28. @Paul Kaliciak
    Atlas Air is premature to speculate on deliberate act. In fact it is tending to look like control issue…it cannot be exact same issue as 737 MAX becuase it was a 767.

    NTSB will tell us when they have a prelimary cause, so we do not really have to speculate. Unfort. the NTSB in its openness made a wording slip in their last announcement…we should give them some slack as they are infinitely more open communication than most.

  29. @TBill, I hope you are right that it ends up being a control issue. I just worry that the wording “slip” you referred to (at first they used the phrase “control column input” and changed it to “nose-down elevator deflection”) is very telling. Is that a “slip” in the sense that they inadvertently revealed too much, and regret the obvious pilot intentionality that the phrase reveals? Or is there really a basis to believe at this point that there are some control column issues? Did Amazon play some role in this “clarification?” It’s been very much reported that there were no stall warnings, so therefore regardless of where this investigation goes, right now you must acknowledge that this is heading in a very troubling direction. Still, I really can’t imagine how one pilot could pull this off with two others on the deck, other than via some FedEx Flight 705 type of scenario.

  30. @DF:
    Thanks for the info on ZAKA, not a something I’d relish doing, so hats-off to their 1,500 workers who must have one of the worst jobs in the world.

    I came across this article, which may explain the ZAKA involvement…

    ‘Netanyahu talks to Ethiopian PM as Israel pushes for access to plane crash site’
    https://www.timesofisrael.com/netanyahu-talks-to-ethiopian-pm-as-israel-pushes-for-access-to-plane-crash-site/

    Turns out that two Israelis were killed in the crash, and one of them, Shimon Re’em well connected…

    “Re’em was on his way to a business meeting in Nairobi when the plane crashed. Re’em, who was born in Dimona to one of the city’s founding families, later moved to the coastal town of ZIchron Ya’akov. He served in the Sha Bak (Israel Security Agency) and as the personal bodyguard of Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Ariel Sharon. He was working with the security consulting company Shafran at the time of his death.

    According to Channel 13, Re’em also worked with El Al as a head of regional security, and as a security head at two Israeli embassies in South America.”

    So the Israeli involvement through the Israeli PM/ZAKA organisation is no longer a surprise.

  31. @SunkenD
    I know the wording change was awkward mistake. Let’s give NTSB a chance. I am thinking before too long NTSB will establish an initial hypothesis.

  32. Havelock said:

    “I mean MH17 was a different case again, it was a warzone etc. … you want to scare some Malaysian politicians? Surely there are better ways?? Just kill a close associate or family member or similar. ”

    They did kill a close family member and in a very public way – and they went right to the top. Possibly MH17 was a warning or payback. Perhaps both.

  33. Pilot Error Suspected in Fatal Atlas Air Cargo Crash

    Investigators exploring likelihood that crew accidentally increased thrust on approach to Houston airport, sources say

    The Wall Street Journal
    By Andy Pasztor
    March 15, 2019 4:06 p.m. ET

    Federal air-crash investigators suspect that pilot errors, rather than aircraft malfunctions, led to an Atlas Air cargo plane’s nosedive near Houston in February that killed all three people on board, according to people familiar with the details.

    National Transportation Safety Board experts, these people said, are focusing on a likely sequence of events that started with the crew of the Boeing Co. 767 approaching Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport on Feb. 23 inadvertently commanding dramatically increased engine thrust. Turbulent air could have jostled the arm of one of the pilots, causing the engines to rev up to takeoff power, one of these people said.

    The sudden surge in thrust, which the safety board disclosed in an earlier factual update, forced the nose of the plane to pitch upward and startled the cockpit crew, according to these people. Almost immediately, according to the preliminary data released by the safety board, the crew responded by sharply pushing down the nose of the aircraft.

    The board previously said the nose was pointed downward at a 49-degree angle with the plane still about 30 miles from the airport, creating a much steeper descent than a normal landing approach.

    The seemingly disoriented crew failed to regain control—despite commands to pull up from the jet’s high-speed dive—and the wide-body plane plowed into a marshy area.

    The safety board said the crew had the required training and medical certificates.

    The safety board hasn’t issued any final conclusions, and the leading theory currently pursued by investigators could change as more information is developed. A spokesman for the board said it had no comment beyond the factual update released earlier. Boeing had no immediate comment.

  34. @Sunken Deal
    Good post. Sounds like NTSB now has a reasonable initial guess as to Atlas Air crash cause.

  35. What was visibility? Any chance of somatogravic illusion as in Tatarstan Airlines crash? They flew into the ground trying to “pull up” from imaginary dive.

  36. @Sunken Deal

    I’m assuming that everyone has seen the security video of the Amazon crash – perhaps not; it’s at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CKz2TLZfAU4

    I defer to the pilots in the group — does that look like someone trying to recover control? I know he started from a relatively-low 6000′, but jeez.

  37. @Gysbreght
    Thanks missed that last post. It is reasonable. Can you put a rationale behind it? Can you take it back a a few minutes and explain the 2:10 min turn as suggested in the SIR report test runs?

  38. @TBill: The rationale is the Civil PSR data inbound to Kota Bharu. I think the radar points inbound to KB near the cone of silence are accurate and those points clearly show the groundspeed approaching 580 knots. In the following chart I plotted the distance travelled along track versus time. The equation is for the polynome curve fit through the data points. The groundspeed is the first derivative of that equation and is shown by the green line.
    https://www.dropbox.com/s/fasyg9w251xw57k/MH370_PSR_KBinbound.pdf?dl=0

    The SIR test runs are based on the military radar data of the turn-back maneuver. The accuracy of those data near the limit of the radar range is doubtful. If the airplane really turned through 180 degrees in 2:10 min it must have been a pretty sporty maneuver. Perhaps it was, we just don’t know. I am simply assuming no change in power setting from the preceding steady cruise condition.

  39. @TBill: On closer inspection, not terribly sporty:
    484 kTAS turnrate 1.385 deg/s bank 31.6 degrees.

  40. @Gysbreght
    What if we have a little more power due to Left Bus power off and/or bleed air off? Maybe say 2.5% and 5% more.?

  41. @TBill: The airplane wasn’t at max thrust in cruise at FL350 and M.82. Power is not a limiting factor in my scenario at constant total energy. Thrust levers are left where they are in cruise, only pitch and roll control inputs are assumed.

    Also shaft horse power and bleed air offtakes do not change the rated thrust available from the engines. To get more than rated thrust you have to select alternate EEC mode.

  42. Hi Jeff,
    I am really looking forward to getting into your new book. Do you know if it will be coming out on Audible anytime soon?

    Recently also finished Samme Chittum’s book about the Flight 981 (DC-10 outside Paris) disaster and aftermath, and found the similarities stunning, especially with respect to the responses and apparent motivations of McDonnell Douglas back then, and Boeing today with the 737 Max.

    Could you comment on how similar or different you see these two situations, and if there is anything history could teach us about today’s 737-Max scenario?

  43. @Gysbreght
    As you pointed out, the turnback after IGARI looks like an ‘acrobatic’ maneuver.
    As many pointed out in the early days of the investigation, couldn’t this have been the track of a second aircraft that crossed the path MH370?

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