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air crashes

May 3, 2017

Malaysia analysis of MH370 debris supports mid-air breakup

Malaysia has released an 81 page report into its study of probable pieces of MH370 washed up on Indian Ocean shores

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Damaged seat back panel shown in the cabin of another Malaysia Airlines 777

Malaysia’s MH370 investigation team has published an illustrated set of analyses of proven or suspected fragments of the missing 777-200ER jet which finds likely tension failure rather than evidence of crushing among material that came from both sides of the wing, parts of the tail assembly and cabin fittings or seats.

Don Thompson, who has taken part in various Independent Group studies of the mystery of the loss of the Malaysia Airlines in 2014, says some of these findings support a mid-air failure of parts of the jet rather than an impact with the surface of the south Indian Ocean.

This could be bad news for those who hope that the sunk wreckage of MH370 might one day be found in a comparatively localised and readily recognizable part of the sea bed as proved the case for Air France flight AF447 after it crashed in the mid Atlantic in 2009.

However some of the fragments of likely internal fittings may bear mute witness to the destructive force of water pounding through the cabin, such as the frame of a seat back IFE screen, shown at the top of this post.

The Malaysia ICAO Annex 13 team report draws attention to a small patch of fabric found in the coat hanger associated with this part of the seat back assembly which is consistent in colour to the scheme used in MH370.

Although it doesn’t elaborate on what that material tells us about the forces that stripped the part almost completely bare, they must have been considerable.

Until now forensic insights into the crash of MH370 have largely come from the Australian safety investigator, the ATSB, which managed the sea floor search and commissioned drift analysis from the CSIRO and other modelling as to the possible routes the jet might have flown before running out of fuel.

Malaysia is responsible for the investigation into the causes of the accident, and the safety lessons that might arise from those inquiries.

This debris focused report has been a long time coming, but might to some degree counter the looney tunes nature of much of the on-going general and social media reporting on the search for the truth about the loss of the flight between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing on March 8, 2014, taking the lives of all 239 people on board.

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7 comments

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7 thoughts on “Malaysia analysis of MH370 debris supports mid-air breakup

  1. Dan Dair

    The report seems to only tell us what was already well-suspected and already reported;
    In that, the bulk of the aircraft crashed ‘intact’ into the sea.
    The bigger damaged pieces which have been recovered & analysed, have already been described as suffering powerful impact damage. As I recall there was also talk of ‘hydraulic-force’ damage entering & then bursting things, but that might have been supposition rather than analysis.?

    It has also been previously suggested that during the fuel-exhaustion ‘death-dive’, the airframe would be likely to have corkscrewed downwards, exceeding the safe airspeed & exerting huge G-forces on it.
    It would be no surprise at all if some or all of the extremities; engines, wings, tail, etc, hadn’t separated from the rest of the airframe at this time.?

    1. comet

      Dan Dair said:
      The report seems to only tell us what was already well-suspected and already reported;
      In that, the bulk of the aircraft crashed ‘intact’ into the sea.

      Is that what the report really said?

      1. Dan Dair

        Comet,
        No, you’re right,
        the report says their analysis tells them that bits fell-off whilst it was in the air.

        The ATSB report has already determined that the aircraft parts it has examined were damaged by impact with the water, but either the ATSB or the unofficial investigative group has also said that it is likely that the aircraft suffered some structural loss during the final descent.?

        I was attempting to contextualise the Malaysian report. Obviously, I failed.!

  2. Mick Gilbert

    I don’t know whether you can draw the conclusion that the airplane broke up in mid-air but there can be very little doubt that the debris suggests a high vertical speed impact with the water. I’d even go so far as to suggest that the angle of entry into the water was probably steep (given the way the flaperon, and flap and aileron sections have separated, it almost certainly wasn’t an AF447-style wings level “pancake” impact).

    There are 9 items that definitely came from the right-hand side of the airplane (items 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 15, 19, 26 and 27), 4 items that definitely came from the left (items 8, 9, 10 and 20), 2 from the centreline (items 18 and 22) and 3 items from the interior (items 5, 11 and 16). Then there are items 4 and 12 that could have come from either side and the rest are indeterminate.

    Of the 20 identifiable items, 13 items came from the wings, engine nacelles or wing-to-body fairings and one, Item 12, may have came from the underside of either a wing or a horizontal stabiliser; 8 definitely from right side, 4 definitely from the left. That asymetry is interesting.

    Although only three items have been identified as coming from the interior of the airplane, I think it’s safe to say that there was at least one major hull rupture.

    From the set-to I have found the section of the vertical stabiliser (Item 22) to be intriguing; the vertical stabiliser is one of the most robust assemblies on the airplane and to get a break up like that would have taken a lot of energy. This item also has some very interesting features in terms of damage; there is pronounced fracturing of the inner skin and compression of the internal laminate but there is a marked lack of obvious damage to the outer skin. I was immediately struck by similarities between it and the sort of damage sustained by sections of the tail of Japan Airlines Flight 123. JAL123 was a Boeing B747SR that crashed on 12 August 1985 en route from Tokyo to Osaka after the rear pressure bulkhead failed and the rapidly escaping cabin air blew the vertical stabiliser apart; it remains the deadliest single airplane crash in aviation history. The presence of internal compression damage and the absence of external damage got me pondering whether MH370’s vertical stabiliser might also have suffered a significant internal overpressure and was blown apart from the inside. I have wondered if a near vertical entry of the airplane into the water which rapidly compressed the fuselage and the cabin atmosphere, causing it to blow through the aft pressure bulkhead and vent into the vertical stabiliser might have achieved that sort of outcome. Such an event may also explain Item 3; the “No Step” embossed panel segment from the right horizontal stabiliser.

    Item 10, the section of the left outboard flap is also interesting in that it is the only piece of control surface debris that shows clear strike damage; there is a trapezoidal shaped hole punched clean through it. If I were a betting man I’d say that it had struck the outer tip of the left horizontal stabiliser after it separated from the airplane.

  3. Steve Barrett

    My only concern with this report is that in respect of the laminate composite the words (or similar) ‘appear to have been pulled’ has been used nine times. Kinking or crushing was not reported (apart from one piece). I’m not sure what this means. It could be related to the collection process but this phenomena was not reported in the AF447 debris.

    Also a vertical entry of 9M-MRO into the SIO I thought had been discarded;

    https://blogs.crikey.com.au/planetalking/2015/06/12/mh370-gets-another-dose-of-bad-science-and-poor-reporting/

    1. Mick Gilbert

      Steve, from what I understand the “appeared to have been pulled” means that the fibres failed in tension, that is the material was exposed to a force that tore it apart in one constant and largely unidirectional motion. You get kinking and compression of the fibres when the material is exposed to forces working in different directions at different times, actions such a bending the material backwards and forwards until it breaks.
      The orientation of the airplane on impact in relation to the water has never been proven one way or the other; the article you’ve referenced relates to the somewhat bizarre notion that MH370 performed a vertical entry without any form of structural breakup.

    2. Dan Dair

      Steve Barrett,
      “It has also been previously suggested that during the fuel-exhaustion ‘death-dive’, the airframe would be likely to have corkscrewed downwards, exceeding the safe airspeed & exerting huge G-forces on it.
      It would be no surprise at all if some or all of the extremities; engines, wings, tail, etc, hadn’t separated from the rest of the airframe at this time.?”

      This is all speculation, but plausible, bearing in mind the altitude the aircraft is believed to have been flying at.
      Once fuel-starvation occurred, the aircraft would have been completely uncontrolled until the RAT deployed & the computer systems eventually came back online.?

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