Sunday 22 June 2014

Jumping to conclusions: flight MH370


On 8 March Malaysian Airways flight MH370 went missing.

My first posting was on 18 March (in academia commenting on any issue within 10 days is considered impetuosity of the rashest sort).

I abstract the relevant sections:

Speculation is what we are told we should not do. We should wait for facts. However, speculating is part of being intelligent. Indeed, it is one of its core features. A predator passes behind an obstruction and we speculate which side of the rock they will come out again. Getting the prediction right helps keep us alive. Speculating is what leads us to find out how things work. Puzzles intrigue us because we are curious. We see it as our business to seek for an answer, and begin to distrust the answers we are given. Good. The Enlightenment continues.

Is a having a home simulator prima facie evidence of mental disorder? James Reason, of Human Error, might argue that simulators assist the corruption of reality.

A home simulator might encourage fantasies of being a fighter pilot and of flying fast over hilly terrain, avoiding enemy radars. It might allow the rehearsal of landings in far away airports, off the Malaysian Airways beaten track. It would add a layer of extra skill to even a skilled pilot, who could attempt manoeuvres never allowed in civilian flight. Did the more experienced and older pilot play so many combat fighter games that, at a personal moment of anger or despair, he wanted to try them out for real? Or will it turn out to be no more than a hobby? I see it as a bit more than a mild obsession.

On 23 March I wrote the following:

Consider the following data from Flight Global showing why planes have been lost during level flight, which is usually the safest part of a plane journey.  Sabotage 13, Loss of Control 8, Airframe 8, Explosion or Fire 4, Collision 4, Hijack 2, Ditching 1, Power Loss 1, Shot down 1, Unknown 4 (includes MH370).

In terms of prior probability you would go for sabotage as the primary suspect, followed by loss of control or airframe. Given that no debris was found at the point of last transmission, or nearby, that means that there was no bomb, no loss of control, no airframe disintegration, no explosion, probably no fire, no collision (pretty sure of that), no ditching, power loss or shot down (unless there is one hell of a cover up).

Looks like hijack, in the sense of hijack by pilot for reasons unknown. However, out of  45 planes falling down from level flight before this one, hijack accounted for 2 and unknown for 3. So, looks like unknown, possibly hijack.

On 11 May I wrote the following about the missing flight MH370

So, the Malaysian government faces the worst possible outcome: a Malaysian pilot or pilots took a Malaysian airways plane and deliberately flew it into the Southern Pacific, where it is very hard to find. A Malaysian problem. They have to review their personnel selection and health check procedures, and pilot/cabin staff security arrangements, which are best kept secret. They may have put in a third pilot since then, as a stop-gap procedure.

Today, 22 June, papers are reporting on the results of the enquiry so far: they cannot find anything suspicious about anyone else on the plane; the older pilot had made absolutely no forward engagements beyond 8 March; and had plotted a route to a small South Sea island on his flight simulator, and then deleted it. Investigators have recovered the flight plan and now apparently intend to search in a new location in the southern seas.

So, we cannot jump to the conclusion that the older pilot hijacked the plane. However, everything points that way, and the fact that the pilot or pilots had hijacked the plane was highly likely within a day or so of it disappearing off the radar screens.

Moral: do not jump to conclusions, unless not coming to a conclusion would lead to further loss of life. In the latter case take risks with your reputation and make a judgement call on the basis of probabilities as quickly as you can. Sometimes one has to jump to a conclusion.

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