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Why blaming the pilots makes no sense

By Les Abend
March 28, 2014 -- Updated 2310 GMT (0710 HKT)
A policewoman watches a couple whose son was on board the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 cry outside the airline's office building in Beijing after officials refused to meet with them on Wednesday, June 11. The jet has been missing since March 8. A policewoman watches a couple whose son was on board the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 cry outside the airline's office building in Beijing after officials refused to meet with them on Wednesday, June 11. The jet has been missing since March 8.
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The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Pilot Les Abend doubts theories that hijackers or pilots brought down Flight 370
  • He says if human intervention occurred, it was likely to try to save the plane, not to doom it
  • Abend: There's no clue of a plot involving both pilots, and it would likely take both
  • He says hijackers would have had touble getting into cockpit and disabling equipment

Editor's note: Les Abend is a Boeing 777 captain for a major airline with 29 years of flying experience. He is a senior contributor to Flying magazine, a worldwide publication in print for more than 75 years. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- Could the tragedy of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 have been the result of human intervention, as many have speculated?

For argument's sake, let's begin with an act of terrorism originating from the cabin of the airplane. Making the assumption that an individual, or group of individuals, gained access to the cockpit through a keypad-coded, Kevlar door, how was it done? Perhaps entry was gained shortly after the now-famous, "All right, good night," message from the co-pilot 40 minutes into the flight .

Theoretically, one of the pilots stepped out for a lavatory break ... or stepped back in from a lavatory break. Terrorists rushed into the cockpit at the very moment the door was opened, an action that had to be well-orchestrated. Such an action would require at least two people positioned in the first class cabin to observe the open door. One terrorist would have to disable the pilot and another terrorist would have to rush into the cockpit.

Les Abend
Les Abend

With the terrorists in control of the cockpit, they would direct the remaining pilot to steer the airplane on a new course. Or the terrorists themselves had enough piloting skills to fly the airplane.

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In addition, inside knowledge beyond that of even experienced 777 pilots would have been necessary to locate the ACARS unit from within the depths of the electronics and engineering (E&E) compartment in order to disable it such that the system no longer was capable of sending automatic data; notwithstanding the logistics of pulling up a portion of the first class galley carpet to gain access to the E&E hatch while using some type of threat to prevent passengers from impeding their progress.

Why pick that moment? Where are they going exactly? Surely, aiming for the middle of the Indian Ocean doesn't accomplish their task to make some type of statement. And if one considers a botched hijacking attempt, how would a group of terrorists fail that badly? For that matter, how could one or a number of crazed terrorists disable a whole 777 to the point it runs out of fuel? A 9/11 scenario with the passengers attempting to disable the terrorists likely wouldn't continue for seven hours. And oh, by the way, information disseminated publicly seems to indicate that none of the passengers had suspicious backgrounds.

Next, consider the theories that cast one or both of the pilots as the villain. If both pilots participated, a carefully crafted plot between the two would have been constructed. No evidence of such a plot has been forthcoming. Besides, this would have required some type of connection between the captain and the co-pilot beyond their airline employment. No extracurricular connection between the two pilots has been publicly established.

Eliminating the two-pilot conspiracy, then only one would have commandeered the airplane. But how would that pilot have disabled the other? A struggle? Would the commandeering pilot have prevented the other pilot from reentering the cockpit after a lavatory break? Then what? Both the captain and co-pilot were equally qualified to fly the 777. If the erratic climbs and descents reported concerning the plane are credible, why the gyrations? Although transport category airplanes are sensitive to hand flying at high altitudes, only an amateur would demonstrate that lack of skill. And to what end would one of the pilots want to seize a 777? Once again, would the purpose really be to run the airplane out of fuel in the middle of the Indian Ocean?

How about suicide? Death by airplane seems farfetched in this case. Why wait till the middle of the ocean to make a statement? Why not attempt suicide immediately after takeoff ... or just prior to landing in Bejing?

Was human intervention involved? Absolutely. But my gut theory as a 30-year airline veteran is that human intervention was involved to save an airplane and its passengers in crisis, not to commit foul play.

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