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MH370: Final 12 minutes of doomed flight which killed 239 'revealed'

Mirror logo Mirror 1/03/2019 Tom Davidson

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The MH370 plane crash disaster was caused by a rapid on-board fire which decimated the plane, according to a new book on the tragedy.

Journalist Ean Higgins has spent years investigating the mystery of MH370 which disappeared on March 8, 2014, with all 239 on board presumed dead.

He believes that an onboard fire in the cockpit of the Malaysian Airlines flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing meant it lost cabin pressure and became uncontrollable.

a man looking at the camera: Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, fought the cockpit fire with an extinguisher, the new book claims © Credits: MDM Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, fought the cockpit fire with an extinguisher, the new book claims

In 'The Hunt for MH370', Ean supposes that 40 minutes into the flight the left, pilot-side windshield heater caught fire, burning out some circuits including that of the secondary radar transponder and ACARS system.

The pilots, reacting to the incident, turn off the left electrical AC bus to cut power to the short-circuiting heater, an extract from the new book says on news.com.au.

But they then inadvertently turned off the satellite data unit that makes the electronic handshakes with Inmarsat.

Debris believed to belong to MH370 © FAZRY ISMAIL/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock Debris believed to belong to MH370

With 27-year-old First Officer Fariq Abdul Hamid controlling the aircraft, Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, fought the fire with an extinguisher - both waiting until the crisis was under control before making a radio distress call.

Pilots, writes Ean, are trained that radio communication is the third priority in such an in-flight emergency, after flying the aircraft and setting a heading to the nearest suitable airport.

The drill is ‘aviate, navigate, communicate’, and Fariq made sure he had control of the aircraft by making a short initial turn right, then quickly turning back towards Malaysia and setting the autopilot on course for Kota Bharu.

a man wearing glasses and smiling at the camera: Fariq Abdul Hamid is thought to have been killed in the fire after the cockpit was flooded with oxygen © Credits: ENTERPRISE NEWS AND PICTURES Fariq Abdul Hamid is thought to have been killed in the fire after the cockpit was flooded with oxygen

Ean believes that Zaharie then accidentally pulled the tube from his oxygen mask out of its socket and the flammable gas was dumped into the cockpit, creating a violent fire impossible to control.

Zaharie managed to make it out of the cockpit alive, but badly burnt. Fariq, strapped in, died.

But the emergency soon escalated, Ean believes, with the fire weakening the bottom of the windshield and dislodging it.

Air rushes out of the cockpit and the fire is put out - but the aircraft has suffered major decompression.

Oxygen masks drop for passengers, which provide about 12 minutes of breathable air - not quite enough time for the aircraft to get over Kota Bharu and enable them to make a mobile phone call.

a large passenger jet sitting on top of a runway: Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 vanished suddenly in March 2014 © AFP/Getty Images Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 vanished suddenly in March 2014

Once the fire was out Zaharie returned to the cockpit, but the blaze had partly, but not completely, gutted the flight deck, the book supposes.

Some elements, including the radio, satellite phone and ACARS system, had melted, cutting off all forms of communication.

A badly-injured Zaharie - returning for brief periods to the freezing cockpit - tries to regain control of the aircraft, with the aid of the flight attendant.

Ge turned the left electrical AC bus back on, re-powering the satellite data unit and the flight management system was intact enough to set new headings, although the fire had knocked out the auto-throttle so could not descend.

As MH370 flew over Penang it turned northwest up the Straits of Malacca, away from built-up areas.

a person in a car: The main wreckage of MH370 has never been found © REUTERS The main wreckage of MH370 has never been found

But soon, with his own and his assistant’s portable oxygen tanks running out, and all the passengers and the rest of the cabin crew either comatose or dead, Zaharie accepted the plane could not be saved.

Zaharie turned the autopilot to a southerly heading, pointing the aircraft to nowhere in the southern Indian Ocean and soon MH370 became a ghost flight, exactly as the Australian Transport Safety Bureau said.

It crashed into the ocean, all on board killed.

Ean Higgins says the theory was put to him by former RAAF supply officer, retired logistics manager with Ansett, private pilot and amateur aviation sleuth, Mick Gilbert.

And he writes in   'The Hunt for MH370' it deals with the sub-mystery of why the satellite data unit was turned off for a time, then came back on.

There are plenty of precedents of on-board fires.

Swissair Flight 111 came down in 1998 off the coast of Nova Scotia as a result of a rapidly-spreading fire started by an electrical short circuit, killing 229 people.

The one which Gilbert focused on was EgyptAir Flight 667, an accident involving a Boeing 777 in Cairo in 2011.

The aircraft was still on the ground at the time, rather than in the air on the way to its scheduled destination of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

As the crew were waiting for a late passenger, an oxygen fire, the result of a suspected electrical fault, broke out and spread quickly from a rupture in the tube to the first officer’s oxygen mask.

The blaze melted many, but not all, control features in the cockpit.

The captain ordered the first officer to leave the cockpit and evacuate the passengers while he fought the fire with an extinguisher, but the damage was extensive.

Photos of the EgyptAir Flight 667 cockpit, showing the blackened features from the oxygen fire with some communications and navigation equipment melted, but others not.

The Hunt for M370 by Ean Higgins (Pan Macmillan Australia $32.99) was published on February 26.

Pictures: The mystery of MH370

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