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A Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777-200 aircraft carrying 239 people en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing went missing Saturday and is presumably lost at sea. The twin-jet aircraft was last reported by radar at a cruising altitude of 35,000 feet. Although no wreckage has been discovered in the area where the plane was last spotted, its sudden disappearance suggests the possibility of a terrorist act as opposed to the usual causes of mechanical failure, pilot error, or unforeseeable weather. This concern is increased by the fact that at least two of the passengers were traveling with stolen passports.
Since its launch into commercial service with United Airlines in 1995, the Boeing 777 has had an excellent safety history. Except for the Asiana Airlines crash at San Francisco airport last summer (which was likely caused by negligent pilot training), there have been no fatal crashes involving this type of aircraft.
So far, the only evidence of the downed aircraft is a 12 mile long oil slick in the Gulf of Thailand. Given the likely location of the plane’s disappearance, it could take weeks, or perhaps months, before any of the wreckage is found – most importantly, the "black boxes." While not black per se, these devices are designed to withstand any type of catastrophic loss of an airplane. Each such device has a specific purpose and serves as an essential resource of information to determine the cause of an airplane disaster.
One of the devices is known as the Cockpit Voice Recorder, or CVR. This device has a 30-minute recording capacity, which captures the last 30 minutes of communications between the crew members and with air traffic control. The other device is known as the Digital Flight Recorder, or DFDR. This device records the parameters of over 100 airplane functions, including airspeed, bank angle, positioning of control surfaces such as flaps, ailerons and spoilers, air temperature, and much more. Together, the information harvested from the CVR and DFDR assists investigators in figuring out exactly why this airplane suddenly vanished, whether by an act of terrorism or some catastrophic aircraft failure.
At a cruise altitude of 35,000 feet, any sudden event is likely to have resulted in an explosive decompression and breakup of the airplane. There is much to be learned in the upcoming weeks and months, which can help all those affected understand why this occurred and how something so tragic can be prevented from happening again.
My thoughts and prayers are with the families of the passengers and crew.
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Written by: Jamie and Jordan Lebovitz
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