Chris Goodfellow, a pilot of more than 20 years, has presented what he calls "a startlingly simple theory about the missing Malaysia Airlines jet" that is gaining online attention.
Drawing on his decades of flying experience, Goodfellow zeroed in on Malaysia Airlines flight 370's apparent left turn westward, veering off its planned flight route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
New evidence suggests the flight change was manually programmed by one of the pilots.
Why would the pilot change directions?
Goodfellow explains, "We old pilots were drilled to know what is the closest airport of safe harbor while in cruise. Airports behind us, airports abeam us, and airports ahead of us. They’re always in our head. Always." So when something -- it is unclear what -- went wrong on flight 370, Goodfellow "instinctively knew [the pilot] was heading for an airport."
To determine what airport, Goodfellow turned to Google Earth and searched for nearby airports that would follow the plane's southwest trajectory. He identified a likely airport destination: Palau Langkawi, "a 13,000-foot airstrip with an approach over water and no obstacles."
Goodfellow hypothesized that "the loss of transponders and communications" could likely have been caused by a fire, specifically an electrical fire. In the event of an electrical fire, Goodfellow ran through the typical pilot response.
"In the case of a fire, the first response is to pull the main busses and restore circuits one by one until you have isolated the bad one. If they pulled the busses, the plane would go silent. It probably was a serious event and the flight crew was occupied with controlling the plane and trying to fight the fire. Aviate, navigate, and lastly, communicate is the mantra in such situations."
Although electrical fires do not usually produce incapacitating smoke, "an overheat on one of the front landing gear tires" -- possible if the tires of the heavy Boeing 777 were under-inflated as it took off on a hot night from a long-run takeoff at sea level. Tire fires, Goodfellow explained, "would produce horrific, incapacitating smoke."
"What I think happened is the flight crew was overcome by smoke and the plane continued on the heading, probably on George (autopilot), until it ran out of fuel or the fire destroyed the control surfaces and it crashed."
Goodfellow cautioned the public from vilifying the pilots of Malaysia Airlines flight 370, instead calling one of the pilots "a hero" who simply couldn't save his passengers in time.
"Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah was a hero struggling with an impossible situation trying to get that plane to Langkawi. There is no doubt in my mind," Goodfellow said. "That’s the reason for the turn and direct route. A hijacking would not have made that deliberate left turn with a direct heading for Langkawi. It probably would have weaved around a bit until the hijackers decided where they were taking it."