Could MH370 have flown on autopilot after pilots passed out?

Recent information about when the last communication from Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 was made has once again given rise to the possibility of a mechanical failure or abrupt event causing the mysterious disappearance of the Boeing 777-200ER (9M-MRO), an expert says.

Australian commercial pilot and aviation security expert Desmond Ross told the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) that there were a number of possible explanations why MH370 had lost communication.

"One scenario is that the aircraft depressurised for some reason, possibly an explosion causing a hole in the fuselage," Ross told the newspaper.

Ross, who conducted a security review of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in 2005, said the pilots would have recognised the need to descend.

"One of them starts to re-programme the flight management system and sets a low altitude and starts to reset the heading to turn back to Kuala Lumpur," he told SMH.

"However, the pilot passes out before completing the entries into the computer for the new heading.

“The aircraft climbs out of control due to the explosion on board and then stalls at somewhere between the cruising height and 13,700m.

"It falls out of control to the height the pilot had set into the flight management system but does not complete the turn back to Kuala Lumpur.

"This is because the pilot had only partly entered the numbers, (and as such) it flies off on an unknown path.”

Ross, however, said he has no direct knowledge of the investigation into one of the world’s most baffling aviation mysteries.

But he said the more details he sees about the turn-back, the more he believes the plane had ended up not being guided by human hands.

"I have a strong feeling that the flight management system was keeping the plane stable and level.

"But that the heading was knocked out and the aircraft was essentially flying on erratic headings,” he told SMH.

“The apparently large changes in altitude also lead me to think that it was essentially out of control at that point."

Ross said somehow the flight management system had managed to bring the aircraft level and stable at some point.

He said what many people did not know was that the aircraft had to operate within a very narrow airspeed band in the thin air of high altitude.

"Too fast and the plane will go into a supersonic stall, too slow and it will simply fall out of the sky,” he told SMH.

"At these altitudes, the airspeed band can be as narrow as 50 knots and has to be managed very carefully and normally, by the automated systems.

"So, if it got up too high, stalled and fell back to the low altitude, it may have stabilised and flown erratically without being brought properly under control."

Authorities on Monday had backed away from a statement by acting Transport Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein on Sunday that the plane’s automatic reporting system called ACARS was shut down before the co-pilot told air traffic control in Kuala Lumpur ground control “all right, good night”.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had previously said there was a high degree of certainty the system was disabled just before the plane reached the east coast of the peninsula, before the co-pilot spoke in a seemingly calm way.

Malaysia Airlines group chief executive officer Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, however, contradicted the information about the timing of the system being disabled at a press briefing on Monday, saying the final transmission by the co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid may have occurred before any of the plane’s communications systems were disabled. – March 19, 2014.