Monday, April 21, 2014

San Jose to Maui in a Wheel Well: Dumb Luck and Airport Security

First, the good news: the teen is alive, and apparently in good health.

Now, the not-so-good news: a 16-year-old walked or ran to an airliner at Mineta San Jose International Airport, climbed into a wheel well, and wasn't spotted until the flight arrived at Kahului Airport in Maui.

Incredible Good Luck

According to the news, at least one expert is skeptical about the account: although it's hard to see how or why someone would concoct the tale: along with the supporting evidence. My guess is that a teen actually got into the wheel well: and had what my culture calls incredible good luck. I put an excerpt from the San Jose Mercury News at the end of this post. 1

I'm inclined to agree with airport spokeswoman Rosemary Barnes: "No security program is 100 percent." (San Jose Mercury News)

That said, I sincerely hope that folks responsible for airport security will take a long, hard, look at what happened: and what would lower the odds of a repeat performance.

Aside from a desire to keep addled adolescents alive, I'd prefer that nobody be able to reach an airliner and sneak something on board. Distressing as inadvertently killing someone with too little common sense is: allowing someone to plant an explosive device, killing dozens to hundreds of folks, is worse. My opinion.

I'll grant that no system is perfect. Airports have long fence lines, this teen arrived at night: and apparently managed to cross the perimeter without getting spotted on a security camera: "...but that there is surveillance footage of 'an unidentified person walking on the airport ramp and approaching' the plane...." (San Jose Mercury News)

Bottom line? I'm very glad that I don't need to travel by air.

Poikilothermic Protection

A quick science lesson. Most of this will be review, unless you slept through high school biology. Some critters are poikilotherms: their body temperature goes up or down, generally in step with their environment. Humans aren't like that. We usually maintain a fairly steady internal temperature: or our bodies die trying. Once in a while, though, we survive drowning — or sneaking into a wheel well — when our bodies go into a sort of hibernation mode, using a lot less oxygen than usual.

In the news:
Somewhat-related posts:

1 Excerpt from the news:
"Stowaway: San Jose airport security scrutinized after boy's flight to Maui in plane's wheel well"
Mark Gomez and Robert Salonga, San Jose Mercury News (April 21, 2014)

"Authorities say a 16-year-old Santa Clara boy is 'lucky to be alive' after he ran away from home, clandestinely scaled a fence at Mineta San Jose International Airport, and hid inside the wheel well of a plane flying from California to Hawaii in a case that has shone a harsh spotlight on airport security beyond the terminals.

"And according to the FBI, the teen apparently chose his destination at random.

" 'He ran for the nearest plane. This was not a well planned thing,' said Special Agent Tom Simon, spokesman for the FBI's Honolulu office. 'Just a runaway kid with a bad idea.'...

"...That the boy apparently survived -- hours, unpressurized, at altitudes up to 38,000 feet -- literally puts him in rarefied air, as several similar stowaways in the past have died from frigid temperatures, lack of oxygen or being ejected from the plane as the landing gear is lowered.

"The last known person to survive as a stowaway in a flight at least that long was Fidel Maruhi, who in 2000 also hitched a ride in a wheel well from Tahiti to Los Angeles, a seven-plus-hour and 4,000-mile trip where the temperature dropped to nearly minus-50 degrees Fahrenheit. He also reportedly blacked out just after takeoff and survived despite his body temperature dropping to fatal levels....

"...[aviation consultant Jim] Nance went on to say that it would be rare for someone to remain conscious at peak-flight altitudes for more than a few seconds and prolonged exposure would lead to brain death. He also said that without protective gear, the odds of surviving the low temperatures and winds blowing through the wheel well are slim.

"Slim perhaps, but not impossible, according to Federal Aviation Administration study commissioned in 1996 to explore the rare cases when stowaways survived flights in wheel wells. For some of the survivors, the study stated, the cold temperatures caused them to become poikilothermic, akin to a hibernation state where the body's heart and respiratory rates decreased significantly to adjust to the environment...."

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370: Questions; Speculation; and a Few Facts


(From AP, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
"Messages of support for those aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 lie in the viewing gallery at Kuala Lumpur airport"

Sadly, the facts I posted with a prayer request Monday is still true:
  • Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared on shortly after takeoff.
  • The 239 folks on Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 are still missing.
  • The flight left Kuala Lumpur at 16:41 GMT, March 7; and was expected in Beijing at 22:30 GMT.
  • No trace of the airliner, or the people on board, has been confirmed.
  • Folks on MH370 included artists, children, and at least one engineer.
  • Their homes were in China, Malaysia, and other countries.
  • Their family, friends, and associates are understandably concerned.
  • I suggest prayer: for the missing people, searchers, and all connected with this situation.
If you're new to this blog, and still reading, I'd better explain why I mention prayer in this context. I'm a Catholic, living in the United States. I take my faith very seriously, which doesn't mean what you may have read about 'religious people.'

I've been over this before:
Now, about Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370.

"Deliberately Diverted"


(From BBC News, used w/o permission.)
"Missing Malaysia Airlines plane 'deliberately diverted' "
BBC News, (March 15, 2014)

"The communications systems of missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 were deliberately disabled, Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak has said.

"According to satellite and radar evidence, he said, the plane then changed course and could have continued flying for a further seven hours.

"He said the 'movements are consistent with the deliberate action of someone on the plane'....

"Mr Razak told a news conference that new satellite evidence shows 'with a high degree of certainty' that the one of the aircraft's communications systems - the Aircraft and Communications Addressing and Reporting System - was disabled just before it had reached the east coast of Malaysia.

"ACARS is a service that allows computers aboard the plane to 'talk' to computers on the ground, relaying in-flight information about the health of its systems...."
The good news is that investigators seem to have learned from blunders made after the London/Glasgow car bombings, and accusations of Steven Hatfill and Richard Jewell.

No official has said "terrorists did it," as far as I know. Granted, the Malaysian Prime Minister came close.

He may be right. Whatever happened to Flight MH370 is looking more like a deliberate act, and less like an accident.

Lithium Batteries, Signals, and Questions


(From BBC News, used w/o permission.)

Some folks suggested that a shipment of lithium batteries on the airliner might have caught fire. causing a crash. A few cargo aircraft did go down after lithium batteries ignited: but that probably didn't happen to MH370.

Someone turned the aircraft's ACARS off: but either couldn't stop some of the Boeing 777-200ER's automated systems from pinging: or didn't realize that today's aircraft "talk" to the global information network on their own.

Either way, 'I'm alive' signals kept coming from Flight MH370 several hours after it disappeared from radar.

It's remotely possible that Flight MH370's transponder just happened to fail before the airliner just happened to start an unscheduled turn:
"...near the cross-over point between Malaysian and Vietnamese air traffic controllers, the plane's transponder - which emits an identifying signal - was switched off, he said.

"According to a military radar, the aircraft then turned and flew back over Malaysia before heading in a north-west direction...."
(BBC News)
But I think it's much less unlikely that someone wanted MH370 to disappear: and has, so far, succeeded.

Speculation

It's possible that one or both pilots decided to take the airliner off its route. Someone else could have taken over control of the airliner. Or maybe the disappearance of Flight MH370 is the result of an incredible string of coincidences.

My guess is that someone wanted the airliner to disappear.

Maybe Flight MH370's Boeing 777 was supposed to be the weapon in a 9/11-style attack on a target in India, or another country within the airliner's range. If that's the case, we may eventually learn that people on Flight MH370 followed the example of passengers on United Airlines Flight 93.

As attacks in Mumbai and elsewhere show, America isn't the only place hated by some folks.

Or maybe this is a case of Grand Theft Airliner: with kidnapping thrown in for good measure. That might make for a good action movie, along the lines of "Thunderball" and "Airport," but I don't think it's likely.

I would like to hope that the passengers and crew of Flight MH370 are still alive: in life rafts, near a crash-landing in the Himalayas, or even as hostages. But a fear that they are dead.

Maybe someday, years from now, we'll know what happened. Today, we have very little information, a vast array of rumors, and a great many questions.

Profiling and Memory

If investigators find evidence that one or both pilots of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 went rogue, I think profiling of pilots and air crews should be reconsidered.

"Profiling" today is a little like sex was supposed to be in Victorian England. It's something we're not supposed to think about: but do, anyway. I'm not enthusiastic about profiling, racial or otherwise, because it can be an excuse for exercising blind prejudice.

It's not always 'the other guy' who gets hurt. I strongly suspect that Richard Jewell would not have been punished for discovering a bomb, if he hadn't been an overweight white guy. There's the well-publicized sort of profiling that confuses Mexicans, Arabs, and terrorist. That, in my considered opinion, is daft: and wrong.

As a member of a religious minority, I see a very real danger in official sanctions against individuals based on their beliefs. We have enough trouble with individuals who attack Americans who aren't sufficiently "American." (A Catholic Citizen in America (November 25, 2010; April 19, 2011))

That said, it is possible that lives could be saved by not letting pilots with suicidal ambitions fly aircraft.

Finally, although I think it's very unlikely, Flight MH370 may have gotten lost because of some accident.

Remembering Air France 447:
In the news:
Background:

Excerpts from the news:
"Search for Malaysia Airline plane widens, becomes more difficult"
Ed Payne, Chelsea J. Carter, Jim Clancy, CNN (March 16, 2014)

"Nine days in, things have gotten a whole lot more difficult in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

" 'This is a significant recalibration of the search,' Malaysia's acting Transportation Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said Sunday. 'The number of countries involved in the search and rescue operation has increased from 14 to 25, which brings new challenges of coordination and diplomacy to the search effort.'

"The new developments come as U.S. intelligence officials are leaning toward the theory that 'those in the cockpit' -- the captain and co-pilot of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 -- were responsible for the mysterious disappearance of the commercial jetliner, a U.S. official with direct knowledge of the latest thinking told CNN.

"What we know about the cockpit crew

"The official emphasized no final conclusions have been drawn and all the internal intelligence discussions are based on preliminary assessments of what is known to date.

"Other scenarios could still emerge. The notion of a hijacking has not been ruled out, the official said Saturday.

"The Boeing 777-200 ER disappeared on March 8, en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. The airline's CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said Sunday the missing passenger jet took off with its normal amount of fuel needed for the route, and did not have extra fuel on board that could have extended its range...."

"Missing Malaysia Airlines plane 'deliberately diverted' "
BBC News, (March 15, 2014)

"The communications systems of missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 were deliberately disabled, Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak has said.

"According to satellite and radar evidence, he said, the plane then changed course and could have continued flying for a further seven hours.

"He said the 'movements are consistent with the deliberate action of someone on the plane'....

"...The flight left Kuala Lumpur for Beijing at 00:40 local time (16:40 GMT) on 8 March and disappeared off air traffic controllers' screens at about 01:20.

"Mr Razak told a news conference that new satellite evidence shows 'with a high degree of certainty' that the one of the aircraft's communications systems - the Aircraft and Communications Addressing and Reporting System - was disabled just before it had reached the east coast of Malaysia.

"ACARS is a service that allows computers aboard the plane to 'talk' to computers on the ground, relaying in-flight information about the health of its systems.

"Shortly afterwards, near the cross-over point between Malaysian and Vietnamese air traffic controllers, the plane's transponder - which emits an identifying signal - was switched off, he said.

"According to a military radar, the aircraft then turned and flew back over Malaysia before heading in a north-west direction.

"A satellite was able to pick up a signal from the plane until 08:11 local time - more than seven hours after it lost radar contact - although it was unable to give a precise location, Mr Razak said...."

"Satellite Firm Says Its Data Could Offer Location of Missing Flight"
Chris Buckley, Nicola Clark, The New York Times (March 14, 2014)

"As the hunt for the missing Malaysia Airlines jet expanded into the vastness of the Indian Ocean, a satellite communications company confirmed on Friday that it had recorded electronic 'keep alive' ping signals from the plane after it disappeared, and said those signals could be analyzed to help estimate its location.

"The information from the company, Inmarsat, could prove to be a valuable break in the frustrating search for the plane with 239 people aboard that mysteriously disappeared from radar screens a week ago, now hunted by a multinational array of ships and planes that have fanned out for thousands of square miles.

"Until now, that search has turned up false leads: oil slicks, chunks of foam, life vests and other debris unconnected to the vanished plane.

"But a series of electronic pings sent by the aircraft could help the search, which is shifting focus from the confines of the Gulf of Thailand and nearby waters to include the Indian Ocean on the western side of Malaysia.

"Investigators also are looking at the possibility that a shipment of lithium batteries in the cargo hold may have caught fire and felled the aircraft. A senior American official who had been briefed on the contents listed on the plane's cargo manifest said a 'significant load' of lithium batteries had been aboard — raising suspicions because of previous cargo-plane crashes attributed to lithium battery shipments, which can overheat and cause intense fires. But that possibility is inconsistent with information that the plane may have kept flying for hours after it vanished."

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Blogroll

Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.