March 27, 2014
Flight MH370: A 'Ghost Plane' Flying On Autopilot After Crew Incapacitated?

Flight MH370 now appears to have ditched into a remote stretch of the Indian Ocean, 1,500 miles southwest of Perth, Australia. Investigators are convinced of at least that much — though not a single physical trace has been found, despite several satellite images of floating debris that may be from Flight MH370. Or it may not.

But how did the stray Malayasia Airlines plane get to that strange and desolate place, and why? Investigators are now starting to believe that by the point it crashed into the water, probably because it ran of fuel, Flight MH370 may have been a "ghost plane."

The phrase sounds like yet another crackpot explanation for the disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200, but it's not. A "ghost ship" is a ship at sea that continues to sail aimlessly when all of its crew are either dead or have abandoned ship.

A "ghost plane" is the same thing, only in the skies instead of the seas — and with an auto-pilot to keep the aircraft on a set course, until the plane can't stay airborne anymore due to empty fuel tanks.

In that scenario, an on-board catastrophe, probably a fire or some malfunction causing a sudden drop in cabin pressure, would have overcome all of the Flight MH370 passengers, the pilots and crew. That would explain the sudden left turn made by the plane shortly after the co-pilot spoke the final words heard by ground controllers, "All right, good night."

The Flight MH370 pilot may have made the turn to get the plane to the nearest airport, Malaysia's Langkawi International, for an emergency landing. But before the plane got there, the pilots either became unconscious or died and the plane continued to fly on auto-pilot, making it almost to the South Pole before running out of fuel and crashing into the water.

The "ghost plane" scenario has happened before, as an article in New York Magazine recently recounted.

One of the most horrifying ghost plane flights, one that may aid in understanding what happened on board Flight MH370, happened in 2005, when pilots of Helios Airways Flight 522 simply forgot to switch the cabin pressure back on after checking a possible leak.

Everyone on the plane passed out and the aircraft flew on auto-pilot until it crashed into a mountain.

Another well-known ghost plane incident involved a private Lear Jet in 1999 carrying top pro golfer Payne Stewart. For reasons investigators never determined, the plane lost cabin pressure about a quarter-hour into its flight, apparently killing the pilots, Stewart and the others on board.

That ghost flight flew for four hours until running out of fuel and spiraling to Earth in South Dakota, thousands of miles from its intended destination, Dallas.

In similar fashion, Flight MH370 apparently crashed thousand of miles from where it was supposed to land, Beijing.