MH370 Landing Gear Was Down at Time of Crash, Say Experts

The Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200ER lost as MH370 in 2014.
Photo: Boeing 777-200ER 9M-MRO. Laurent ERRERA ,CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

LONDON – The reported discovery of a new piece of debris connected with missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 may give a further clue to the final moments of the flight.

The latest discovery

Last month, debris which was claimed to be a part of the aircraft’s landing gear door assembly was retrieved in Madagascar.

The wreckage was confirmed to be part of the undercarriage assembly of a Boeing 777, and was specifically part of the trunnion door.

The existence of the debris was not reported officially until the beginning of this week. Experts claim that the finding of the part makes it highly probable that the aircraft’s undercarriage was extended at the time of impact.

MH370 – What we know

The scheduled flight, carried out a Boeing 777-200ER registered as 9M-MRO, was operating as Flight MH370 for Malaysia Airlines when it disappeared on 8 March 2014.

The aircraft was planned to fly from Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia to its destination, Beijing Capital International Airport.

The crew of MH370 last communicated with air traffic control (ATC) around 38 minutes after takeoff when the flight was passing over the South China Sea.

The aircraft was lost from ATC radar screens minutes later, but was tracked by military radar for another hour, deviating westward from its planned flight path, crossing the Malay Peninsula and Andaman Sea.

It left radar range 200 nautical miles (370 km; 230 mi) northwest of Penang Island in north-western Peninsular Malaysia.

With all 227 passengers and 12 crew aboard presumed dead, the subsequent search to locate the whereabouts of the wreckage of the downed airliner became the most expensive in aviation history.

The search focused initially on the South China Sea and Andaman Sea, before analysis of the aircraft’s automated communications with an Inmarsat satellite indicated a possible crash site somewhere in the southern Indian Ocean.

Several theories were postulated for the disappearance of the aircraft, which ran the gamut of possible depressurization, to hijacking, and the speculation that the Captain, Zaharie Ahmad Shahand, had taken control of the flight as part of a suicide attempt.

The most persistent theory in more recent times focused on the Captain and the contention that the crash was a deliberate, and possibly premeditated act.

Material evidence from Inmarsat data and washed up debris has since supported the fact that the aircraft was under positive control to the point of its touchdown.

This effectively rules out several of the theories which favoured the idea that the aircraft was subject to an uncontrolled descent and crash.

Above: MH370 original search area 2014. Image Credit: Andrew Heneen via Wikimedia Commons

The relevance of the ‘gear down’ configuration

The latest find of part of the aircraft’s landing gear assembly bears a relevance on two counts.

If the assessment by experts that the part is consistent with the undercarriage being in the extended position at the time of impact, it gives further weight to the fact that the crash was a deliberate act.

Furthermore, it calls into question the motives of the pilot in command. With the assumption that MH370 crashed into the ocean (albeit at a location which has not yet been positively ascertained); the standard procedure for a water landing, or ditching, would be to configure the aircraft with undercarriage up (retracted).

A water landing with gear down would cause significant damage to the aircraft due to high drag forces; dramatically reducing the chances of survival by the occupants.

The latest find will perhaps rally calls for renewed investigations into the last whereabouts of the missing airliner.

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