Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has been missing since March 8, 2014. During that time, there has been a lot of reporting on theories and recovery efforts. The Malaysian government has said the flight was hijacked and recently 11 Islamic jihadists were arrested in connection to the plane’s disappearance. So far, no trace of the plane has been found. This past week, I had the opportunity to interview a personal friend of mine, a pilot for a major US Airline for the past 23 years, who also served seven years in the Navy as a pilot. Kent Thelen sat down with me to answer some questions about Flight 370 and about some of the theories and reports we’ve posted here at Freedom Outpost. He told me that from his experience that for there to be claims that those searching have picked up Flight 370’s black box signal, but be unable to localize the signal is “highly unlikely.”
Thelen currently flies the Boeing 767ER category airplanes and has flown around the world, including the specific area that Flight 370 disappeared in. He has also lived on Diego Garcia (affectionately called ‘Dodge’ by military personnel), a small island that many have speculated was used to either house or refuel Flight 370 for transportation to a more secure location. He knows the area well.
Though Kent has flown in a Boeing 777, he has never actually piloted one, but he is very experienced as a captain in the operations of large wide body jets.
When it comes to the issue of the “black boxes” (actually, two orange cylinders – one which is the flight data recorder and the second a cockpit voice recorder) onboard the aircraft, if there had been an explosion they would have survived and had they impacted water, their beacons would have begun emitting a signal, as they are activated by sea water.
These black boxes are charged by the plane’s electrical system, unless the system has lost power, then they are powered by batteries. These batteries are changed out during routine maintenance to ensure they will last over a long period of time should the devices become activated. While many news sources have been promoting the fact that the devices will operate for 30 days, Thelen says that the batteries can last up to 90 days, according to information he has read. He said while his airline would fall well within the guidelines of scheduled maintenance concerning batteries and other equipment, he also said that he had no way of knowing what Malaysia Airlines maintenance requirements are like.
“I don’t know if they would be as strict or rigid as US airlines,” he told Freedom Outpost. “They have their own sovereign rules and I don’t know what are required by Malaysian authorities or the reliability of the maintenance performed on their aircraft.”
In trying to understand the various theories of what may have happened to Flight 370, I asked about two possible scenarios in which the plane experienced some sort of mid-air explosion (whether onboard or via a missile) or the plane crashing in the water. Thelen told me that, in either scenario, there would be plenty of floating debris. Specifically, he pointed out that not only were there life preservers under each seat, but also that each seat cushion is a floatation device. In addition, any bodies would also float for a period of time. “As aircraft are constructed of lightweight materials, there’s plenty that will float.” So far, we have seen nothing from Flight 370.
“Even a ‘water landing’ would be difficult to perform without tearing the plane to pieces, simply by virtue of the nature of the construction of the aircraft, with very large underwing fan engines and with a likely high sea state,” Thelen told us. “I would expect seat cushions to be washing ashore eventually as they are designed as secondary life preservers…much of passengers’ carry-on would float also.”
Also, he informed us that shoulder fired missiles were not a threat to commercial airliners, unless they were either taking off or landing, as the range of shoulder fired missiles is a fairly short distance. We do know they have been a threat to military helicopters.
Now, Kent Thelen was a P3 Orion Anti-Submarine warfare pilot during his service in the Navy. According to Thelen, “The P3 Orion was a combat aircraft used during the Cold War. Though the P8 Poseidon is the latest successor, the Navy still flies P3s extensively. The P3 is a maritime platform that serves in many kinds of missions, but was designed primarily for anti-submarine warfare.”
He went on to explain that the missions he was engaged in would track submarines based on the noises they put in the water. They would then localize the sub, track it, and finally attack it (though only a simulated attack).
When asked about what the reasoning would be to allow pilots to turn off the ability to track the plane, Thelen laid out for us the fact that there are two ways to track airplanes. First, there is digital tracking with a transponder. This occurs by typical Air Traffic Control radar. If the pilot turns the transponder off, that will eliminate the ability to digitally track the plane.
The second means of tracking is what Thelen refers to as “old World War II radar, where you ‘paint’ the skin of the airplane.”
Just as the sun shines against a mirror and reflects it’s brilliance on the mirror, the same thing occurs with “skin paint” radar, which gets its name for the brightly colored blips it produces on a radar screen via radio frequency energy reflections. This type of radar does not require a talking back and forth feature with onboard data systems. In essence, a signal is put out at the airplane and is reflected back to the source. The technology is commonly known as the primary surveillance radar (PSR).
Some reports have claimed that skin paint radar was used on Flight 370 as it was headed West over the Indian Ocean. This was the same technology employed by the USS Vincennes, a US Navy Ticonderoga-class Aegis guided missile cruiser that shot down Iran Air Flight 655 over the Persian Gulf on July 3, 1988, killing all 290 passengers on board.
Considering Kent Thelen’s extensive experience as both a commercial and Navy pilot, I asked him what his gut instinct was concerning Malaysia Flight 370. “For the record, I tell everyone that when we finally find out what happened, I’ll say, ‘I knew it all along.'” Of course, he said that tongue in cheek. He has also discussed with other pilots he’s flown with about their theories. All have been reluctant to state emphatically what they think happened. “We don’t like to be wrong.”
“The fact of the matter is I have no idea,” Thelen told Freedom Outpost. “This is the biggest mystery in aviation history, in my opinion. There’s no evidence of this thing being ditched, and if this thing landed somewhere, how can you hide something the massive size of a triple seven?” “Scientifically, we can rule out nearly every thinkable scenario and yet we still have a missing 777.”
“P3s were always able to localize,” he said, “because you dropped a DIFAR (Directional Frequency Analysis and Recording) buoy that points to where the sound is coming from, and yet, they say they can’t localize on what they know to be the beacon of that airplane. That, to me, is unlikely.”
“If we could localize on a Russian submarine, that makes much less noise from hundreds of miles away, using convergent zone (CZ) tracking, why can’t we pick that up with a sonobuoy and localize it?” he mused. “That, to me, seems very strange…that they say they can hear it, but they can’t localize on it.”
However, as a hypothetical, when we posted the question that Diego Garcia was used as a landing spot for refueling in order to fly to another location, Thelen told us, “It’s not impossible, but unlikely because for a triple seven to be refueled would require scaffolding… because the wing is so high…I want to emphasize, I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but if this thing is all planned out, then they would have to have scaffolding or a pump truck with a hydraulic lift, then maybe it would be possible…but logistically to refuel this plane would be very challenging to pull off unless it was planned by a large group of people in advance…moreover, if something the size of a triple 7 landed & took off from Diego Garcia, you’d think the island residents would have noticed.”
Having lived on Diego Garcia, Thelen is convinced that a Boeing 777 cannot be hidden there. “It doesn’t seem likely that it landed there,” said Thelen. “But it is possible it did land somewhere…. you can’t rule anything out.”
In a report on Philip Wood, in which he allegedly sent a photo from his phone from Diego Garcia, some speculated that there was no cell service available. However, we know cell service is provided to people at Diego Garcia. Also, according to Malaysia Airlines, they do provide cell service and wi-fi aboard their aircraft. However, Thelen told Freedom Outpost that his airline (which he asked us not to name, though they are a major air service provider in the US) is a pioneer of wi-fi services. The difference in the services is Malaysia Airlines’ services are limited to using land technology, not satellite technology. This would rule out using the plane itself for sending via cell or wi-fi the transmission attributed to Wood.
However, though it has been years since Thelen has lived on Diego Garcia, he believes there would be internet service on the island. “The area of Diego Garcia is called BIOT (British Indian Ocean Territory),” he told us. “The British are the ones that run it, but the Americans are the ones that put the runway there, and for the most part run it.”
“It’s a military base,” he continued. “It’s co-opted by the British and the Americans…and they very obviously do have internet there.”
Thelen went on to tell us that one of his sons, who served in the Iraq war, had internet at a more isolated location, though he did have to pay for it. “It just seems very unlikely that any base where you have military personnel that you wouldn’t have internet,” he said.
Concerning the pilot having a flight simulator in his house was very unusual. “Any pilot I know, and I know pilots from all over the world,… when they get home, the last thing they want to do is climb into something which will remind them of their job,” Thelen said. “I don’t know a single pilot that has something like that in his house. It would take up a tremendous amount of space. So, yes, that is highly suspicious.”
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The most important thing that I gathered during the interview was the fact that we have reports saying that those searching for the aircraft claim they hear the beacon, but a Navy pilot, whose job was locating Russian subs during the period of the Cold War, says that claims of failing to localize make him very skeptical. That gives me cause for concern that what is being reported is not the necessarily the truth.
I have known Kent Thelen for a few years now. He has even graciously opened his home to me on a couple of occasions. I trust what he has to say, and if he says that he is skeptical over the issue of the beacon being found, but not being able to be localized, I trust him. I’m hopeful that the plane will be found soon, though I’m highly suspicious, especially after the reports that Flight 370’s voice recording was edited, that this plane was hijacked for the purpose of being used against the US.
Tim Brown is the Editor of Freedom Outpost.