Medford pilot weighs in on missing Malaysia Airlines plane

, Written by Christine Pitawanich, Posted: Wed, March 12 2014 at 6:40 PM, Updated: Thu, March 13 2014 at 1:16 AM

A Malaysia Airlines plane goes missing and a lot of people are talking about its disappearance.

It's been more than four days since Malaysia Airlines flight 370 mysteriously dropped off the grid.

An unusual circumstance

"It's one of the most unusual circumstances I've ever heard of," said Steve Clary, a pilot who flies for Jet Center Medford.

Clary said he's been a pilot since 1976 and he as well as other pilots are paying close attention to the unfolding events.

"Whatever happened, happened suddenly without warning," said Clary.

"Something really seriously wrong happened on the flight," he continued.

According to reports, the plane carrying 239 people was headed to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur. There were no reports of an emergency transmission from the plane. Clary said in cases of a catastrophe in the cockpit, there's usually time to at least alert air traffic control that something is wrong; that did not happen.

Questions arise about the transponder

One of the most bizarre parts of the mystery is the transponder stopped working mid-flight.

"It's a radio on the aircraft that specifically talks to radar," Clary said.

"It gives not only the location but it gives the speed and the altitude of the aircraft," he explained.

In addition, the transponder can be used to communicate with air traffic control if radio goes down. Clary said there are codes on the transponder that can tell officials on the ground if the plane has lost radio communication, is in an emergency, or has been hijacked.

Why did the transponder stop working?

According to Clary, someone would have to manually override the system to get it to turn off. He said transponders in most planes are automatic.

He said he's never heard of someone deciding to switch it off.

"Which leads us to all sorts of speculation about what's going on in the cockpit of the aircraft," Clary said.

Clary indicated an electrical power failure could also be to blame for the transponder going down.

"[It] would have to be dramatic. They have so many backup systems, multiple transponders."

In addition, he said in many commercial airplanes, the system is redundant with power sources being backed up to prevent failure.

According to Clary, the only reasons a pilot might turn a transponder off, is if it were sending out erroneous information or under the orders of air traffic control.

Plane may have headed back in opposite direction

Now there's also new information that the plane may have done a u-turn before disappearing from radar. Clary said a pilot would not willingly divert from the course, especially with no radio communication or the transponder being down, without permission from officials on the ground since there would be risk of collision with another aircraft.

The mystery continues to deepen as each day passes without answers.

Pilots say it's still safe to fly

Clary said regardless of what happened to Malaysia Airlines flight 370, planes don't just fall out of the sky and travelers should rest easy because flying is still the safest way to travel.

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About the Author

Christine Pitawanich

Christine Pitawanich was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest. In 2010, she received a master's degree in Broadcast Journalism from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University in New York.

Christine also has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications from the University of Washington.

Before joining the NBC5 News team, she had the opportunity to file reports from Washington D.C. for WFFT FOX Ft. Wayne News in Indiana. Christine has also interned at KOMO-TV in Seattle.

Christine loves to ski, try new food and have fun in the outdoors.

Catch Christine anchoring weekdays on NBC 5 News at 5pm.

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