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Expert: Pilot suicide a possible reason for Malaysian airliner’s disappearance

As the mystery of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 deepens and investigators remain baffled, a senior official of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines speculated that the plane's disappearance could be the result of pilot suicide.

CAAP deputy director general John Andrews noted that none of the pilots communicated any distress prior to the disappearance. He explained that a suicidal pilot could have locked out other crew members from the cockpit before making a sharp descent.

"This is only hypothetical… [it would not be] the first time that it has happened… Again, there was no communication made," he said in an interview on GMA News TV's "News To Go" on Tuesday.

With still few clues about what happened, Andrews said pilot suicide seemed as likely as any other cause of what is unfolding as one of the greatest mysteries in aviation history.

Eight incidents of pilot suicide

Since 1976, eight incidents of pilot suicide have been recorded, according to the Aviation Safety Network.

The latest case occurred last year, when LAM Mozambique Airlines Flight TM-470 crashed in Bwabwata National Park in Namibia, killing 27 passengers and six crew members.

The case of pilot suicide that took the most number of lives was that of EgyptAir Flight 990 in 1999, in which 217 passengers and crew were killed.

According to the Washington Post, aviation experts were looking into pilot suicide as a possible cause of the plane's disappearance.

No electronic trail

Andrews explained that the transponder, which continuously sends out signals so that radar sites will be able to pick up a plane's position and altitude, can only be turned off by the pilot.

He added that if the airplane nose-dived from about 35,000 feet towards the sea, the pilot would still have had enough time to send a distress call.

Past midnight on Saturday, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 lost contact with air traffic controllers about an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur en route to Beijing. There were 227 passengers and 12 crew on board the Boeing 777-20ER, a plane with an excellent safety record.

Terrorism unlikely

Andrews noted that a mid-air explosion due to mechanical failure or terrorism was "very unlikely" because the debris should have been seen by this time.

"Kung kunyari sumabog ang eroplano, wala talaga makakatawag. Kung sumabog sa taas more than six miles in the air, 'yung debris nakakalat… lulutang yan sa tubig," he said.

"[Midair explosion] is something very, very unlikely. Such a thing actually almost never happens,” he said.

Andrews added that if terrorists were involved, the pilot would have send a distress call if anyone unauthorized tried to enter the cockpit.

"Kung meron attempt to go inside the cockpit, aside from being practically bulletproof, hindi pwedeng pasukin talaga just up there, if they try to open the cockpit that will give the pilot enough time to issue a distress call," he further explained.

"I think with that it can be possible [to] rule out a terrorist act or a mid-air explosion," he concluded.

Meanwhile, Reuters reported that Thai police believe the two passengers who boarded the flight using stolen passports may not have been terrorists but asylum seekers.

The Boeing 777 has a solid safety record.  According to Reuters, if Flight 370 has crashed, it would mark only the 777's second fatal incident, but the first occurred just last year, when an Asiana Airlines Boeing 777-200ER crash-landed in San Francisco in July, killing three passengers. The Asiana flight was the 777's first fatal crash since it entered service 19 years ago.

Other mysterious disappearances

Like many aviation experts, Andrews was mystified that there was no electronic trail, given that the airplane has a number of back-up systems.

"Whoever is the end receiver of this should have data," Andrews said.

Search teams continue to scour the seas for a trace of Flight 370.

According to Time magazine, there have been mysterious disappearances in aviation history before.

The latest incident was Air France Flight 447, a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris that crashed into the Atlantic Ocean in 2009, killing all 228 passengers and crew on board. It took five days to search for the wreckage and another three years to conclude the investigation. — Rouchelle R. Dinglasan/BM/HS, GMA News