MH370 was flying at 11 km altitude at a speed of 872 km/h. It is known that some birds can fly at this altitude, e.g. the Rüppell's vulture. So, could such a bird hitting the windscreen at roughly 900 km/h cause cracks that would lead to decompression? And would such a scenario fit the known facts about MH370?
closed as primarily opinion-based by DeltaLima, Danny Beckett, SSumner, CGCampbell, Steve V. Sep 29 '14 at 4:34
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would such a scenario fit the known facts about MH370?
The evidence presented by the team searching for the aircraft includes
- No voice communications using any of multiple radio systems available to cockpit crew.
- Transponder ceased responding to secondary radar.
- ADS-B transmissions ceased.
- ACARS transmission ceased.
- Aircraft made a change of course back across Malaysia
- Malaysian military tracked an aircraft believed to be MH370 apparently following waypoints in the Malacca straights (suggesting another change of course)
- Satellite data appears to show MH370 then flying to the south for many hours on autopilot until it ran out of fuel.
It isn't clear how a bird strike could disable the pilots and also cause the failure of all automated communication systems whilst allowing the autopilot (presumably) to make several turns and then fly the aircraft into the southern Indian ocean.
People have advanced many ideas about MH370. It isn't immediately obvious that this idea fits what is known any better than many of the other ideas.
Based on this list of high-flying birds, there are only two that seem to have any possibility of being present in the area at that altitude at the time. These are the common crane and the bar-headed goose.
The regulations on airliner windscreens say that they must not let a 4 lb bird penetrate at cruise speed at sea level.
The common crane weighs 10 lb on average, and the bar-headed goose 5.5 lb on average.
This means that the plane could encounter a bird over twice as heavy as designed for, at airspeeds almost twice as much as designed for. This could certainly cause the windsheild to fail, resulting in decompression.
An aircraft windshield has failed at altitude before, though for a different reason. Despite sucking one pilot partially out of the cockpit, the remaining pilot was able to land the aircraft safely.
In conclusion, it is possible, but from experience highly unlikely, that the aircraft hit a bird at cruise altitude. If a bird penetrated the windshield (or even the nose), it could have damaged controls in the cockpit.
Of course, it could also have been a meteor. But events like this are so unlikely that they are really not considered unless there is more evidence to support them. So we will have to wait and see what is found.
Considering how unlikely this scenario is, there are two possibilities here:
The bird caused the initial deviations. Maybe the bird knocked out communications, but the pilots were able to maintain partial control, explaining the further deviations. It's unclear why they would climb back up to cruise altitude unpressurized though.
The bird caused the final loss. The flight deviated as observed for unknown reasons, and started cruising south. At some point between there and fuel exhaustion, it hit the bird, resulting in loss of control.