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Former Clinton Administration official discusses Malaysia Airlines incident

Dr. Oliver McGee

“This is now the greatest aviation security mystery in aviation history,” said Dr. Oliver McGee. “Boeing airplanes do not vanish or fall out of the sky. Boeing planes go up in the air and they come back down without incident.”

Dr. McGee is a professor of mechanical engineering at Howard University in Washington, D.C. He has a Ph.D. in engineering mechanics with a minor in aerospace engineering. He is the former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Transportation for Technology Policy at the U.S. Department of Transportation.

During his career working with the Clinton Administration, he contributed to President Clinton’s 1997 Commission on Aviation Safety and Security and the National Science and Technology Council’s National R&D Plan for Aviation Safety, Security, Efficiency & Environmental Compatibility.

“Something catastrophic must have happened in the cabin that disrupted operations and there was not enough time to send distress signals because there was no indication of a distress call,” he concluded. "There's an old longstanding three-principle rule in flying and landing a Boeing 777: aviate, navigate, communicate,” he explained.

“Data streams from the aircraft during the flight and we pretty much know where a plane is when it is in the sky and the condition that it is in,” he said. “The plane would have communicated something back to Malaysia Airlines if there was a mechanical failure.” Moreover, “Shoddy maintenance was not a significant concern as the aircraft was one of Malaysia Airline’s most valuable assets.

"I honestly do not remotely envision or even speculate a Boeing 777-200 breaking up in midair. The Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 was in the safest cruise speed of normal flight. Something might have happened that was catastrophic perhaps. But so far, that's speculation, as no reports of an emergency locator transmitter was even activated.

“Nine out of 10 aircraft accidents are due to human error and the remaining 1 out of 10 that are due to mechanical issues or hijacking are actually quite rare.”

When it comes to allegations of terrorism, he said, “We don’t have enough evidence to show that it was a terrorist attack.” While he would not completely rule out the scenario, he emphasized that, “Misinformation and misleading data leads to panic.” His opinion regarding the stolen passports was that it was most likely due to illegal immigration. He also expressed concern regarding safety and security at ports of entry as well as airports around the world.

“The chain of evidence is the black box and the aircraft itself,” he said. “The black box is one of the most resilient pieces of the aircraft and it can provide a tremendous amount of information.”

Regarding the ongoing investigation, he stated, “Sadly, this has shifted from a search and rescue mission to a search for a cause mission. U.S. officials have sent investigators from the FAA, Boeing, FBI, NTSB, and the military to the area. Each day we go forward, it moves closer toward being a search for a cause mission.”

The passage of time can also affect the recovery process, as “The ocean currents shift how the debris is spread as time progresses,” he said.

He explained that the greater context of this incident must include a discussion of the general public’s fundamental understanding of science and technology. “We must understand science and technology because it is all around us and necessary to ensure the integrity of aviation safety and security worldwide to know how to deal with future incidents.”

Dr. McGee stressed the importance of maintaining the human element throughout the investigation. “Aviation security is about saving lives and there could be lives saved here. If not, we need to gather enough information and data to be more wise about future aviation safety and security to save lives. This is a human problem and we have to stay with the human dimension until the black box is found.”

Dr. McGee remained cautiously optimistic regarding the lives of the passengers, "Hopefully and prayerfully lives can be saved in the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200."

 

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