Could a warning from the FAA issued late last year provide insight into what happened to Malaysia Airlines MH370?
The Boeing 777 disappeared off radar over the gulf of Thailand Saturday en route to Beijing, leaving behind very few clues, with 239 people on board.
Now, the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit has uncovered an airworthiness directive from the FAA warning of a potential safety concern for several models of Boeing 777s, including the missing Malaysia Airlines flight.
The directive was issued in response to reports of cracking and corrosion in the fuselage skin underneath the satellite communication (SATCOM) antenna adapter that sits on top of the airplane.
The FAA warns that if these cracks were to tear open in flight, it could create a hole in the airplane’s skin.
“Once you have a hole in the fuselage it can rapidly migrate,” aviation safety expert Jay Rollins told NBC Bay Area. “If that happened and if the pilots are aware of it they would try to slow the aircraft as much as possible to reduce the stress on the aircraft. But in a situation where a small antenna comes off and there’s a hole and you don’t know about it, it absolutely could strip open that aircraft the same way a sardine can is opened. The wind pressure at that speed and altitude is extraordinary.”
The directive requires operators to increase their inspections of fuselage skin to identify possible cracks or corrosion and make any repairs as necessary, stating:
We are issuing this…to detect and correct cracking and corrosion in the fuselage skin, which could lead to rapid decompression and loss of structural integrity of the airplane.”
“Being at that altitude, you have the added problem of pressurization failure which could make the pilots unconscious,” Rollins said. “In this instance that could explain exactly what happened.”
The new requirements were finalized on March 5th and are scheduled to take effect on April 9th.
It is not clear if Malaysia airlines had begun to implement these extra checks, but today Malaysia Airline said the missing airplane was last serviced on February 23rd and was not due for additional maintenance until June 19th.