When Chris Goodfellow took to his Google+ blog to share his thoughts on the fate of Mayalsia Airlines Flight 370, the Boeing 777 that vanished with 239 people aboard almost two weeks ago, he wasn’t looking for fame. Rather, he was getting exasperated by the “expert” opinions he was seeing on TV, the attempts to create terrorist links to the crew, the demonization of their past, the assumptions about their mental health, the nutty theorizing from the last few known bits of data to reach radars and satellites.
Goodfellow, a 66-year-old retired pilot, had a theory of his own. He wrote it up in a 1,000-word post that suggested a fire, not foul play, was the cause behind the plane’s fate.
Goodfellow likely never expected what happened next. The Atlantic’s James Fallows linked to the post. Then Wired picked it up, calling it “A Startlingly Simple Theory,” and ran it whole (with some editing). And the piece went, as they say in media’s pestilential English, viral. United Press International carried an account of the piece Wednesday. The Sydney Morning Herald added it to its “theory tracker.” The Wired piece was up to 3,364 comments this morning. Goodfellow’s post had some 500 comments. He’s been sought after by media around the world.
FlaglerLive learned of his piece from a correspondent in Brunei the same day that JJ Graham, the owner of Palm Coast’s Hollingsworth Gallery, told the editor of it, noting: “Goodfellow is a patron of my gallery.”
Goodfellow, as it turns out, lives in Marineland, and is a frequent presence at Hollingsworth gallery openings.
Reached for an interview Wednesday evening, Goodfellow was cordial and spoke at length, but declined to be interviewed on the record, at least for now. He’s granted just a single brief, one-quote interview, to the Toronto Star, which published the account Wednesday afternoon. Goodfellow did it out of allegiance: he’s Canadian, a graduate of McGill University (and later, Cornell).
“Goodfellow said he posted his thoughts because he was concerned the search wasn’t taking place in the right area,” The Star article states. “He was also concerned the pilots were being vilified as terrorists or suicidal, with no information to support this.” His only directly quoted comment in the article: “I didn’t put it out to get my 15 minutes of fame.”
Goodfellow is letting his blog postings, which he’s updated twice (in his own comment section, where he’s been more than willing to engage other commenters) do the talking.
“For me, the loss of transponders and communications makes perfect sense in a fire,” Goodfellow’s piece in Wired reads. “And there most likely was an electrical fire. In the case of a fire, the first response is to pull the main busses and restore circuits one by one until you have isolated the bad one. If they pulled the busses, the plane would go silent. It probably was a serious event and the flight crew was occupied with controlling the plane and trying to fight the fire. Aviate, navigate, and lastly, communicate is the mantra in such situations.
“There are two types of fires. An electrical fire might not be as fast and furious, and there may or may not be incapacitating smoke. However there is the possibility, given the timeline, that there was an overheat on one of the front landing gear tires, it blew on takeoff and started slowly burning. Yes, this happens with underinflated tires. Remember: Heavy plane, hot night, sea level, long-run takeoff. There was a well known accident in Nigeria of a DC8 that had a landing gear fire on takeoff. Once going, a tire fire would produce horrific, incapacitating smoke. Yes, pilots have access to oxygen masks, but this is a no-no with fire. Most have access to a smoke hood with a filter, but this will last only a few minutes depending on the smoke level. (I used to carry one in my flight bag, and I still carry one in my briefcase when I fly.)”
He later adds: “Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah was a hero struggling with an impossible situation trying to get that plane to Langkawi. There is no doubt in my mind. That’s the reason for the turn and direct route. A hijacking would not have made that deliberate left turn with a direct heading for Langkawi. It probably would have weaved around a bit until the hijackers decided where they were taking it.”
As always in comment sections, Goodfellow had his supporters and detractors, the latter attempting to demolish his theory as bits of information were added to the thin data bank on the flight’s fate. One of those bits was the belated revelation by Rolls Royce, the engine manufacturer, that the plane had continued to fly for six hours—a crucial bit of data that Rolls Royce alone knew because of information it receives from its engines in operation, and withheld for days.
“I am pleased this thread has gone somewhat viral and produced many useful additional insights for me into this mystery,” he wrote Tuesday. “I was not going to add anything more myself but new information keeps coming to my attention that only serves to confirm my thinking that we are dealing with a fire/mechanical issue rather than hijack.”
He added—with an aside that reveals his willingness to speak with reporters in some contexts–:”The real new news is the cargo question. If indeed there was a shipment of lithium batteries in the hold this is a definite line of enquiry. I had a long conversation last night with the reporter for the Christian Science Monitor in Kuala, Peter Ford, and I suggested that he dig deep into the cargo manifest but also try and get more information on the state of the tires on the front landing gear – number of cycles, maintenance records, last pressure check etc. and as many of you know the time honored tradition by the pilot and/or first officer pre-flight walkaround. I suggested there may be security video of all movements in and around the aircraft during the time the aircraft was being serviced and that the pilot or first officer may be on video during their walkaround. Did they stop and take a second look at the nose gear? Any clue there? Was the loading of the lithium batteries on video? Was there an mishap on loading that might have led to leakage?”
His final words on the matter (so far, anyway) explain why he has been reluctant to speak openly with the press: “A very wise mentor of mine always cautioned me to keep an open mind and I continue to do so. All of our theories are essentially speculation and the most important thing is not to come to any definitive conclusions without the concrete evidence. This may go down in aviation annals as the longest ghost flight of all time. In an age when we have so much technical capability that we can see a person on a street in Kabul using drones piloted from a bunker down near Tampa Florida it is indeed hard not to want immediate fast answers as to what happened here. We may never know. Thanks to all of you. Keep the thread alive.”