(CNN) – The search for answers in the mystery of Malaysian Flight 370 continues, and we may never know what happened to the plane. Experts say one theory that still has legs is that the plane was lost as the result of a horrible accident.
Without the black box or any piece of wreckage, investigators can’t rule out Flight 370 went down in the Indian Ocean because of an accident.
Former NTSB Board Member and American Airlines pilot Steven Chealander said, “It sounds to me like there was an incapacitation in the aircraft and they possibly just flew it out on autopilot until it ran out of fuel and then down it came.”
According to this theory: the plane reaches altitude, and sometime after the famous “Alright, goodnight” transmission, what’s called a catastrophic decompression of the plane takes place. No clue what might have caused, but some have theorized it could be as simple as a partially open door on the plane. Or sudden smoke or fire causing the pilots to alter their course and seek safe harbor immediately. No mayday call because there was no time.
“In the first few minutes, the pilots had to change course for an emergency airport,” said Clive Irving, contributor to The Daily Beast and senior consulting editor of Conde Nast Traveler. “They were overtaken by whatever it was – smoke, fire. The plane was left to fly itself after being reprogrammed.”
The crew would likely have had only seconds to react before losing consciousness, changes in altitude would have occurred.
Irving said, “As far as we can go on the radar, the plane oscillated and zigzagged, if it lost altitude that would have been consistent with losing cabin pressure. The first thing a pilot would do with decompression is drop altitude so that oxygen could return to the cabin.”
Crew and the passengers pass out and the plane continues on until it runs out of fuel over the Indian Ocean.
Something like this has happened before. A chartered jet carrying golf star Payne Stewart lost cabin pressure while cruising on autopilot. The people on board suffered hypoxia, incapacitated due to lack of oxygen, but the plane continued flying almost four hours before veering off in a descending spiral and crashing in South Dakota.
Whether the answer is ever known depends on what debris gets recovered when and if the plane is found. Dials and gauges, conditions of passengers’ remains, even the engines would hold clues to the condition of the aircraft on impact.
“We can find out if the engines were operating at the time, whether it was fuel starvation,” said Chealander.