Hail The Playstation Pilots

Franklin slams on the brakes of his Truffade Adder, exits his car and gets into a lift (or elevator, depending on the part of the world you are from) all the way to the rooftop of a building in Los Santos where he boards a helicopter on the rooftop helipad. A simple press of the R2 button and he’s off into the air.  He flies above the serene Mount Gordo without any problem, then lands the helicopter at the airfield in Sandy Shores before hijacking a Canis Mesa listening to East Los FM. That is how simple flying a helicopter is to some…especially on their Grand Theft Auto V game.

Franklin runs to a chopper - picture courtesy of Gametipcenter
Franklin runs to a chopper – picture courtesy of Gametipcenter

If only life is as simple as according to the whiners out there.  Unfortunately, it is not.

Many whine and complain about the late response by the military, Fire and Rescue Services Department, police etc., to rescue stranded climbers on top of Mount Kinabalu after a M5.9 earthquake killed 19 climbers, trapped more than a hundred others, and damaged or destroyed buildings in Ranau, southeast of the mountain.  An Australian climber even lambasted the Malaysian authorities to the world’s press.  On Facebook, keyboard pilots echo the psychotic behaviour of the Australian climber, criticizing the so-called delay in response by the authorities.

So why can’t a Franklin just fly the helicopter to the peak of Mount Kinabalu?  The only Franklin I knew who flew close to Mount Kinabalu was my squadmate, Lieutenant Gabriel Buja Joel RMAF, who rescued British SAS who got lost near the mountain in 1995.  For that he was awarded the Air Force medal (Pingat Tentera Udara) and a medal from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.  In 2003, Gabriel was unfortunately killed near Lawas, by another mountain.

What am I getting at?

Mountain Waves Turbulence!  It is the unseen nightmare that has brought down a number of airliners and helicopters, including late Gabriel’s, and damaged a whole bunch more worldwide.  It is so violent and unforgiving that the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) of the US had issued a specific instruction just for mountain flying. To safely fly above a mountain pass, a clearance of at least 2,000 feet above the highest pass an aircraft is to cross.  On top of that, mountain flying is not recommended if the winds aloft are greater than 25 knots as potentially dangerous turbulence as well as strong up and down drafts are likely to occur. I will go deeper into this later.

On 10th January, 1964, a Boeing B-52H Stratofortress strategic bomber (tail number 61-023) had its vertical stabilizer (or tail if you want to) sheared off by mountain waves after flying above the Rocky Mountains at 14,000 feet.

B-52H Nr 61-023 without its vertical stabilizer on 10th January 1964 - courtesy of Talkingproud
B-52H Nr 61-023 without its vertical stabilizer on 10th January 1964 – courtesy of Talkingproud

On 9th December 1992, a DC-8 aircraft of the American International Airways had its Engine No.1 sheared off by mountain wave turbulence.

The DC-8 of the American International Airways that lost an engine - courtesy of University Corporation for Atmospheric Research
The DC-8 of the American International Airways that lost an engine – courtesy of University Corporation for Atmospheric Research

Both aircraft and crew above were lucky to make it back alive.  Others like Gabriel weren’t so lucky.

The late Gabriel )3rd row, right most) and the writer (3rd row, second from right) during a jungle warfare exercise in January 1988
The late Gabriel )3rd row, right most) and the writer (3rd row, second from right) during a jungle warfare exercise in January 1988

Most of the time, those who frequently look at Mount Kinabalu from far could see streams of clouds occasionally envelope the mountain.  Let me show you a photo taken from one of the rescue helicopters that attempted to land at Laban Rata:

Visibility from a rescue chopper headed towards Mount Kinabalu - courtesy of @ayaqjagung on Twitter
Visibility from a rescue chopper headed towards Mount Kinabalu – courtesy of @ayaqjagung on Twitter

The visibility can change drastically and in Alaska, many pilots and passengers have perished thinking the visibility would remain clear all the time.

But the weather was clear and the stranded climbers could see all the way down!

Did they watch what was above?  Clear visibility also means high winds have pushed away the clouds.  What you need to look above are those thin, long clouds that we who have our feet firmly planted on the ground and head that stays on our neck unlike those who suffer from psychosis call Lenticular clouds.

Lenticular clouds formation caused by mountain wave turbulence - courtesy of the City University of New York
Lenticular clouds formation caused by mountain wave turbulence – courtesy of the City University of New York

As you can see, beneath the lenticular clouds are what meteorologists call rotor – a turbulent horizontal vortex generated around the “troughs” of mountain wave activity.  Rotors could either push an aircraft upwards, or slam it down to the ground as shown in the diagram below:

The effects of rotor turbulence on aircraft - courtesy of Flight Safety Australia
The effects of rotor turbulence on aircraft – courtesy of Flight Safety Australia

In the end, the helicopters did manage to get to Laban Rata to bring down bodies and some of the injured victims.  Of course not to the instance wanted by the climbers.

Yes, the Kinabalu Park guides are the heroes in this most unfortunate tragedy.  Why them and not the soldiers or pilots or firemen or the police?  They are the ones with the best knowledge of the area.  Even of some trails have been cut off, they would still be able to find their way up and down the mountain because they are most familiar with the area.  I salute them, as I salute the other rescuers who have and still are risking their lives trying to bring down the stranded climbers as well as bodies of the victims.

So, stop whining and forget what you have watched on TV or in the movies.  Life does not work like how the directors want you to believe.  And helicopter flying is nothing like how Franklin does it in GTA V.

Let the professionals do their job!

SAREX LIMA 2015 – The RMAF EC725

The survivor floats on the surface of the sea, having escaped a plane crash less than an hour ago.  The current here is strong and he drifts farther away from the main group of survivors.  Then he saw a speck of grey flying towards him.  It was a Airbus Helicopter EC725 dubbed the Super Cougar, the new workhorse of the Royal Malaysian Air Force.

Inside the cockpit, the pilot could spot the lone survivor and a few others, drifting towards the open sea.  Thanks to the AHCAS (Advanced Helicopter Cockpit and Avionics System), pilots of the EC725 could do what its predecessor, the Sikorsky S-61A4 Nuri, could not.  The EC725 features a full glass cockpit and the Active Matrix Liquid Crystal Displays ensure the pilots better monitoring of the displays under the glaring late morning sun.

The pilot hovers over the drifting survivor. He is assisted by a digital search and rescue system that provides automatic search patterns, transition and hover. Unlike the Nuri, the EC725 could “drift” along with the survivor as the winch strop is lowered by the air quartermaster.  Although the hover altitude is higher (more than double the Nuri’s), the EC725 managed to pick up the drifting survivor and other drifting survivors in no time, thanks to the powerful twin Turbomeca Makila 1A4 turboshaft engines that features a dual-channel Full Authority Digital Engine Control (FADEC) , something the Nuri was not capable of.  The Nuri would have to fly away after a couple of pick ups to cool its engines off.

The above was the Water Search And Rescue portion of the Search and Rescue exercise (SAREX LIMA 15) in preparation for next week’s Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition 2015 (LIMA 2015).  The exercise was divided into two segments, Water SAR and Land SAR.  SAREX LIMA 15 was to test the Search and Rescue plan and inter-agencies coordination and logistical cooperation.  The aim was to test, assess and improve the Airport Emergency Plan before the commencement of LIMA 2015. The Exercise was held from the 4th to 6th March 2015 and involved among others the Royal Malaysian Air Force, Royal Malaysian Police, Royal Malaysian Navy, the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency, Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad, the Fire and Rescue Services Department, the Malaysian Marine Department, Ministry of Health, the Malaysian Meteorological Department, the Malaysian Army’s Royal Medical Corps, Malaysia Airlines, Air Asia and last but not least, the Department of Civil Aviation of Malaysia.  Assets that were involved included two helicopters, 11 surface vessels and four jet-skis.

The EC725 takes off carrying critically-injured survivors during SAREX LIMA 15
The EC725 takes off carrying critically-injured survivors during SAREX LIMA 15

When met, RMAF’s Chief of Staff (Air Operations) Major General Dato Haji Abdul Mutalib bin Abdul Wahab TUDM said that he was awed by the superb performance of the EC725.  He opined that the EC725 is by far the best search-and-rescue asset he has ever seen, given the capabilities it displayed during SAREX LIMA 15.  This is of course of utmost importance as there are quarters bent on ridiculing military purchases.  Seeing with my own eyes how the EC725 was able to hover effortlessly throughout the exercise brought much satisfaction to me knowing that this was the correct choice made by the RMAF and there should not be any politically-motivated condemnation towards the organisation for purchasing what it should have had for the longest time.

The Fire and Rescue Services Department should also be applauded for a superb medical evacuation exercise task performed at SAREX LIMA 15 using its Mi-171 helicopter.

The FRSD's Mi-171 takes off carrying three critically-injured survivors during SAREX LIMA 15
The FRSD’s Mi-171 takes off carrying three critically-injured survivors during SAREX LIMA 15

It is hoped that the inter-agencies coordination that was put to test during SAREX LIMA 15 will better prepare the emergency services for any eventuality not just for LIMA 2015, but for all search-and-rescue incidents.

MH 370: Is It Fair To Blame Malaysia By Saying She Was Slow To React?


On Sunday, 23rd Monday, 24th March 2014, the Malaysian Prime Minister announced that based on the findings of the UK-based Aircraft Accidents Investigations Board it was concluded that the flight of the MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean.

This was met by heavy criticism in particular by families and relatives of the passengers who are in Beijing. This is understandable. As humans, we always cling on whatever glimmer of hope there is that our loved ones will somehow appear unscathed. I went through this when my brother passed away three months ago. I kept thinking that this was all a bad dream and that I would wake up to my brother’s jokes, laughter and hugs again. However, such hope should be balanced with situational logic – the acceptance of reality and that should help overcome the pathological grief a person would have. The sooner one accepts reality, the sooner the trauma will heal.

This pathological grief will get prolonged not only if one refuses to accept reality, but also by irresponsible acts to promote hope. Hope is the act of prolonging the arrival of the inevitable. I will here chide the opposition parliamentarians who call upon the government to provide physical proof that the MH370 had indeed crashed. May I just forcefully drag everyone to the reality that the aircraft cannot fly for 19 days; based on the Doppler effect triangulation the last possible location of the aircraft points to the extremely unforgiving southern Indian Ocean. If anyone, just any one person could survive the extremities of the whole situation, then let us just call that a bonus from God. While hope is good to a certain extent, my only hope is for the black boxes to be located before the batteries run out.

The search for debris is not going to be an easy task even on a normal day. Australia’s Prime Minister has described it as “looking for a needle in a haystack, but having to find the haystack first.” I would take that a step farther by saying it is like looking for hundreds of pieces of one single needle in a haystack that has yet to be found. How is that as a perspective? Now add nine-metre waves with lots and lots of whitecaps into the equation.

I take offence at a statement by representatives of the families in Beijing, as well as members of the foreign media, AND the Quislings amongst us here in Malaysia that we (Malaysia and its military) have murdered the passengers and crew, and that we have either been hiding or not been forthcoming with information or both. Malaysia has been providing all information pertaining to this incident on a daily basis, and even to the extent of sharing sensitive military data that has jeopardised its defence just so to render search and rescue efforts more effective. With the information made available to me as well as by Andak Jauhar’s analysis of the MH370 incident I shall draw a timeline so readers would understand why was the SAR conducted in the South China Sea, when exactly was SAR expanded to the west of Peninsular Malaysia, and how fast did information flow in. All times quoted in this timeline is Malaysian time (UTC +8):

08 March 2014

0041 – MH370 took off from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport with 227 passengers and 12 crew members bound for Beijing with an endurance of approximately eight hours.

0107 – the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) made its last transmission on the aircraft’s performance. All systems were running as per normal. Next transmission was due at 0137 hours.

0119 – a person believed to be the co-pilot acknowledged the handing over of the MH370 from Malaysia’s Flight Information Region (FIR) to Vietnam’s FIR. His last words were, “Alright, goodnight.”

0121 – the secondary radar at Subang’s Air Traffic Control centre lost contact with the MH370 over waypoint IGARI at 06.5515N 103.3443E, after a deliberate act of turning off the transponder as well as other communications equipment. The aircraft was then at 35,000 feet above sea level. However, the aircraft continues to be tracked by the Royal Malaysian Air Force’s (RMAF) primary radar and had its flight path towards waypoint VAMPI monitored and recorded by RMAF’s Air Defence Centres.

0215 – RMAF’s primary radar consistently monitored the path of the MH370 from waypoints VAMPI, GIVAL before finally losing track of it after waypoint IGREX while flying at 29,500 feet above sea level.

As a Contracting State to the ICAO Convention of 1944, Malaysia assumed the role of the Rescue Coordination Centre under Annex 12 of the Convention for the MH370 Search and Rescue efforts because the MH370 had yet to enter Vietnamese FIR control (its radar had not detected the MH370 yet when she changed her flight path). Based on sightings of debris, the Search and Rescue efforts concentrated at its last known position near waypoint IGARI.

0630 – MH370 was to have arrived in Beijing.

0811 – the last handshake between the MH370’s navigation system and an INMARSAT satellite was made.

1017 – Rear Admiral Ngo Van Phat of the Vietnamese Navy announced that the MH370 may have crashed about 153 nautical miles (300km) from Tho Chu island, near Ca Mau. This statement was carried by Tuoi Tre News and was subsequently picked up and released by Reuters at 1302 hours, sending SAR assets into the area.


1730 – based on the flight path monitored by the RMAF, the SAR effort was also expanded into the Strait of Malacca.

09 March 2014

– search around Tho Chu island failed to yield anything.

– the SAR efforts were expanded into the Andaman Sea. The RMAF’s sensitive radar data recordings have been shared with the SAR authorities.

10 March 2014

1343 – Vietnamese news agency Tuoi Tre reported that a passing aircraft from Singapore spotted an orange object possibly a liferaft or a lifejacket 177km northwest of Tho Chu island. SAR assets deployed later identified this object as a cable wrap.

11 March 2014

The Malaysian Chief of Air Force issued a press statement refuting a report by the Malaysian daily Berita Harian that quoted him as supposedly saying the aircraft had flown towards Pulau Perak.


12 March 2014

The official website of the State Administration of Science, Technology, and Industry for National Defence of China (SASTIND) showed pictures of three objects spotted in the South China Sea believed to be related to the MH370.  These photos were then shown to the public by the China Central Television (CCTV), Xinhua News Agency, CNN, BBC and also by other foreign news agencies.  According to SASTIND, these images were taken at latitude 6.7N 105.65E at 11.00am on 9th March 2014.

SASTIND website showing debris thought to be related to the MH370
SASTIND website showing debris thought to be related to the MH370

Hence, SAR assets were again sent to verify the findings which we now know were false sightings, but not before more time and concentration of vital resources have been wasted.

14 March 2014

– search was expanded into the Indian Ocean.

15 March 2014

The Malaysian Prime Minister announced that the object tracked by the RMAF’s primary radar was indeed the MH370. This conclusion was made based on processed data acquired from INMARSAT and concurred by the FAA, NSTB, AAIB and the Malaysian authorities.

20 March 2014

The Australian Prime Minister announced satellite images showing large debris in the southern Indian Ocean. The image was taken four days earlier.

22 March 2014

The Chinese government announced that its satellite had found debris in the southern Indian Ocean. That image too was taken four days prior to the announcement.

24 March 2014

The Prime Minister of Malaysia announced that based on triangulation of handshakes between the MH370 and satellites, the flight ended in the southern Indian Ocean.

The rest is academic.


The timeline displayed above shows how Malaysia has, from Day One, been moving as fast as it could to get to the correct pointers only to be side-tracked by false and unverified sightings.  Malaysia has also been sharing everything, and literally everything including data of its sensitive military capabilities, as well as air bases so the search and rescue effort would benefit the best out of the information made available to them by the Malaysian authorities.

The timeline above also displays the average time of four days needed for satellite images to be processed before they can be safely suggested to the search and rescue teams.

What the timeline above suggests is that while the authorities are working hard to find the missing aircraft, the families as well as the public in general ought to exercise patience and restraint in their quest to know what happened. The media should be more responsible in reporting the incident as well as the search and rescue efforts as not only will the effects be adversely negative, but irresponsible reporting provides false hopes to the family that are put on an emotional roller-coaster ride on a daily basis.

And to those who call themselves Malaysians but continue in bashing whatever effort the government offers in bringing this episode to a closure, I doubt you qualify even a place as a zoological display for despicable animals.

Shame on you.