Retired pilot puzzled by missing airliner

Written by Jayson Jacoby March 19, 2014 08:37 am

By Jayson Jacoby

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John Clarke has been following the mystery of the missing Malaysian jetliner (see story on Page 7A) with a perspective few people share.

Clarke, who lives in the foothills of the Elkhorns northwest of Haines, is a retired airline pilot.

He worked for United Airlines and captained Boeing 777s, the same model as the missing Malaysian Airlines plane, for the last six years of his career, which ended in 2000.

“It’s a beautiful, beautiful airplane,” Clarke said of the 777. “I never had any problems with it. It’s a lot of fun to fly, an easy plane to fly."

Clarke, 74, deplores the rampant speculation that has distinguished media coverage of the missing jet.

“As far as speculating — I don’t,” he said. “Who in the hell knows what happened? I wasn’t there.”

Clarke did say that in his hundreds of hours piloting 777s he never had any trouble with the plane’s transponder, the device that allows air traffic controllers to identify and track each flight.

Investigators have focused on the transponder because the device on the Malaysian Airlines plane stopped working about 40 minutes after the plane took off from Kuala Lumpur on March 8.

Clarke said pilots enter a code into the transponder when they begin each flight.

During flight the crew pretty much leaves the switch alone, he said.

“You could turn it off but I don’t know why you would,” Clarke said.

Although he never flew in the region of the Indian Ocean where the Malaysian Airlines plane went missing, Clarke said the incident would be puzzling regardless of where it happened.

Accidents of any sort are unusual with commercial airlines, and for a plane to in effect disappear is rarer still.

“That’s what makes it so odd,” Clarke said.