I have covered the tragic loss of MH370 almost from the moment it disappeared on March 8, 2014 and there have been many moments of sadness and even tears when meeting some of the relatives last year in Perth.
But nothing has affected me as much as flying the route of MH370, as we understand it, in a Boeing 777 simulator at Jandakot in April of that year.
As I nestled into the captain’s seat I felt a chill up my spine. It was dark outside — inky black, in fact.
This was going to be as real as it gets without flying the plane.
The simulator cockpit is an exact replica and I had a former 777 check and training captain as my co-pilot.
Simulators are not toys and can replicate any incidents that cannot be trained for in real planes.
The take-off was effortless and the lights of Kuala Lumpur International Airport disappeared below. I called for undercarriage retraction, then flaps up as the speed of the 777 increased.
I quickly engaged the autopilot once on track and the 777 soared to 10,600m for the almost boring flight to Beijing.
But this plane and its 239 passengers and crew were not going to Beijing.
The climb was routine and the scene surreal.
We burst through the layer of cloud, which was lit up by a half-moon, and the view outside was peaceful, belying the events about to unfold.
At 1.07am, 27 minutes after take-off, I switched off the 777’s aircraft communications and reporting system. ACARS sends hourly data reports on the health — or not — of the 777.
It was too easy, merely requiring the press of a button on the flight management computer to my right.
Just 15 minutes later, after a sign-off to Malaysian air traffic control, I turned a knob and killed the plane’s transponder that sends our signature to air traffic control. I have now vanished from air traffic control.
If I had wanted to get rid of my co-pilot, as some have suggested may have happened on the ill-fated MH370, it was incredibly easy.
When he left the cockpit for a break, I selected deny on the cockpit door access switch and he is not coming back. I don’t even have to move from my seat.
Back to the flight, a simple twist of the heading select button on the autopilot and depressing the same button put me on a new course south-west towards Malaysia.
There were contradictory reports about the 777’s change of altitude at the time.
To test the capabilities at our given weight, I coaxed the 777 up another few thousand metres.
Getting it down to a lower altitude as reported was much easier. I just dialled in the altitude and vertical speed required.
The 777 is certified to descend at a maximum 1524m a minute. I changed course to due west and headed across Malaysia just below Penang.
Once over the Strait of Malacca, I made another turn north-west.
Again, it was easy to dial in a new course of 330 and push select. The 777 obeyed my every wish.
As I was effortlessly commanding this 777 my mind wandered to the early hours of March 8 and what was happening on the real MH370.
I was going to finish this assignment and drive back to my office — the passengers on MH370 could not.
My co-pilot reminded me it was time for the next turn if I am to reach the accepted final resting place of MH370.
I dialled in 180 due south for the heading and 10,600m for the altitude.
I pressed select and the 777 turned slowly but assuredly to meet its fate.
Many in the aviation industry suggest that by daybreak on March 8, the passengers and crew on MH370 were already dead — quite probably from induced hypoxia designed to mercifully overwhelm them and put them to sleep.
While passengers would have run out of oxygen in 45 minutes, the pilot had four hours.
In my simulator, the sun was rising in the east as I contemplated the mystery of MH370.
What would it be like at the end? I was about to find out and it was chilling.
The serenity of the moment was shattered as I cut the fuel to one engine.
The 777’s systems reacted with some urgency and compensated for the lack of power from one engine as the flight continues.
But all hell was about to break loose as I switched the fuel off to the remaining engine.
The result, I was told, is unpredictable. And it was. It is also utterly terrifying. We tried it three times.
The first put us nose-up into an aerodynamic stall and then a dive followed by another nose-up. We were on the rollercoaster from hell. Bells and alarms rang out. It was chaos and suddenly we hit the sea.
On another attempt, I found myself in a flat spin with alarms shattering the eerie silence of engines without power. The control column was shaking violently, the altitude read-out was a blur and the forward speed non-existent. I forgot I was in a simulator — this was real and I was sweating.
The third was a spiral dive at near supersonic speed, which as it turns out, was the most likely scenario, according to Boeing.
It took seconds to bring the flight to a ghastly halt.
The drive back to Seven West Media took on a different perspective. I was able to go back to work, back to my darling wife and back to my wonderful life.
The 239 passengers and crew of MH370 could not.