A LITHIUM-ION battery shake could have started a fire that engulfed the fuselage of missing flight MH370 before it crashed, a top pilot has claimed.
The Malaysia Airlines plane was carrying 221kg of the batteries in its cargo when it went missing on March 8, 2014.
And retired United Airlines captain Ross Aimer believes this is why MH370 hasn’t been seen since.
Aimer, who has 40 years of flying experience, theorises a “hard shake” of the batteries could have ignited a killer blaze during its flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
The CEO of Aero Consulting Experts, who still flies a private jet, told Daily Star Online: “There have been several other fires that were attributed to lithium-ion batteries.
“They are a very unstable type and once it starts running away it’s almost impossible to put it out.
“The Boeing 777 has a very sophisticated fire suppression system in the cargo hold, however with this type of fire nothing can fight it, it just burns itself out eventually.
“It could be as simple as a hard shake, when you’re loading it you could technically start that thermal shock basically by either dropping it or overheating for some reason.
“Sometimes for absolutely for no other reason (they catch fire).”
According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), there have been 225 air or airport recorded incidents involving lithium batteries carried as cargo or baggage since March 20, 1991.
It said this figure relates to smoke, fire, extreme heat or explosion.
In 2010, two crew on board a freighter UPS Boeing 747-400 were killed when the jet crashed nine miles from Dubai International Airport following an on-board fire.
UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) concluded “with reasonable certainty that the location of the fire was an element of the cargo that contained, among other items, lithium batteries”.
And in August this year, terrified Ryanair passengers were forced to flee a plane in Barcelona after a mobile phone caught fire on-board.
The on-fire device – attached to an external battery pack – even burned a hole in a seat on the Boeing 737 as it was preparing to depart for its flight to Ibiza.
For Aimer, it was the Dubai tragedy that led him to believe MH370 was brought down by flames.
“There is a very good possibility that if there was a fire, it was started by the lithium batteries”
He told us: “They don’t know for example how the UPS plane caught fire, and of course they were carrying a lot more.
“MH370 was only carrying 221kg of lithium-ion batteries on board this aircraft.
“But there is a very good possibility that if there was a fire, it was started by the lithium batteries.”
Aimer also dismissed suggestions mangosteens in the cargo of MH370 combined with the lithium batteries on board to ignite, after a Ministry of Transport Malaysia report said there was 4,566kg of the fruit on board.
Aimer told us: “The fruit theory is very unreliable, but ion batteries do run away from time to time.
“When I see the similarities of what happened to the UPS airplane initially it reminds me of that 747 crash.”
Ministry of Transport Malaysia also ruled out the mangosteens theory, saying: “This was highly improbable on board MH370 with a comparatively short flight duration and under controlled conditions.”
Lithium-ion batteries are used for devices including mobile phones, tablets and laptops.
Tech giant Apple says it uses them because “compared with traditional battery technology, lithium-ion batteries charge faster, last longer, and have a higher power density for more battery life in a lighter package”.
But according to Professor in Chemical and Biomolecular at UC Berkeley, Nitash Balsara, all lithium-ion batteries have “a chance” of catching fire.
He said: “Every lithium battery has the chance of catching fire.
“It’s completely unpredictable. There’s no way to tell that this is the one (battery) that is going to be trouble.”
According to the FAA, there were 47 incidents of batteries catching fire or emitting smoke in the US in 2017 alone, up from 31 the previous year.
The Malaysian Transport Ministry and Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) rule the plane likely crashed into the Indian Ocean west of Australia after running out of fuel.
Their conclusion came after a series of “handshakes”, communications between the jet and an Inmarsat satellite, were made in the hours after its disappearance.
It led some experts to believe the captain was on a suicide mission before crashing the Boeing 777-200 into the sea.
But Aimer disagrees.
He believes a fire likely ignited in the cargo and killed the flight crew and passengers just moments later.
But astonishingly, he claims the plane could have carried on flying for hours on fire until it ran out of fuel, even after everyone on-board had been killed.
He centres this theory on the analysis of the plane’s flaps, which the ATSB said was likely in a “retracted position at the time they separated from the aircraft making a controlled ditching scenario very unlikely”.
For Aimer, this points towards nobody being in control of the jet when it crashed giving him a “gut feeling” a fire was responsible.
Aimer told us: “The fire may have started during or shortly after take off, since things started to happen as soon as they levelled off.
“It is possible the fire killed everyone onboard then continued burning the aircraft until it crashed.
“Since the flaperon was discovered in the ocean, it most probably crashed into the ocean.”
He added: “In the case of Sully, when he knew he was going into the water, you immediately extend the flaps to slow down the aircraft.
“The flaps basically proved that whatever happened to the airplane, it did hit the water with the flaps up, meaning no one was in control of it in that moment.”
He added: “The fire damage probably would not have reached out to the wings and the flaperon.
“It’s a huge aircraft, and a fire would have been inside the hall of the aircraft so no, most probably it would not have reached out there.
“It’s a good possibility that if the fire consumed some of the aircraft but it was still flyable – because it’s a huge airplane – the pilots and passengers were incapacitated and it flew until it ran out of fuel and just crashed into the ocean somewhere.
“Most probably these guys were on auto pilot, and the auto pilot just continued flying it.”
MH370 is one of the greatest mysteries of modern times, dividing experts and arousing public desire for answers.
A four-year search failed to find the jet, although pieces of debris investigators say is from the plane have washed up since.
And this week, debris claimed to be from MH370 was presented to the Malysian Government by families of the victims.
Daily Star Online has approached Boeing and Malaysia Airlines for comment.