It has been a week. A full week since the now famous Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur, has disappeared. It disappeared from radars, from air traffic control, from the map – and from the Asian skies as well…
This past (very long) week will be the food for thought and the basis for media speculation for months, if not years to come. At the current moment, after one week of contradicting information having been published, and leaked by multiple nations’ authorities and unnamed “resources familiar with the matter”, we barely know anything about what actually may have happened. We don’t know facts, other than that the plane’s transponder stopped working above the South China Sea – about one hour into the flight, and that it has never arrived to Beijing.
The public news that were published and circulated state that the plane has not crashed around the area where it was last seen on radars, nor has it landed anywhere in the vicinity. Authorities have searched to the North, to the East, then with a sudden twist to the West last week – without proper reasoning back then. HOWEVER, the picture that is being drawn by the known – and at least twice confirmed – “facts” leads us to the conclusion that the plane must have been hijacked. Why?
The transponder was turned off. It did not simply stop working, it was turned off – otherwise it would have sent signals during a crash. And it was turned off at the right time. The plane just left Malaysian air space, saying the last words “Good night!” – so the Malaysian air traffic control would not be looking for it for a while. The plane has not yet checked in with the Vietnamese air traffic controllers – so they would not be looking for it for a while, either – giving a free, uncontrolled hour or so worth of head-start flying time for the hijacked plane, before any civil authorities would start looking for it. The transponder being off simply takes it off the civilian radars as well. By the time military radars pick it up and start checking it – in the middle of a Friday night with probably only a handful of workers on duty – the plane could have flown on its own for probably like 2 hours or so.
The plane changed direction. After the transponder was turned off, the plane changed direction and instead of continuing North-East, it turned back West and flew past the Malaysian peninsula – following navigational points, which indicates that the person in control in the cockpit knew where they were flying, and knew exactly where they wanted to get. This is information now (7 days later) confirmed by the Malaysian Prime Minister, based on Malaysian military data. (This was once said back on the second or third day of the search, but was then denied the same day…) Even though they turned off the so called ACARS reporting system that sends data from the engines to Boeing and Rolls-Royce (the manufacturer of the turbines), this system continued to ping satellites – practically giving a life-signal, but no any additional data. But it says that the engines were running for at least 4 hours more, but some reports say that up to 7 hours more after the reporting was turned off…
The plane changed altitude. Drastically. Multiple times. This may sound like a small detail, but to me it indicates that the person in control in the cockpit knew what they were doing. Flying up to 45.000 feet (beyond the 777’s official maximum altitude) may have knocked out the passengers on board so that they were unconscious for at least a little time. (The pilot(s) in control may have taken the oxygen masks before going up so high.) Maybe then someone onboard took away their mobile phones and any other communication devices they could find in the pockets and elsewhere. Then the plane went much lower – to avoid some of the civil radars and continue it’s new flying course.
Then what happened? This is of course the biggest question. We need to look at the possible motivation/goal behind the hijacking to seek answers for this.
- Pilot suicide – they would have taken the plane down after they took control, crashing into the South China Sea, leaving debris. No debris found, therefore can be ruled out.
- Seeking global attention for a (political) cause – “typical” terrorist approach, but they would have contacted the government and global media with their reasons behind the hijacking. No media reported anything similar, therefore can be ruled out.
- Seeking political asylum – hijack the plane, and land in a third, free country. It would only make sense for those with a fake passport on board – but as they had a working fake passport (they could get through security and onboard), it would make little sense to complicate matters this much. Plus, the country where they would have landed, would have already publicized the event and we would know about it. Ruled out.
- Stealing the plane and selling it – given the so many identifiers and easy recognition of the plane itself, this is very unlikely that another airline would actually buy it… Putting it on eBay would not be a solution, either. Can be ruled out in my opinion.
- Stealing the plane for technological advances – this would only be useful for a handful of countries, like North Korea, Iran, Pakistan and some others in the region. Stealing a maintenance handbook could almost be as useful, unless you need some special material from onboard. Seems unlikely in my opinion, especially as North Korea is in the other direction (would have made more sense to hijack the plane much later in the flight in order to reduce risks), and Iran is simply too far away.
- Seeking ransom for the plane and the passengers – this could be a valid motivation – but it requires the plane to be landed. Otherwise there is no plane and passengers they you can ask the money for. We would probably know about it by now – but could be that the negotiating government is keeping this information from the media.
- Gaining control over someone onboard, or something in the cargo hold – this could be a valid motivation – but it also requires the plane to be landed. Otherwise there is no person or no cargo that you can unload the use later on. We will probably never learn if there was any classified cargo on board, such as special weapons, weapon materials or anything similar. The affected governments would never release such information publicly.
So the plane could have landed somewhere. We would probably know about it by now, there would be some witness who would tell the American or any other media for a little money if they had seen such a big plane – even simply flying low, not to mention landing on a remote airstrip. I believe we can rule this out, unless there is a big conspiracy behind this missing flight. (Like it landed on a small island airport, they stripped all communication devices, let the crew and passengers out, and flew it somewhere else under a different flight number and with a new transponder on board. Or they took it apart, or buried it in the ground, or put it in a hangar – but it’s a big plane. So the number of such big hangars, and runways able to support such a plane on such a small island is really only a handful.)
The plane could have crashed on its own. Running out of fuel would be a dumb mistake from someone who could turn off the transponder, though… Crashing after such a long flight on purpose would be a waste of time and lots of risk for a suicide crash. It could have crashed – in case the passengers had a “riot” on board against the hijackers and the onboard fight resulted in someone taking over the cockpit who had no idea how to fly the plane. The cockpit is complex enough, that in such a case, an amateur would not be able to turn on the radio, the transponder and seek help from the ground – let alone getting instructions on how to land the aircraft somewhere. In such a case, they may have run out of fuel actually.
And finally, The plane could have been shut down by military. Just look at the last two possible motivational ideas above. Either case, the government (sorry, but given it was a Malaysian aircraft, we must assume the Malaysian government here) may have shot down the airliner to reduce further risk and danger. They may have actually negotiated with the hijackers in the first hours or so, but getting no results and seeing the plane flying out of Malaysian Air Space, they went ahead and shot it down. If there was some precious, illegal cargo on board, it’s better to have it rest somewhere at the bottom of the Indian Ocean than having it land at a terrorist base… Now this scenario could be the reason behind why the Malaysian authorities were giving so contradicting information for days. They simply had no communication plan for such a situation. Or they had one, but the fact that most of the passengers on board (154 out of the 239 including crew) were Chinese, simply does not allow it to be confirmed. As it would lead to a very tricky political situation with the biggest (super)power in the region: China. And this is not something Malaysia (or any other country in the area for that matter) wants. (Alternatively, the military may not even have noticed the whole thing – as per the BBC.)
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So the facts what we knew are pointing to a hijacking scenario, with one of the more tragical ends. The plane is still missing. The plane can not be in the air anymore, so it must have either landed, or crashed, or shot down.
We may learn the faith of MH 370, or we may never get to know what really happened. It will soon transfer to a legal procedure between Malaysia Airlines and the aircraft insurer, the airline and the passengers’ relatives, the airline and the cargo owners, and maybe the airline and some media outlets about the contradicting information published during this last week.
We’ll keep an eye on the future news about this mysterious flight and suggest that you do as well.