— By Christopher Johnson —-
On Friday night, March 7, I was on Koh Chang island on a verandah overlooking the Gulf of Thailand. I’m absolutely sure of this.
It was a clear, dry season night. I could see the faint green lights of fishing boats on the horizon. It must have looked beautiful from a plane.
I didn’t see Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 a few hundred kilometers away. That’s also a hard fact.
Other than that, I don’t have much else to go on.
More than 10 days after MH370 vanished, these are the closest things to hard facts:
–no group has publicly claimed they hijacked, stole or diverted the plane
–Vietnamese air traffic controllers have shown no proof that they ever communicated with flight MH370, which was supposed to be entering their airspace on the way to Beijing.
–people awaiting the plane’s arrival in Beijing still haven’t met the passengers. Malaysian officials didn’t brief them until more than 8 hours after the plane’s departure.
–nobody has reported receiving messages or calls from passengers on the plane, though a group of Chinese relatives signed a statement saying they got ring phones when they called the numbers of passengers.
Almost all other information deemed as “fact” is — in fact — coming from Malaysian Airlines and Malaysian government, police and military officials. Everything they say is questionable and unreliable, because they have presented no raw data, recordings or other evidence for independent public verification to support any of their presumptions or suspicions about events. Until they do, we cannot accurately consider their statements to be factual.
These sources — yes, even a prime minister is a “source” — have vested interests in preserving their positions. They have immense power to disinform, deceive, deny or cover-up whatever happened to their plane and the passengers in their care. They also have political reasons to point blame in the direction of a pilot who is a distant relative of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and a member of Anwar’s party.
In fairness, Malaysian officials might also be telling the truth, as they know it. They deserve our sympathy and our assistance. This is a national tragedy for Malaysia, China and other nations. Malaysian Airlines, which had a stellar safety record, cannot find 239 people who are valued customers and crew. Despite what has happened, I would fly with Malaysian Airlines as a show of support, if I get the chance.
While Malaysian Airlines might be a victim of foul play, they are ultimately responsible for whatever happened to the crew and passengers, who paid for their services and put their lives in their care. They, and officials from Malaysia and other nations, have to be much more open and transparent about what really happened to MH370.
Boeing, Rolls Royce, Inmarsat and others in the aviation industry have been far too slow or reticent to release information, causing people to doubt their competency as well.
As it is, officials are keeping millions of people in the dark, especially the families of passengers and crew. This only causes us to be more skeptical about official statements.
FACTS WITHOUT PROOF ARE NOT FACTS
A supposedly key fact — Prime Minister Najib Razak’s claim that a satellite last received a ping from MH370 at 8:11 am — is not a fact at all. Inmarsat have not confirmed this as a fact. All they say, in a brief statement on their website, is this:
“Routine, automated signals were registered on the Inmarsat network from Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 during its flight from Kuala Lumpur. This information was provided to our partner SITA, which in turn has shared it with Malaysia Airlines.
For further information, please contact Malaysia Airlines.”
They say nothing about “last contact at 8:11 am” somewhere in a corridor stretching between Indonesia and the southern Indian Ocean, and northern Thailand and the border area of Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan.
It was Prime Minister Najib Razak who said that. The same person whose administration asked an appeal court to sentence his country’s opposition leader to five years in jail for alleged homosexuality. Is such a person, no matter how powerful and “democratically-elected”, a “reliable” source?
He also said that the plane’s ACARS communication system was disabled while the plane was over the east coast of Malaysia, before the transponder was disabled. His cousin, the acting Transport Minister, confirmed this “fact” the next day. But the CEO of Malaysian Airlines, who probably knows more about aviation than politicians, told a different story on Monday. He said it’s not clear when ACARS was disabled. He said they last received ACARS data at 01:07, and didn’t receive anything, as expected, 30 minutes later at 01:37.
This raises the possibility that ACARS could have failed at the same time as the transponder, at 01:21, or not. (All these times are according to the Malaysian officials, who have provided no recordings or data as verifiable proof.)
If ACARS and the transponder did fail at the same time, then it counters the government’s claim that events are “consistent” with an attempt to “deliberately divert” the plane and take it off course. Based on what we know — almost nothing — it’s also possible that the plane’s electronic systems caught fire or malfunctioned somehow, knocking out ACARS and the transponder.
Malaysian officials must reveal all they know about MH370. In the absence of verifiable evidence, the public is left to concoct theories about what could have happened. Given this lack of verifiable evidence, it’s possible to blow holes in every single theory.
Here’s a few examples:
This is the heavy favorite, since most crashes are results of mechanical failure. Imperfect humans make imperfect machines, and they sometimes fall out of the sky. It’s a fact of life, proven throughout aviation history.
It’s also a historical fact that aviation companies tend to do almost anything they can to avoid paying compensation for mechanical failure. How convenient to divert public attention and obfuscate the truth by blaming a suicidal or politically-active pilot, or a hijacker, or a thief, or a cyber attacker.
Based on what we know — almost nothing — MH370 likely crashed due to mechanical failure. A well-respected pilot with more than 30 years experience was flying a Boeing 777, one of the safest machines ever made, on an airline with a stellar safety record, on a clear night on a very well-traveled route between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing. The plane disappeared. Nobody is claiming responsibility for sabotaging it.
Deductive reasoning can reasonably rule out bad weather (lightning), birds in the engine (at 35,000 feet), or a North Korean missile. Something else took the plane off course. We still don’t know.
But if it was mechanical failure, possibly knocking out all communications, why did the plane seemingly turn around, fly over the Malay peninsula and the Andaman Sea? Why not go to the nearest airports, say in Kota Bahru, Songkhla or Ho Chi Minh City? If an explosion blew a hole in the plane, causing everyone to lose oxygen and fall unconscious, why did the plane seem to change elevations and follow navigational waypoints, and continue flying for 6 or 7 hours?
The “turn back” and “navigational waypoints” story is almost entirely based on information from the Malaysian Air Force.
First, let me say this. I have tremendous respect for pilots and air force personnel, who often take us into disaster zones along with vital supplies that save lives. My father, uncles, cousins and classmates have flown military aircraft, sometimes in war zones and disaster areas. I can’t think of more admirable people than the pilots and air force personnel I’ve known.
But in this case, the Malaysian air force’s version of events is questionable.
According to a New York Times article, a Malaysian radar crew of four failed to notice MH370 in real time. Malaysia’s military chief said the same thing. They saw its blip on a recording later that Saturday morning.
Didn’t they bother to tell anybody? If they did, did anybody listen?
Malaysia, Vietnam and other countries continued to search the Gulf of Thailand for several days — totally unnecessary if MH370 did indeed turn back and fly over the Malay peninsula and the Andaman Sea.
The excuse — we weren’t sure it was MH370 — is problematic. If they weren’t sure then, how can they be sure now? If it wasn’t MH370, then what was it? If they thought the blip was another plane, they could simply check the flight schedules and paths of the small number of jets (if any) flying from Singapore, Indonesia, Australia or New Zealand over Malaysian airspace that Saturday morning, and determine if the blips were those planes, or MH370. It’s not difficult. But they apparently didn’t do this, and this doesn’t increase their believability.
As a result, we can’t say for a “fact” that MH370 turned around and flew over Malaysia and the Andaman Sea. We want to believe this, because it opens up other scenarios, but we can’t. Show us proof that it did, and we might believe it. But we’ve seen nothing so far, so we can’t call it a verifiable fact.
The Thai Air Force isn’t much help in this regard either. Their spokesman says, 10 days late, that they saw MH370 on radar, but didn’t do anything because it didn’t enter Thai airspace and didn’t threaten Thailand, and Malaysia didn’t specifically ask them if they saw it. This beggars belief. This is like a little white lie about where you were last Friday night.
I generally obey and respect Thai authority. The Thai military keeps me safe in Thailand, and they fed us well in East Timor. But this time, I cannot consider them a reliable source of information about MH370.
For all we know, MH370 perhaps did crash in the Gulf of Thailand, and the search wasn’t a waste of time. Malaysia Airlines and Malaysian government officials, who presumably had lines of communication with the Malaysian Air Force open on March 8, were convinced enough to spend considerable resources searching the Gulf of Thailand. But they couldn’t find it; (or if they did, they covered it up).
Perhaps MH370 disintegrated at 35,000 feet, leaving a wide debris field difficult to spot. Perhaps it fell intact to the shallow bottom, only 50 meters deep in some places, shorter than the plane.
We simply don’t know. So, we consider another theory.
THE PILOT DID IT:
Malaysia, Vietnam, China, US and other countries couldn’t find debris or survivors/victims in the Gulf of Thailand, so a new theory gained credence: the flight was deliberately diverted.
Zaharie Ahmad Shah, father of three, amiable aviation geek who loved cooking and hanging with Facebook friends, was also an activist and member of the opposition party. He’s a distant relative of his party’s leader, Anwar Ibrahim. Shah would naturally be distraught that Ibrahim was sentenced on Friday afternoon to five years jail for sodomy. Hours later, Shah took control of MH370.
But this doesn’t necessarily mean Shah was infuriated enough to risk the lives of 239 people. Many in Malaysia expected the appeal court would jail Anwar on trumped up charges. It was no surprise. Malaysia rulers have been railroading Anwar for two decades. Opposition party members and Shah’s friends have said that Shah would never do anything to harm passengers. Look at Shah’s Facebook page: he seems like a wonderful guy. It’s hard to believe he suddenly became a mass murderer due to a court case.
There’s also no evidence that the co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid would suddenly become a mass murderer after years of training to become an officer good enough to co-pilot a 777.
Hamid was reportedly engaged to marry his sweetheart. He was living with his parents. He wasn’t an impoverished orphan in an Afghan madrassa, raised on warfare, indoctrinated with vengeance, skilled at cutting throats of goats, a victim of drone attacks. He was jolly enough to invite a pair of pretty South African teenagers into the cockpit on a flight from Phuket. He doesn’t sound like a deranged loner terrorist. He sounds like a fun-loving southeast Asian guy.
No agency — the FBI, Interpol or anybody else — has publicly revealed any link to any terror group or street gang for that matter.
Still, the pilot is the prime suspect because, more than anyone else, he had the skill and experience (more than 30 years) to control a Boeing 777, disable communication systems, use navigational way points, deceive radar, and ultimately land a plane full of passengers.
It’s also seemingly the most feasible theory. He needed no outside help, and no weapons. He could have sent the co-pilot on an errand and locked the cockpit door. He alone, unstoppable, could fly the plane anywhere except for two things: limited amount of fuel, and interception by air force fighter jets.
But it’s hard to believe a love-able family man, after three decades of shepherding thousands of passengers without a scratch, would suddenly and willingly risk the lives of innocent people, or possibly kill them or knock them unconscious by rising suddenly to 43,000 feet and then diving sharply.
Many suspect that Shah was a hero, or a victim of foul play.
But questions remain. If coerced by hijackers, why didn’t he hit the May Day button or fly in such a way to alert authorities?
This leaves four main possibilities:
One, he followed orders of hijackers in order to save passengers from harm.
Two, he did everything he could to deceive and evade authorities.
Three, he did hit the May Day button, but he was intercepted or shot down to prevent his plane from being used as a bomb or 911-style weapon of destruction.
Four, he refused orders to land, and eventually ran out of gas.
There’s no evidence to suggest any of these things happened. But in the era of 911, these scenarios aren’t impossible and unimaginable either.
Thus these theories at least have to be considered.
MH370 WAS INTERCEPTED and/or SHOT DOWN and/or ESCORTED UNTIL IT RAN OUT OF GAS
Since there’s no way to independently verify claims by Malaysian officials, it’s possible their version of events is a song and dance show to divert attention away from what really happened.
But there’s also no evidence to suggest that MH370 was intercepted, shot down or escorted until it ran out of gas. Again, we know almost nothing.
In this scenario, everybody is acting appropriately. Vietnam air traffic controllers contact Malaysian Airlines to say they’ve got no communication from MH370. The airline reps are understandably concerned something is amiss. They’ve got a plane full of people — 239 to be exact — and they can’t find it. They immediately contact the Malaysian air force to say that they’ve lost track of MH370. The air force reps in turn contact the US military attaches, who send out warnings to regional militaries, who have just recently completed joint training exercises and cooperated with tremendous positive effect after Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.
As soon as they can — maybe minutes, maybe an hour — the Malaysian Air Force scrambles fighter jets into the dark skies over southeast Asia. Flying at impressive speeds, they intercept MH370 either over the Gulf of Thailand, the South China Sea, the Malayan peninsula, the Andaman Sea, or somewhere else. Everybody is doing the jobs they’re trained to do.
They are also trained to keep this operation a secret. Perhaps only the Prime Minister, the Air Force Chief, and the pilots know about it. Not even the Transport Minister and the CEO of Malaysian Airlines, who conduct daily press conferences, know.
The pilots don’t attack guns blazing. They want the plane to land safely to save hundreds of innocent lives. They surround the plane, demanding it land immediately, for the sake of the passengers. The pilot (either Shah, his co-pilot, or a hijacker or group of criminals) refuse to land, fearing arrest or a thwarting of their plot. This dramatic encounter goes on for minutes, or maybe even hours. Eventually, without other options, MH370 is either shot-down (to prevent it from harming people on land), or it runs out of fuel and crashes. It’s a terrible tragedy, but military actions may have saved many more lives.
In this scenario, the fighter jets would have most likely tried to force MH370 over water, to keep it away from large population centers such as Kuala Lumpur, Singapore or Jakarta. The southern Indian Ocean would be the most likely place to steer the wayward jet.
The US military, which probably has access to more detailed and accurate intelligence information than any other organization, is involved in searching the Indian Ocean. Malaysia wants them to do more there, if they can. The US Navy has earned a reputation for altruism and heroism in the region. They began their search in the Gulf of Thailand, then moved to the north Malacca Strait, where the Malaysian Air Force says their radar last sighted MH370.
Does this mean the jet crashed there? Again, there’s no evidence to support this or any other theory. We know almost nothing, and it seems that somebody wants to keep it that way.