There’s nothing worse than an unexplained or inexplicable misfortune, and particularly with the modern-day demand for instant news and certain facts, even when there’s nothing to say and little understood, low quality ‘information’ rushes in to fill the knowledge gap which exists.
When you add to this a layer of government bumbling and incompetence, and then leaven it all with truly unusual situations far removed from normalcy, you have an impossibly tempting situation for conspiracies to flourish.
This is definitely the case with the MH 370 mysterious disappearance. If you can remember back the six weeks to when it first disappeared, the information that has been trickling out has consistently been slow and contradictory and the many claims of wreckage sightings, oil slicks, and other indications of the plane have all been proven false. Never mind that incomplete and inaccurate information seems to invariably accompany the initial release of information on any major event; in the case of MH 370 it has consistently seemed particularly egregious, right from the very first six-hour delay between the plane losing contact and being announced as officially missing (ie an hour after it had already failed to land in Beijing).
We weren’t even sure exactly when the plane went out of contact, or what its last contact was, getting a series of conflicting stories about what the last contact was, and whether the last voice contact was with the pilot or co-pilot. Indeed, not only were these simple seeming issues unclear for several days, but the official statement of what the last words received were was revised a month after the plane’s disappearance.
The initial search area – in the vicinity of where the plane was at its last contact, a location that on the face of it was initially sensible – gradually was shown to be more and more ridiculous, although it took almost exactly a week for us to learn that the plane had been sort of occasionally tracked by radar heading in the opposite direction long after communication stopped. Subsequent search areas were located many thousands of miles to the west, and then many more thousands of miles to the south, and speculation covered even wider areas.
It is still unclear today exactly how much fuel the plane had loaded prior to taking off from Kuala Lumpur, although there’s not a huge range of possible values as between the minimum amount it should have had on board for its flight to Beijing and the maximum amount it could carry. It took an astonishing amount of time for the authorities to concede the obvious possibility that the plane really truly could be anywhere within 3,000 or so miles of its last known position. In other words, to put that in context, a plane last sighted over Los Angeles might be somewhere west of Hawaii, in northern Alaska, Halifax, Bermuda or Panama, or anywhere else within the circle bounded by those points.
Plane wreckage and oil slicks have been claimed to be sighted repeatedly by various governments (but never turned out to be actual wreckage/oil from the plane), and while no-one has actually said so, the lack of any wreckage is now starting to transition from merely frustrating to significant and unusual. Even the US government at one stage was dropping strong hints that the plane was in the water somewhere off the Indian coast and went as far as to send one of its ships in that direction (the clear interpretation being that one of our confidential intelligence gathering resources had spotted/detected the plane crashing there). There has been no explanation as to how the US was wrong with this claim.
In addition to what had seemed to be a series of credible locations for the plane’s remains, other more bizarre stories have briefly appeared and then disappeared about the plane being sighted on the ground, in locations ranging from Diego Garcia to China to northern Pakistan, Afghanistan, and other ‘-stan’ type countries.
Then – two weeks after the plane disappeared – there was news of a previously undisclosed series of automatic contacts between the plane’s engines and an overhead satellite being discovered, first leading to a series of location bands, anywhere on which the plane might have been at the time of each contact, and then further analysis based on these signals a few days later claimed the plane had flown to a fairly specific location in the Southern Ocean off the west coast of Australia – first thought to be to the southwest and then successively further north from there, by 1000 + miles.
But not everyone accepts this analysis, which clearly is imprecise to the tune of at least 1,000 miles in any event. If the satellite data is to be accepted at a superficial level (ie the several rings), the plane could have flown on one of several different paths, depending on the plane’s speed, so as to position it on each of the rings at the times the engines ‘phoned home’. Further analysis of the signals received is claimed to have enabled analysts to get additional information as to the plane’s heading at the time of each signal exchange. The math involved is complex, and has strangely not been fully disclosed by the people asserting the plane flew a southerly route – a route which is a bit counter-intuitive considering the plane was flying in a west-north-westerly directly prior to apparently disappearing entirely from all radars. It certainly would seem to embody some assumptions about the correlation between the plane’s speed through the air and directional heading, and as such, would be challengeable rather than demonstrably and unambiguously correct.
Here’s an interesting and credible website which suggests the plane may have been more likely to have continued in a general north/west direction – which certainly creates a bunch more ‘interesting’ scenarios as to the plane’s eventual disposition than does a suggestion that after all its earlier twists and turns, it straightened out and simply flew in more or less a direct path into the Southern Ocean, eventually running out of fuel and crashing.
There are few scenarios that can explain the southern route. The most likely explanation seems to be that at some point prior to the final routing down to its final fuel exhaustion point, everyone on the plane died or in some other way, the plane became uncontrollable. Another one is that perhaps the pilot, formerly under duress to that point, managed to briefly break free and reprogram the plane’s heading before being recaptured/killed. On the other hand, there are many scenarios that could account for the plane continuing to fly a circuitous path to a specific destination and runway, somewhere on land, in an area of the world rich in terrorist type activity.
Not so easily explained is how the plane could have made its way through some contentious and heavily defended airspace on its way to some northwestern inland final location. On the other hand, many people have found it astonishing that the plane managed to fly so far without any radar contact, and/or that the times it apparently did briefly appear on radar there was no response by the governments and air traffic control or air defense authorities involved.
Is this proof of a conspiracy or cover-up? More likely, it is simply a case of the plane showing no alarming/aggressive tendencies, and countries not being sufficiently trigger-happy/paranoid as to want to spend money scrambling fighters to investigate a plane that was apparently flying in a normal manner and as likely as not, would soon start flying out of, rather than into the monitoring authority’s airspace.
In such a case, is it possible that a combination of infrequent radar returns and lack of any clear ‘threat profile’ meant a continued passive non-response as the plane flew on to its final destination? It is unlikely, but far from beyond the realm of possibility, and in the scenario where there are no remaining likely explanations, we have to fully consider all unlikely ones.
In the early days, there were stories of cell phones belonging to passengers that were claimed to be still switched on, ‘on line’ and ringing, a day or two after the plane disappeared. This was subsequently explained as being normal when you are calling a phone in a foreign country – the ringing the caller hears in their phone does not mean the called phone is also ringing at the same time – it is an auto-generated tone to reassure the caller that the call is being processed. More recently, we have learned that the co-pilot’s phone is thought to have locked on to a cell tower signal briefly while the plane was flying back over the Malaysian peninsula after going silent, but we haven’t been told any more than this. We don’t know if the co-pilot made (or attempted) a phone call, or who to, or anything else.
One thing that seems increasingly likely is that most – probably all – the passengers and crew are now dead, although the cause of their passing may or may not be as a result of the plane crashing into the ocean. If the plane landed safely somewhere, it is hard to think of a likely situation where the 239 people on board would be kept secretly alive for five weeks. That’s a lot of food, a lot of water, a lot of plumbing, and so on that would be required, and the type of people who would commandeer the plane probably would have little motivation to care for the passengers on board. On the other hand – and for every theory, there’s a counter-theory – Russian sources are suggesting the plane flew to Afghanistan and the passengers/crew are alive and well.
The flight’s profile – shortly after losing contact, it executed a climb up to its maximum height before descending down again – could be explained by whoever was controlling the plane doing this to more quickly asphyxiate everyone on board before continuing to fly the plane, uninterrupted by the now cargo of dead bodies.
Credible black box pings have been detected on four occasions, as have some false contacts that proved not to be black box pings, but now it seems the black box batteries have finally gone silent, and most recently, two attempts to send the remote-controlled Bluefin-21 submersible down to hunt for any wreckage have each been prematurely aborted after only a few hours rather than full 20 hour missions.
That’s not to say that things won’t improve with the submersible, but it is frustrating at present – as is the knowledge that the Bluefin-21 can’t go as deep as the ocean floor in the areas it is searching and is operating right at the limit of its depth capabilities (and sometimes beyond that limit, causing the submersible to go into ‘panic’ mode and urgently surface).
Update : It has now been decided to operate the Bluefin-21 at greater than its rated maximum depth, and after its two earlier deployments both being cut short, it has now completed a full mission, with the authorities expressing optimism that the entire search area will be covered in less time than earlier expected, due to more progress in narrowing down the likely search area in which the black boxes may be located.
Official statements from the Malaysian authorities change and contradict each other, and additional statements from the Chinese, Australia, and other authorities vary in terms of their subsequently demonstrated accuracy too. Some of the time, optimistic hopes of finding the plane’s wreckage and/or black boxes are expressed, other times, officials express doubts as to how quickly anything may be learned. There have already been some very delicate hints that maybe nothing will ever be found – mention of the silty ocean bottom potentially covering up the plane wreckage has already been lightly raised, but thus far only in the context of it being difficult rather than impossible to locate the plane.
What would it mean if the plane is never found? Would this be significant? Interestingly, it would be reasonably hard to fabricate a convincing crash scene, even miles below the surface of the ocean. The location and disposition of every 777 ever manufactured is known, and it would be difficult to mock-up a crashed 777 without using real 777 parts, assuming that an independent investigative body subsequently recovered some of the remains and started to trace them back through the audit trail that is associated with every piece and part of a modern passenger jet.
It would be more possible to create dummy data to load into a black box and allow it to be miraculously found without any matching airplane pieces. The voice recorder (which will only store the last couple of hours of data anyway, not the most ‘interesting’ parts when the plane first lost contact and was flying up and down and round and about) could completely credibly contain nothing except the sounds of the plane flying through the air, with some instrument warnings at the end – low fuel, low altitude, etc – followed by whatever some sound engineer imagines the sound of the plane crashing into the ocean would be (well, actually, we already know what that sounds like – that could be adapted from the AF447 recording). A data recorder could take data from an actual 777 flight and then be edited to recreate the necessary profile for the supposed MH370 flight, and if there were any tricky bits, those could be deemed ‘missing’ or damaged.
Indeed, if someone with sufficient resources really wanted to cover up the fate of the plane, it would make sense to take the actual black boxes from the actual MH 370 plane, edit the actual recordings, then take the black boxes and drop them into the deepest part of the Southern Ocean they could find (which, coincidentally, seems to be where they ended up). If the actual black boxes were found, with credible data on them, who would question things any further? As it is, there was almost exactly a month from the plane’s disappearance until the first black box ping was detected – plenty of time for anyone to do anything.
Note that the delay in detecting the black box pinging does not mean the black boxes only recently were deposited wherever they may be, instead it probably just means that it took us that long to start looking in the appropriate place, because the pings seem to have a fairly short-range within which they can be detected.
Is it any wonder then that there have been many theories as to what might have happened to the plane, implicating all manner of governments (including our own) and a broad sprinkling of terrorist organizations (not just the usual middle Eastern Muslim groups). Indeed, not content with implicating any/all groups, anywhere in the world, there have been suggestions involving extra-terrestrial beings as well. Other unworldly forces include seeking advice from psychics (even on CNN).
It made sense to seek any evidence that might exist to shine a light of suspicion on the pilot or copilot, and similarly, the presence of people on board who were traveling on bogus passports was also a valid concern to be resolved. But some of these issues were definitely a bit over-wrought. For example, learning that a professional pilot also enjoys playing a high-end version of Microsoft Flight Simulator is far from astonishing, and to learn that some of the scenarios he had been running involved the plane getting into difficulties is totally normal. There’s little fun in running a sim that involves nothing more than hours of ordinary flying. Any sim player chooses interesting, challenging, and extending scenarios, the same way that professional training in ‘real’ simulators also involves problems rather than normal easy flight.
The pilot suicide theory also seems unlikely. If a pilot wished to kill himself by crashing his plane, one would expect him to do so quickly, with no fuss and no opportunity for the other pilot(s) or people on board to overpower him.
The pressure on getting news out fast, and the unfortunate fact that the internet and ‘social media’ gives everyone a voice, meant that some normal things were quickly being cited as ‘proof’ of various conspiracies to do with the plane, and the fact that the Malaysian authorities seemed chronically unable to get their own facts straight, combined with astonishing delays in disclosures, definitely added fuel to the fire. And with a total lack of knowledge about what did happen, anyone and everyone is therefore free to speculate any way they wish. While there is nothing to confirm any theory, there is also nothing to negate much of the speculation, either.
Furthermore, whatever it is that did happen is clearly going to be a very unusual thing, so we’ve opened the floodgates to speculation about unusual things in general.
The result? If you search for ‘MH 370 conspiracy’ on Google, there are 33 million pages it returns in its results. Happily, there is now a Wikipedia page devoted to the topic, sparing you the need to sift through all 33 million pages.
All we really know is that the plane has disappeared and hasn’t yet been found. We’re not sure what happened, who or what was responsible, or where the plane now is.
Beyond that, your guess is as good as mine. And, unfortunately, so too is the guess of anyone else. Whatever it is that did happen, it is already obvious that it was not a common or normal or usual thing. The only remaining issue is just exactly how uncommon, abnormal, and unusual it was.
We might never know the truth. Perhaps even worse, even if the plane is subsequently discovered, it may not answer all the many questions circling over the situation.