I watched the confused early morning US live broadcast of press conference held by Malaysian military and civilian aviation authorities. They were endeavoring to answer questions of an international press perplexed by the conflicting information about the final moments and whereabouts of Malaysian Air Flight MH 370 with 227 passengers and 12 crew on board departed Saturday, March 9th from Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing. The Boeing 777 aircraft has redundant electrical and communications systems on board and a near faultless safety record, as does the operator Malaysian Air. Only three such aircraft have had accidents in an otherwise impressive airworthiness history. At today’s press briefing a Malaysian military spokesperson said that defense radars had last placed Flight 370 200 miles northwest of Penang Island. The search area has been extended to both sides of the Malaysian Peninsula covering 47,000 square miles .An international flotilla of more than 43 ships and 39 aircraft are involved in searching for the debris of the downed aircraft.
Watch this CBS News report on the disappearance of Malaysian Flight MH370:
The confusion that I witnessed must have further perplexed the relatives of more than 14 nationalities aboard, the majority were Chinese passengers. Both the families of Chinese passengers and Chinese government officials have badgered Malaysian airline staff in Beijing requesting information on the ‘disappearance’ of Flight 370. Doubtless that also would have been the response of the families of the other international travelers including Australians and three Americans on board the flight.
Regarding the matter of passengers with stolen passports, we know that neighboring Thailand is a major center for trafficking in such stolen documents. Two Iranian nationals had obtained these stolen passports. These Iranians were cleared by US counterterrorism authorities of having any nefarious terrorist connections. They were bound ultimately for destinations in Europe and were on not on any no fly or watch lists.. While Interpol maintains a data base of such purloined passports, it is not entirely fool proof. Thus, local photographic and biometric screening of departing passengers’ documentation is the only way to effectively identify and screen them for possible untoward missions.
Perhaps contributing to the confusion in locating Flight 370, is whether the impact occurred on land or more likely in the relative shallow depths of the Gulf of Thailand. There is also the matter of opacities in the international civil aviation radar coverage, especially in relatively undeveloped areas. Airline safety experts, both former National Transportation Safety Board officials and International Civil Aviation Organization and independent experts said that the sudden disappearance of Flight 370 transponder communications might be due to a possible criminal act, either from terrorist actions or a rogue pilot.
We know from a report of an Australian tourists that the co-pilot on Flight 370 had left the cockpit door open so that curious passengers on board might come up to the flight deck to see how the flight was being handled. If the case, that is a violation of international flight safety rules requiring the cockpit to be locked down s following the 9/11 skyjackings and suicide attacks in New York, Northern Virginia and southwestern Pennsylvania.
One example of a plausible criminal act is what occurred with the loss of Egyptian Air 990 that went down 60 Miles off Nantucket in late August 1999 with 217 passengers aboard. As Flight 990, a Boeing 767, crashed in international waters the Egyptian Civil Aviation Authority (ECAA) was the responsible for conducting the investigation. The ECAA initially denied that the relief pilot aboard might have deliberately plunged Flight 990 into the Atlantic. Cockpit recordings and recovery of the flight recorders, the so-called black boxes, verified the sudden deliberate violent changes in flight controls.
Note this Wikipedia report on Flight 990:
As the crash occurred in international waters, the responsibility for investigating the accident fell to the Egyptian Civil Aviation Authority (ECAA) per International Civil Aviation Organization Annex 13. As the ECAA lacked the resources of the much larger US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the Egyptian government asked the NTSB to handle the investigation. Two weeks after the crash, the NTSB proposed handing the investigation over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as the evidence they had gathered suggested a criminal act had taken place and that the crash was intentional rather than accidental. This proposal was unacceptable to the Egyptian authorities, and as such the NTSB continued to lead the investigation. As the evidence of a deliberate crash mounted, the Egyptian government reversed their earlier decision, and the ECAA launched their own investigation. The two investigations came to very different conclusions: the NTSB found the crash was caused by deliberate action of the Relief First Officer Gameel Al-Batouti; the ECAA found the crash was caused by mechanical failure of the airplane’s elevator control system.
Could Malaysian Flight 370 have suffered the same fate as Egyptian Air 990? That is, a rogue pilot seizing the controls plunging it into a steep dive and impact possibly at sea? If the case, then the aircraft debris including large sections of the fuselage constructed of honeycomb material and baggage would have floated free for evidentiary recovery. If the impact was on land, the aircraft could have crashed in tropical areas with impenetrable triple canopy jungle areas. Should the cockpit voice recorder and flight recorder ‘black box’ be eventually recovered, then we might learn whether a terrorist or criminal act occurred.
Recovery of the aircraft debris, voice and flights recorders may be problematic Nonetheless, an Egyptian Air Flight 990 scenario could be a plausible, yet disturbing scenario. The last voice transmission from Flight 370 was: “All right, good night”.
EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on The New English Review.
UPDATE: Given this morning news about the shutdown of the transponders and RR Engines telemetry data, it appears that MH370 was diverted by an experienced person on board the flight, whether, the Flight officer, co-pilot or terrorist passenger on board. The RR telemetry data indicates that the Boeing 777 flew on after transpornders were shut down manually for four to five hours. Therefore something akin to the Egyptian Aior flight 990 might be increasingly plausible, but with a difference; i.e., diversion of the flight to a forced landing location outside of the extended search area. those large objects in the relatively shallow South China Seas were judged to be too big for an aircraft broken up at sea on impact like Egyptian Air 990. The South China Sea is only 146 feet deep in that area. The Boeing 777 stands about 61 feet high.