Friday, March 14, 2014

The Mystery of Flight MH370

How do you explain the sudden disappearance of a 250 tonne jetliner in mid flight? This was what happened to MH370, a code shared flight with China Southern Airline, carrying 227 passengers and a 12 member crew, from Kuala Lumpur International Airport to Beijing in the early hours of March 8. Less than 2 hours after departure, while flying over the Gulf of Thailand and approaching southern Vietnam the plane stopped transmitting and ground controls in both Malaysia and Vietnam were unable to reach the pilot. No prior warning of any mechanical problems was relayed. In fact the pilot's last words when he signed off were "All right, good night," after being told by Malaysian air traffic controllers that he was entering Vietnamese air space. Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah couldn't have felt better now that he could set the plane on auto pilot on course to Beijing and grab some sleep. Neither were the rest of the crew and passengers aware of what came next as they settled down to rest or sleep with the cabin lights dimmed. Beijing was just another 4 hours away.

In one of the biggest aviation mysteries in memory, dozens of aircraft and vessels from an array of countries, including the US Navy, have failed to find a shred of evidence pointing to the plane's fate. The frustration is that aviation technology still couldn't allow a plane's location to be tracked even if its transponder was manually switched off as suggested by some investigators. For now it is like searching for a hairpin in a haystack. But the answer will be forthcoming - be it in days or a year or two. MH370 couldn't just vanish into thin air. Within human reasons just 2 possibilities exist.

1. The plane crashed.
2. The plane was hijacked.

If the plane was hijacked its physical location would be known now. You cannot land a plane this size in a jungle or a remote desert. And the hijackers would have made their demands known already. The twist to this sage is the Malaysian authorities leaked out a day after the disappearance, inadvertently I believe, that the plane had made a U turn and headed towards the Andaman Sea above the Straits of Melaka. Later this was retracted as untrue but there is suspicion why it was leaked initially. Was it the truth but covered up because of political or military sensitivity? If it was then the destination of the plane can be anywhere to the west of peninsular Malaysia as far as the fuel last, which include to Pakistan. If this turns out to be true then there is a good chance that the passengers and crew may be taken hostage and are still alive. We keep our fingers crossed and prayers lifted.

But without any claim made for this disappearance there is a 99.9% chance the plane is lost and the ensuing question is where, in the sea or on land. If it was on land chances are there are witnesses and reports would have been made of its sighting. After 5 days it is most likely the plane had crashed into the sea. This is supported by its flight path and time radar contact was lost. Worst if the plane crashed into the Indian Ocean then search and rescue would be extremely difficult and remote. Then of course the question, assuming the sea crash, is how did it happened? The plane either suffered sudden engine failure, exploded by bombs carried or assembled on board, or ignition of its fuel tanks, any of which gave no chance for the pilot to send our a distress message.

If it is failures attributed to the plane or its equipment then the manufacturer Boeing will have a lot to answer. If it was triggered by explosives planted on board the answer is clearly terrorism. Were the terrorists on the plane to detonate the bombs or were they detonated by timer preset to explode at a certain time? What is the reason for bombing the plane? Two possibilities exist - the Xinjiang movement to take the province out of China and the persecution of Shiite Muslims by the Sunni Muslim Malaysian government. The first possibility is more likely as the flight carried 150 Chinese nationals.

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