UPDATE, March 15, 2014: The mystery surrounding Malaysia Airlines Flight
370 took a sinister turn Saturday, when Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak confirmed that the plane had been deliberately flown off
course. Authorities have now opened a criminal investigation into the plane's
disappearance, with security personnel reportedly focusing new attention on the
plane's pilot and co-pilot. The prime minister's announcement stems from new
satellite information that suggests the jet flew for at least seven hours after
veering off course, likely on a flight path that runs from northern Thailand
towards Kazakhstan. Another possible flight path runs from Jakarta along the
southern Indian Ocean. While Razak said that all possibilities are still being
explored, CBS News quoted an unnamed Malaysian official who said that "it is
conclusive" that the plane was hijacked.
If the plane was hijacked, it may have been part
of a larger plot choreographed by an al Qaeda affiliate in Malaysia. The Telegraph reported Saturday that a British al Qaeda informant
claimed to have been complicit in an alleged terrorist plot planned by "four to
five" Malaysian jihadists. The informant made the comments while testifying in
New York last week during the trial of Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, Osama bin Laden's
son-in-law. He said that one of the Malaysian men was a pilot and that the
group planned to hijack a plane in Kuala Lumpur and use it in a terrorist act.
Badat's testimony came before the disappearance of MH370.
Original Post: It's a general rule of thumb (Occam's razor, to be exact)
that, when evaluating theories, the one with the fewest assumptions is most
often correct. Wild and outlandish theories are almost always wrong -- except
when they're not.
But it's hard to make sense of the disappearance
of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 -- there doesn't seem to be a simple
explanation. There's the absence of wreckage, despite an unprecedentedly large
international search effort. There's the fact that the plane's transponder went
silent and the plane effectively disappeared along a
stretch of its flight path where radar coverage is spotty. But then there's
also evidence that the plane may have continued flying for hours after it went
silent: It may have been picked up on radar an hour later over the Strait of Malacca, and
may have continued flying for another three hours after that according to
satellite signals that may have originated from the plane's engines.
A classified assessment by the U.S. and Malaysian
governments that leaked to CNN on Friday evening suggests that the plane likely crashed outside the current
search area, east of India in the Bay of Bengal, or west of Indonesia in the
Indian Ocean. It may also have fluctuated in altitude after disappearing, climbing above
its maximum approved altitude of 43,100 feet before plummeting to 23,000 feet,
according to the New York Times.
But until the plane is found and more is known
about what happened to Flight 370, more complicated (and less likely) theories
will continue to circulate, ranging from plausible-but-unlikely to downright out-of-this-world. Here are a few of the latest:
The plane landed somewhere west of Malaysia
The search for MH 370 has frequently been framed as
a search for wreckage (like the debris spotted in Chinese satellite imagery in
the South China Sea, which has since been ruled out). But what if there is no
wreckage? What if the plane is intact? Investigators are considering that the
flight may have been deliberately directed off course in order to land
discretely somewhere "with the intention of using it later for another
It seems a touch far-fetched, but the plane's
disappearance -- at just the right moment to go undetected -- has suggested to
some that it may have been intentional. Jeff Wise at Slate suggests that the pilots could have waited until they
reached an area where radar coverage is spotty, turned off their transponders,
and then adjusted course -- possibly making a sharp turn west and dropping in
altitude to fly under the radar.
could have been flown to an airstrip somewhere off the beaten path -- but
where? Depending on how loaded down the plane is, a Boeing 777 requires
3,800 and 5,200 feet of runway to land. The plane's apparent trajectory in the
Strait of Malacca has investigators looking
the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, but there are only four airports in the Indian
island chain, two of which are operated by the Indian military. But that's not
to say the plane might not have set down at a long airstrip somewhere else.
(Myanmar has two dozen airports that do not use major carriers, there are
another half-dozen listed in Sumatra, not to mention any unlisted airstrips.
former U.S. airfields in Vietnam, many of which have since been abandoned,
gives a sense of just how many unlisted airstrips there may be in the region.)
still the matter of what to do with the 239 people and the Boeing 777, but
there's an obvious motive: money. The Strait of Malacca is a major transit
point for trade passing between the Indian and Pacific Oceans -- and as a
result, it has been an attractive region for pirates. If pirates
got control of the plane, they may try to ransom the passengers or resell the
plane for tens of millions of dollars.
Someone deliberately flew the plane to the Middle
Malaysia's air force chief announced Wednesday that military radar had plotted
the plane hundreds of miles west of its planned route, the possibility
of foul play
reared its head again. Further fueling speculation that Flight 370 may have
been hijacked, Reuters reported Friday that
the plane's westward path followed a flight corridor commonly used by
commercial flights en route to the Middle East and Europe. Citing unnamed
sources, the report stated that, according to its last position as plotted by
military radar, the jet was heading towards the Andaman Islands, putting it on
a flight path known as P628, which carriers use to get from Southeast Asia to
Kallstrom, a former assistant director of the FBI, speculated that the plane
might have been hijacked by terrorists for use as a weapon later. "You draw
that arc and you look at countries like Pakistan ... and you see the plane
landing somewhere and (people) repurposing it for some dastardly deed down the
road," he told CNN's Jake Tapper on Thursday. "I mean, that could happen." But
then again, it's not easy to hide a 777, and investigators have said it is
doubtful the plane would have the fuel to make it past India, or that it could
have made it that far without being detected by radar.
shot it down
Malaysia's military had failed to notify the public of radar signals believed
to have come from the missing flight ignited rumors among Chinese citizens that
the military had mistakenly identified the plane as a threat and shot it down.
The rumors implied, of course, a cover-up. Malaysian Ambassador to China
Iskandar Sarudin refuted
the rumors on
Thursday, saying that, while the plane was indeed detected on radar, it was
never deemed a threat.
incident wouldn't be unprecedented, however. In 1988, a U.S. Navy ship, the USS
Vincennes, misidentified a
commercial Airbus A300 en route to Dubai as a fighter jet and, during a
skirmish with Iranian ships in the Persian Gulf, fired two missiles at the
airliner, killing 290 people on board. A few years earlier, a Korean Airlines
flight strayed into Soviet airspace en route to Beijing and was
shot down by
Soviet fighter jets. Later, Soviet pilot Col. Gennadi Osipovitch told CNN that he
"wondered if it was a civilian aircraft ... but I had no time to think."
or both, of the pilots committed suicide
theory, like the preceding one, has a historical precedent. In 1997, SilkAir
Flight 185 took off from Indonesia with 97 passengers. Less than an hour into
the flight, the plane
dove into the Musi River in Sumatra, killing everyone on board. The U.S. National
Transportation Safety Board concluded that the plane's captain flew the
aircraft into the river.
are being drawn between SilkAir Flight 185 and and Malaysia Air Flight 370. On
Friday, the Associated Press quoted
a member of the Australian and International Pilots Association, Mike
Glynn, as saying that pilot suicide is the likeliest possibility in this case.
"A pilot rather than a hijacker is more likely to be able to switch off
the communications equipment,'' he told the AP, suggesting that the pilot(s)
disabled the plane's equipment before flying the plane into the ocean.