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Mar 5, 2016

MH370, what did authorities know that night?

Logic, and careful consideration of the public record, suggests that the motive for the disappearance of flight MH370 almost two years was known in high places of authority in Malay

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Two years on, the tears still flow but hopes have died
Two years on, the tears still flow but hopes have died

Logic, and careful consideration of the public record, suggests that the motive for the disappearance of flight MH370 almost two years was known in high places of authority in Malaysia on the night the Boeing 777-200ER with 239 people onboard took off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing.

But it doesn’t tell us what such a motive was, nor does it provide an infallible insight into the events of 8 March 2014. Logic is fallible, and the public record can be misinterpreted.

At the outset, the theories as to what happened to the Malaysia Airlines flight fall into two broad categories.

One category is that a totally unforeseen misadventure overcame the conduct of the flight, which the pilots were unable to deal with, and which was so immediate and catastrophic and comprehensive that no provable record of an emergency call from MH370 has been established.

There are enormous difficulties with those theories, given what is known about the diversion of the flight from its intended path while it was over the Gulf of Thailand, but they persist, and however implausible, cannot be entirely ruled out.

The other category of theory holds on to a common conviction that MH370 was deliberately diverted from its path in an apparently meticulously planned and timed operation, by persons unknown, for a purpose unknown, to a destination unknown, after which it, intentionally or accidentally, switched from a northwesterly or westerly path toward India and central Asia to one that went south or southeasterly  to oblivion in the southern Indian Ocean, west or SW of Western Australia.

All that is known about the flight to what continues to have been oblivion for MH370 is that the jet flew for at least seven hours 38 minutes and that ‘pings’ from an engine maintenance data computer which had been intentionally disabled but remained on standby mode were last heard from a southern Indian Ocean place from where they passed through a communications satellite that had to be about 44 degrees (or so) above the horizon as seen from the 777.

That last ping, part of an emergency rather than standby sequence of signals, was somewhere along the so called seventh arc of possible locations. It occurred at the time the known fuel load on MH370 should have been exhausted. The block time for MH370 between pushback in KL and terminal pier arrival in Beijing was five hours 50 minutes, and an endurance of seven hours 40 minutes was consistent with en route allowances for diversions, emergencies such as cabin depressurizations, and an arrival carrying no less than minimum legal fuel reserves.

Leaving the ferocious, but alas often ignorant technical discussion of what these ‘pings’ meant, the issues as to what occurred in Kuala Lumpur before and during and immediately after the flight took place merit continued consideration.

No-one is entitled to claim they know categorically and in detail what exactly happened and how or why to MH370 and the souls on board.

On the available evidence mainly from the interim and late but otherwise ICAO compliant accident report eventually released on 1 May 2014, we learn that hardly any efforts were made to contact the crew by cockpit satellite phone after the air traffic control transponder on the jet ceased functioning 39 minutes after lift off.

There were attempted radio communications, and there is one unverified report of a mumbling response possibly from MH370, but actual ground to cockpit sat phone calls without using other jets as intermediaries are inexplicably few.

They followed that moment when the jet, briefly in the no-man’s land between the ATC zones of Malaysia and Vietnam, abruptly stops being a transponder identified flight. MH370 diverts westwards, and is picked up as an unidentified object by military radars, although that was not made clear until some days later, after an extraordinary episode of disclosures and denials, by various sources.

The seeming indifference of Malaysia Airlines and the KL authorities to the disappearance on ATC screens of an airliner with 239 people onboard is perplexing to say the least. In the words of a major airline’s emergency responders “we would have hit all the buttons until our fingertips bled.”

There is no evidence that Malaysia Airlines or anyone in authority called every ship under or near the flight path of MH370. There were no calls to kampongs, police outposts, resorts, or any centre of activity, where something like a sudden explosion or fireball in the sky might have been noticed.

That immediate casting of a wide net to gather whatever information is available about the disappearance of a jet doesn’t seem to have occurred to Malaysia Airlines. It didn’t even activate the Kuala Lumpur Aeronautical Rescue Coordination Centre until the jet was due to have pulled up to the gate in Beijing, five hours and 50 minutes after takeoff and more than five hours after it was obvious to blind Freddy that something terrible had happened.

Had there been repeated, persistent sat phone calls made even the act of their ringing out unanswered would have provided more detailed clues as to the direction and potential location of MH370 through the fraught Doppler shift analysis that was to conclude that for much of the remaining flight the 777 flew southerly, away from the trajectory it was taking when said to be last seen on military radar off the coast of southern Thailand headed toward India or central Asia.

What did Malaysia Airlines already know at that time, or was it truly indifferent and callous to the middle of the night loss of an airliner?

There is no modern era loss of an airliner comparable to that of MH370 that elicited so little reaction from an airline or the responsible authorities in the records on various air safety archives. What did KL know?

We did find out, on 1 May 2014, that it knew on 8 March that the jet had diverted across the Malaysia Peninsula. That casual revelation by the then acting minister for Aviation, Hishammuddin Hussein means that Malaysia deliberately lied to its then extensive collection of air and sea search partners about what it knew for many days, diluting resources deployed and wasting valuable time.

An incisive factual insight into the inability of KL to come clean with its early stage search partners is documented in this Wall Street Journal story on 20 March 2014.

The logical implication of the behavior of the airline, civil aviation department, and the government of Malaysia on the night of 8 March 2014 is that they knew of a reason why one of the national carrier’s flights disappeared from the air traffic control system, and lied about it.

But could other factors be in play? Accountability of authority in Malaysia is less practiced than in many other democracies. It is could be compared to being like any large corporation with an anal approach to message management, or almost any western or non western government agency, in which nothing that happens is ever confirmed or admitted until the ‘owners’ of the message pass it.

If a threat had been made of a generalized nature to the Malaysia Airlines fleet, and had been ignored, the internal motive for retention of that awful and legally profoundly damaging information would be very strong.

The secretiveness of KL in the early stages of this saga didn’t really crack until sufficient time had elapsed for large items of floating debris, like bodies, seats, suit cases and maybe even emergency slides, had largely joined the marine food chain, or sunk, and been increasingly dispersed.

The object found by an American self funded researcher Blaine Gibson on a Mozambique sandbar recently may, or may not be, the second only confirmed fragment of the airframe of MH370 yet recovered following the flaperon retrieved from La Reunion island last July.

The search for MH370 remains a long way from locating the two bright orange ‘black box’ data and voice recorders, or perhaps crucially, the phone or tablet memory chips that may provide graphic insights into what happened before their owners were consigned by fate, and evil, to depths where there is no time, and no day and no night.

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands has reported and analysed the mechanical mobility of humanity since late 1960 - the end of the age of great scheduled ocean liners and coastal steamers and the start of the jet age. He’s worked in newspapers, radio and TV in a wide range of roles as a journalist at home and abroad for 56 years, the last 18 freelance.

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13 comments

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13 thoughts on “MH370, what did authorities know that night?

  1. discus

    Ben, you will recall the piece you wrote back in March 2014.

    http://blogs.crikey.com.au/planetalking/2014/03/11/mh370-did-authorities-visit-crash-site-today/

    People there likely knew something earlier than they let on.

    By the way, Johnny Begue of flaperon fame has found something that maybe 370 related https://pbs.twimg.com/media/Ccw0sWYW0AAxACw.jpg:large

    I am assuming it is a recent photo.

  2. Simon Gunson

    MH370 disappeared after taking off after midnight Friday and flew into oblivion in the early hours of Saturday morning.

    On the following Wednesday Malaysian authorities were denying they had tracked MH370 flying back across Malaysia

    http://www.scmp.com/news/asia/article/1447359/malaysias-radar-may-not-have-tracked-missing-plane-due-human-error

    Subsequently on the first anniversary they came out with the so called Factual Information report, which for the very first time alleged that Malaysian radar had tracked MH370 from Kota Bharu to Penang at speeds that required very high altitudes.

    Malaysia is making up the story as it goes along. There were no radar sightings.

  3. comet

    After the MH17 crash, there was enormous international political pressure on Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Talk of shirt-fronting him etc.

    Where is the international pressure on Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak? Why is there none?

    If Malaysia is concealing the cause of a plane crash that killed more than 200 people, then surely that is worthy of international economic sanctions against this regime.

  4. Peter Darco

    Jeff Wise maintains that the plane went to Kazakhstan and was buried next to the airfield.

    http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2015/02/jeff-wise-mh370-theory.html

  5. Tango

    Ben: Excellent summation.

    Perhaps to add into it or empathize more, Malaysia is very close to if not a dictatorship. People do not act without getting orders from above for justifiable fear or reprisal. You can’t go wrong by doing nothing so to speak (or hopefully for the individual not as much and you know you can if you do something)

    I don’t think you need any more than a stunning 700 million paid to the PM to explain a whole lot more. Frankly its insane. The government is no longer functioning as a government.

    The actions that followed verge on the insane. No one has taken it to the Hague but it certainly is a crime of historical measure that a government lies about a search when it knows said search is absolutely known to be going on in the wrong location.

    Worse no one has called them on it. Silence of the Lambs indeed.

    I would call the question is, are the two event (aircraft disappearing and the lying) actually related or is one the consequence of the other (aircraft disappearing for reason no one knew, and the response was the same for any aircraft disappearance that might have occurred)

    Probably the other aspect of deeper significant is selective loss of tracking equipment. Frankly I think the plausibility of an untoward event selectively taking out the two obvious tracking system and nothing in between like other emergency reported (so radios as well) as said event is progression and then it stops and allows an aircraft to fly for 7 hours is in the negative realm of possibility (i.e. once you get to zero it is as impossible as the Earth falling into the sun tomorrow.

  6. Tango

    there is a human condition that attempts to connect effect and cause. Its part of the DNA, what was needed for living in a wild world vs today is far different.

    the good technician is one who gathers facts and then puts the evidence together in a plausible issue. If clue are right and you know your stuff, then you get a starting point and are proven right.

    Most people do not do that for a living and fall into the trap. I don’t think I do but others are free to disagree.

    Simon: NTSB does not disagree with Malaysian, I accept there were tracks as fact.

    You can selectively pick out facts and ignore others but that does not make it true. You don’t know there were none, we have some decent evidence there not only was but additional and separate evidence from the pings where it went.

    Simply stating the sun rises in the West does not make it so.

  7. Tango

    Comet the obvious reason is that you are putting the Malay government lying and them knowing what the cause of the disappearance was. that’s linking two separate situations and creating a fact that is not proven.

    You are underestimating the capability of a quasi dictatorship and its reaction to an incident. Putin did the same thing with the loss of a Russian nuclear submarine (he ignored it, then blamed others etc, he also learned that he had taken his power for granted and no longer makes that mistake though its purely self serving)

    Yes Malaysia should be taken to criminal court, but for its known actions not the unsubstantiated theories.

  8. GeorgeD

    Ben, are you saying that it was shot down?

  9. Ben Sandilands

    GeorgeD,

    No. Definitely not.

  10. Dan Dair

    Peter Darco,
    When the wild speculations of Jeff Wise were new,
    they were somewhat debunked on these pages as being much more likely to be the site of unsafely buried low-level nuclear waste,
    than a valid idea that you’d bury whole (& retain it’s general outline) an airliner you were desperate to hide.?

  11. GeorgeD

    Ben, is it being suggested that a plane that was heading towards central Asia was diverted (by force or by deception) into the Indian Ocean?

  12. Ben Sandilands

    GeorgeD,

    I believe that is a reasonable hypothesis and one suggested to me by persons in the airline game in this hemisphere as far back as within a few weeks of the disappearance.

    But it is only one of a number of reasonable scenarios, and like all of them, severely lacking in proven, established details.

  13. Steve Barrett

    Ben this is an excellent summary. Thank you. There is something about the behaviour of the Malaysian Authorities early response to the loss of MH370 that doesn’t quite match pilot suicide. In a previous posting on MH370 Fred uses the term “unlawful interference”. I’m not a lawyer but this is 100% spot on from my perspective.

    Someone has done something to this plane.

    The New Ltd pieces by Byron Bailey are unfortunate but understandable. Self reflection is an important part of flying a plane. With a father now long retired from international flying “is there anything that I’ve done could have caused this” is part of the problem solving process.

    I await the release of the French forensic report into the flaperon with interest. Surely this should be released on the second anniversary of the crash.

    As an aside reading articles from News Ltd/Wall St Journal the US$681 million which ‘appeared’ into Najib Razak’s bank account prior to MH370 has been largely ‘refunded’. Any relevance?

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