air safety

Mar 9, 2014

Malaysia Airlines MH370 hijack suspicions rise

The search zone for the missing Malaysia Airlines 777-200 that was operating MH370 between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing early on Saturday morning has now been extended because of the 'possi

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

The search zone for the missing Malaysia Airlines 777-200 that was operating MH370 between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing early on Saturday morning has now been extended because of the ‘possibility of an air turn back’.

Put into the context of other comments made today by Malaysia’s acting transport minister Hishammuddin Hussein concerning four suspicious passengers and more knowledge as to its flight path, speculations that this tragedy may have been caused by an attempted hijacking or other criminal behaviour are strengthened.

A detailed early account of Hishammuddin Hussein’s press conference has been posted here by Mavis Toh.

These suspicions were strengthened by earlier US reports confirming FBI involvement in investigating various aspects of the disappearance of the Boeing 777-200, which was carrying 239 people including six Australians.

Other factors supporting the theory that a criminal act lead to the crash including revised timings for the last radar and radio contacts with MH370 and claims in Asia media that there is evidence of a sudden drop of 200 metres or  nearly 700 feet from an established cruising altitude of 35,000 feet and a significant change of direction shortly before all contact was lost.

The exact location of the wreckage of the jet remains unknown well into day two of the search, and Vietnamese vessels which have arrived at the location of oil slicks at a point close to the last known position of MH370 have not on early reports found anything to link them to a plane crash.

These are some of the factuals established at this stage of the search effort.

MH370 took off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing on Saturday morning local time at 12.40 am and was due to arrive after a five hours 50 minutes flight at 6.30 am.

It quickly rose to a cruise altitude of 35,000 feet and the last confirmed radar fix on the flight was at 1.22 am local time.

(This is different from the initial airline claims that contact was lost at 2.40 am, which now appears to be the time the airline was in fact informed by Malaysia air traffic control that the flight was missing. An earlier post dealing with these changes and the detective work done by Aviation Herald can be read here.)

However after the radar return was lost Malaysia control asked another aircraft that was about 30 minutes flight time ahead of MH370 to contact it using the emergency radio frequency.

Contact was made as reported in the New Straits Times, but then lost by 1.30 am, meaning that there was eight minutes between MH370 being last identified on radar and being last heard on radio, with reception said to be affected by static. If MH370 was by then flying away from the intermediary jet rather than following it, reception might have been compromised.

All of these speculations, despite being supported by the information provided by official sources, could prove to be incomplete or erroneous. Early speculations on air crash causes are always by their nature incomplete, and often wrong.

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26 thoughts on “Malaysia Airlines MH370 hijack suspicions rise

  1. comet

    Whatever the investigation reveals, this is one of the most notable aviation disasters in history.

  2. carbon brakes

    Surely it is premature to be suggesting terrorism? The B777 has had Air Data Computer issues before, not unlike Airbus. Co-incidently, it was a Malaysian Airlines B777 – MH124, Perth to KL. Lets hope the Flight Recorders were not damaged and the industry can learn from this terrible tragedy.

  3. Confirmed Sceptic

    A report in the New York Times quotes an unnamed Pentagon official as saying their spaced-based surveillance detected no explosion in the area. I don’t know if that is conclusive though given a cargo hold explosion would be necessarily small and hidden from above.

    A cockpit invasion could have resulted in the altitude and heading change. Any control struggle could also have compromised the structural integrity of the aircraft.

  4. COTOS

    I hope it wasnt a burning ELT battery like the ETH 787 except in the air. That might explain the turnback, the loss of systems and control but also the missing post crash signal.
    Otherwise yes a hijacking could put them hours in the other direction and SAR are just looking and listening in the wrong place.

  5. Aidan Stanger

    If it was hijacked, how far could it have got before showing up on radar?

  6. Confirmed Sceptic

    There are air defence radars all over the region that would have primary return ability. (That means a return from metal, not a transponder). A hijacking out of the immediate are could not have gone undetected according to the experts.

    A burning ELT battery why? The signal is missing because the beacon is underwater and hence undetectable. All the ELT can do now is ping, and you need some kind of sonar to hear it.

  7. COTOS

    Ok Yes but those same radars did not detect falling metal or anything else below 34300′. just saying large jetliners dont just vapourize in cruise.

  8. comet

    TWA Flight 800 vaporised. Or more exactly, its fuel tank exploded.

  9. michael r james

    The two people using the stolen passports of Maraldi and Kozel were booked on flights out of China to Amsterdam. This doesn’t really mean anything since foreigners cannot enter China without return or onward-travel tickets. Possibly this could just be a coincidence of some people planning on illegal entry into Europe. By now they must have more info on these people, eg. via security cameras at KL airport, but I doubt they will put anything out to the public soon or maybe ever.
    I imagine the actual Maraldi and Kozel, being long-term residents in Thailand, will be getting intense attention from Interpol etc as they are the sort likely to be tempted to sell their passports for some easy money.

  10. fractious

    carbon brakes #2
    “Surely it is premature to be suggesting terrorism?”

    As Ben says, nearly everything at this point is speculation. Nonetheless, foul play of some sort appears to be one possible explanation that fits what few facts are known, and it wouldn’t be reasonable to discount the possibility. Likewise one or more types of catastrophic structural/ mechanical/ electrical failure.

  11. Dan Dair

    With respect, the term “vapourize”, literally means turn to vapour.

    TWA800 exploded & shattered into millions? of pieces.

    I remember at the time seeing TV pictures of wreckage (mostly seat cushions & luggage) all over the sea surface.

    Unless the search teams are looking in entirely the wrong place (which is still possible), it’s distinctly different from the aftermath of TWA600.

  12. Piet Bos

    @michael r james
    For foreigners it is actually possible to enter China without having a return flight or onward flight tickets. Also since I believe last year, people can enter China (from Beijing international airport) for up to 72 hours without a visa if they have a connecting flight within those 72 hours.

  13. nightflyer

    More speculation, but if this was meant to be some sort of attack against China, there was no real reason to bring down a Malaysian aircraft and the people responsible, unaware of the code share, possibly bought their tickets believing they were travelling on China Southern.

  14. COTOS

    Comet, thats kinda my point, TWA did not vapourize, it broke into three large pieces each more massive than the smallest light aircraft detectable by radar in the right conditions. And 95% of aircraft was recovered and it left a huge floating debri field.
    We are not seeing that here, so I am thinking (wrongly) that it may have gone under intact but without transponders or just maybe outside the current search area.
    I could be wrong again but im not sure wide area radar is watched for every blip that is going somewhere else without a tag. I thought the 911 aircraft werent noticed in a similar way.
    Im sure ill be corrected by you all and the facts themselves when finally known but it is just the internet after all.

  15. michael r james

    Piet Bos

    “without a visa” means without a prior visa transit travellers can get a 72 hour visa at the airport. China Southern advertise it available at Guangzhou (ie. on their KangaRoute).
    [Interpol secretary general Ronald K. Noble said:
    Whilst it is too soon to speculate about any connection between these stolen passports and the missing plane, it is clearly of great concern that any passenger was able to board an international flight using a stolen passport listed in Interpol’s databases

    This is a situation we had hoped never to see. For years Interpol has asked why should countries wait for a tragedy to put prudent security measures in place at borders and boarding gates,.
    Now, we have a real case where the world is speculating whether the stolen passport holders were terrorists, while Interpol is asking why only a handful of countries worldwide are taking care to make sure that persons possessing stolen passports are not boarding international flights.]

  16. Confirmed Sceptic

    Air defence radars operate continuously, I am told, in Vietnam owing to the longoing unease with China over territorial waters disagreements. The Vietnamese would of course have been watching the China/Japan situation with some concentration.

    Air Defence radars of the vintage found in the region are either pulse or doppler. A doppler relies on relative forward motion above a certain threshold to trigger a return. In an inflight break-up situation the elements of the aircraft assume a balistic trajectory, soon scrubbing off most forward motion. Also, the last recorded heading of 330° (Approx) would be roughly tangential to VN based radar sites. Also, VN radars would be detecting at the limit of their range at 35,000 where the aircraft vamished. Much below that and the targets would have been below the horizon for Vietnamese land based radar sites. (Rule: square root of altitude in feet multiplied by 1.06 yields distance to the horizon in nautical miles. 1.22 for statute miles. Do the maths for km)

    Without a military defense radar in Malaysia we are no wiser when it comes to the flight path nor vertical position of the aircraft after the FIR boundary.

    With regard to the code share: I posted something about that on another site a day ago and the post was instantly deleted. It is entirely possible for the best laid of travel plans to come undone on an unnoticed code share. I don’t think it too long a bow to draw to suggest that a terrorist’s expectations (yet unproved) could be equally dashed by an unexpected code-share flight, assuming much not yet in evidence.

  17. Tango

    AF447 proved you could drop off rapidly due to pilot incompetence (no matter how many hours you have, 3 supposedly experienced pilots in that one and Asiana as well).

    What remarkable is the lack of debris and the fact that the search got going early enough it would not have scattered. EVN AF447 they found impact debris though it stalled in and most went down immediately.

    That implies either suicide (Egypt Air 767 over the Atlantic) or hi-jack and crashed someplace (you aren’t going to hid a 777 anywhere it can land). Diverting and a crash would still leave a large fireball and or debris.

    Lack of Radar contact and following in that area is also remarkable as a lot of interested parties have good equipment and reason to keep an eye out.

    If the aircraft had blown up in mid air, then the debris field would have been extensive (TWA 747 fuel tank blow up would be an example though not the same cause). Lockerby would be closer, the structure and the contents are scattered all over hells half acre in that case.

    Fuel slick could be a red hearing and I am shocked someone has not snagged a sample and reported what the hell it is by day 1, let alone day 3.

    Lastly even if the passports is no issue, the fact that Malaysia Airlines (and other per report) does not check the data base and there are no procedures to catch people using illegal (lost, stolen or fabricated) passports is pure insanity in this day and age. Malaysia as a country has their head where the sun does not shine no matter what the cause was and anyone that allows them to fly into their country is completely irresponsible as well. None of that should be allowed anywhere.

  18. Tango

    Review of the Egypt Air 767 crash shows it did leave a debris field (or maybe two, its a bit obscure).

    That really raises the oddity level.

    Regardless of the cause, it would seem they were looking in the wrong location and at this point may not find the debris. Phew

  19. status07

    My guts tell me that this is not hijacking or terrorism and millions of people travel with stolen passports or even loaned real ones in places where securtity is flimsy.
    It is just a coincidence…and remember AF447 when we all thought that it was a bomb because of some dodgy-sounding names on the manifest.
    It wasn’t pliot error because this was not AF.
    Moreover, no one has it in for Malaysia and is conflict-free.
    No, let me tell you what happened either both RR-engines failed,a serious software glitch or a missile à la Ustica.

  20. Dan Dair

    Cheers for that,
    I’ll contact Boeing & the NTSB & get them to stop wasting their time on an investigation.

  21. discus

    Some serious questions need to be answered regardless of what happened to the flight.

    That is, how is it that only after the flight disappeared did stolen passports become suspect?

    Don’t these authorities talk to each other? Is information on stolen identities passed onto airlines?

    Surely comprehensive lists of names at least are on record.

    The airlines records were good enough to identify at least 2 “missing” people who were not actually on the flight so why not picked up before they boarded with dubious ID?

    Kind of nullifies the whole point of having a passport checks at check in, point of entry and departure checks.

  22. comet

    “Airline records” didn’t identify the stolen passports.

    The Malaysian government informed the Austrian embassy in KL that one of its citizens was lost on the missing aircraft.

    Austrian authorities in Vienna checked the passport number in their computer system, and it showed the passport was stolen.

    Austrian police went to the house of the passport owner, and found him sitting at home.

  23. discus

    Comet I know how it transpired. The airline was able to identify several people who were deemed to be on board so their ID’S were known and OKed.

    Passports were reported stolen some time ago but still able to be used is a serious breach of security.

    Do the countries issuing passports keep stolen passports a secret?
    No, as Interpol knew.

    Where did the mistakes happen or is ID security a bit of a joke?

    Finding out people are using stolen passports to travel after the fact is ridiculous.

    Interpol have apparently confirmed the stolen passports are on their database but nobody asked.

    There appears to be a gaping hole somewhere in the system.

  24. michael r james

    Apparently the problem is that the airlines do not have access to Interpol’s list of suspect passports. Thus any checking would be cumbersome for the airlines–this at check-in!–as they would have to send each and every pax info to Interpol and wait for a reply. Giving out the list is presumably considered a security issue. Thus the only two countries who routinely do this check are apparently UK and USA (who probably do get the list and integrate with immigration control & remember foreign pax have to get electronic clearance in advance for US).

    Malaysia apparently fingerprints pax (? I did a doubletake when I heard this; must be plenty of PlaneTalkers who know if it is true?)

    There are 40m stolen passports worldwide.

    In this case the two individuals with the stolen passports were “clearly” Asian (from KUL cameras). No mention of whether the passport photo-id was of an Asian or Euro type (this info would have had to come from check-in staff memory!).

    (All this via the ABC radio.)

  25. discus

    I heard Interpol report that they get 800,000,000 passport checks per year. It cant be that hard surely? No point having a database if it is not used.

  26. Jim Charlton

    Due to the large volume of fresh water flowing into the Gulf of Thailand it is not as salty as other oceans.
    Question: – Will this effect how wreckage floats or sinks?

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