More than nine months since it vanished with at least 239 people and some mystery cargo onboard, there are two things that stand out about Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.

  • The 777-200ER’s diversion from its planned flight path was deliberate; and
  • The Malaysian authorities have withheld critically important information related to the flight, and have wilfully lied to the world.

The only two motives that are seriously contemplated in high places in the airline industry are:

  • An act of shocking evil in which a pilot committed mass murder as well as suicide in a thoroughly researched and rehearsed plan to make the jet vanish; or
  • Robbery or the interdiction of something in the cargo hold, which was bound for Beijing from Kuala Lumpur when MH370 went dark as a transponder identified flight on air traffic control radars more than 40 minutes after departure while over the Gulf of Thailand.

There are other possibilities, including an intention to bargain the passengers for a political purpose or use the jet as a missile. The terrorism-related theories have been discounted through a total lack of evidence (or “noise” from the likely parties) and the pointed disinterest of Western and Eastern authorities in them, implying that they know it was something altogether different.

MH370 could have been flown directly into the landmark twin spires of the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur even sooner than it was seen on military radar flying west across the Malaysia Peninsula near the Thai border and then north-west towards the Andaman Islands, where the published and multiply analysed data suggests it flew erratically before turning south toward ultimate oblivion in the southern Indian Ocean.

The public and leaked attitudes of the governments or relevant authorities in China, India, Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia concerning the Malaysian narratives from its leaders and relevant authorities vary from indifference to contempt.

The only sucker in this is Australia, with Prime Minister Tony Abbott enthusiastically supporting the Malaysians, who are protecting someone, or something, in their lack of disclosure about MH370 and their inconsistent recounting of the events surrounding the disappearance.

The state of the search 

When MH370 struck the surface of the Indian Ocean seven hours 39 minutes after takeoff it was sending signals to a geostationary Inmarsat satellite from a place where the communications platform was, line of sight, approximately 40 degrees above the horizon (90 degrees being directly overhead and 45 degrees being halfway between the horizon and the zenith).

That meant it crashed somewhere along an arc of possibilities stretching from near Sumatra to a place approaching the northern limit of iceberg sightings by ships crossing the Indian Ocean where it becomes the Southern Ocean. All places along this arc would have had the Inmarsat at 40 degrees above the horizon when a sequence of signals from MH370 abruptly ended before completion.

The investigators reporting to Kuala Lumpur say the final anomalous or unscheduled contact attempt from MH370 implies that the engines had run out of fuel, ending normal power generation, and that a RAT, or ram air turbine, had automatically popped out into the slipstream of the falling jet, generating enough emergency power to bring essential instruments and systems back on line.

One of the pre-set priorities in such an emergency is for the on-board Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System computer, which was supposed to send regular engine status signals back to Rolls-Royce in the UK to immediately ping Inmarsat, a process terminated mid-signal by force of the impact.

Constraints on such seventh-arc possibilities, representing the seventh set of signals exchanged between the jet and the satellite, leave searchers with a massive area of the sea floor to first map and then examine close up with imaging side scan sonar devices.

Luck as well as astute modeling comes into play. Especially as there are recent suggestions that the debris might have sunk much further to either side of the seventh arc than previously anticipated.

What happened inside MH370? 

Suspicion is growing that someone was either inside an electronics and electrical bay under the floor of the jet when it took off, or someone entered it through an unsecured hatch immediately behind the cockpit doors at the front of the 777’s cabin.

Such access is a logical explanation for the disabling of the full ACARS transmission from MH370 about 10 minutes before the jet’s air traffic control transponder ceased operating, when the pilot at the controls signed off with Malaysian air traffic control and was expected to log in shortly afterwards with Vietnam ATC.

It is thus possible that one of the MH370 pilots left the cockpit and entered the bay, disabled full ACARS — and presumably also cut out the in-flight map displays in passenger seat backs on the night flight — and returned to position before making what sounded like a normal signing-off call to Malaysia ATC.

There are, however, so many other possibilities as to who might have done what and when in the cabin that night. And whatever it was that happened, despite its disabling, basic standby pings continued to be sent from MH370’s ACARS server to the satellite at regular intervals up to the abnormal and incomplete seventh-arc transmission.

The “heist” theories and the “suicide” scenarios all involve fantastical constructs and come with massive believability problems.

Yet the unbelievable happened. A large jet airliner disappeared without physical trace, and all we have are the fleeting pings of an on-board computer tapping on a window to the world, saying “I’m ready to talk”.

One day answers might be found. On the sea floor, or in a dossier that reveals a terrible truth.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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