Friday, March 14, 2014

Why we should hope Flight 370 crashed

By Donald Sensing

At the Denver Post: "Where is the Malaysian plane? 16 possible scenarios"

All 16 scenarios boil down to one of three categories:

Murder: Either a flight officer or a hijacker deliberately crashed the plane. Or it was shot down by a hostile power.

Accident: A systems failure caused the aircraft to go down, one example is the hypoxia theory. The idea that there could have been a catastrophic disintegration of the aircraft has been all but abandoned because of electronic data (see below).

Hijacking: The plane was taken over and flown away by either the flight crew or one or more passenger-hijackers for criminal or terrorist ends.

Thankfully, none of the scenarios enumerated by the Post fall into the tinfoil hat category.

There are only three possible fates that befell the airliner:
  • It crashed into the sea
  • It crashed onto the land
  • It was flown somewhere and landed safely
ABC News has a good summary so far of what authorities (mainly US officials, who had been largely frozen out by the Malaysians) think probably happened, based on evidence:

ABC Entertainment News | ABC Business News

The search area has been enlarged far into the Indian Ocean because there is practically no doubt that the airliner stayed in the air at least four hours after transponder contact was lost, and that it flew sharply westward generally following established air corridors. But once well out to sea, electronic data are lost and there is no way to know where it went then.

I broached the possibility that the plane could have been hijacked for terrorist purposes last Monday.
I am reminded of a novel I read a few months ago by either Tom Clancy or Frederick Forsyth, can't recall which. It opened with the hijacking and disappearance of an airliner in Africa, run by a large charter company. The craft was repainted and reconfigured to pass for a scheduled-airline plane with the goal of using it as a kamikaze weapon against an American target. Of course the good guys won, but it makes me think: what could account for the instantaneous disappearance of a Boeing 777 that leaves no trace at all?
Now authorities in Malaysia and elsewhere have concluded that indeed the evidence points to hijacking.
Kuala Lumpur: Investigators have concluded that one or more people with significant flying experience hijacked the missing Malaysia Airlines jet, switched off communication devices and steered it off-course, a Malaysian government official involved in the investigation said on Saturday.
It does not ease the mind much that the satellite-connected ACARS system aboard the aircraft cannot be turned off in flight. Those were the signals the told investigators the plane stayed in the air for four hours after transponder contact was lost [update, now up to 7.5 hours, see below]. That means, presumably, that within an hour after the final signal, the plane either crashed or was landed then powered down.

But where would a hijacker take it? A 777 pilot interviewed on FNC today said that a 777 needs only about 3,500 feet of runway to land. That, he said, means that the number of landing strips it could have gone to is enormous. But he said it needs a much longer runway to take off because presumably it would be refueled, adding enormous weight. He did say that takeoff distance would be much shorter with minimal fuel.

So: Suppose the plane was landed at a short runway where the passengers were forced off and the cargo and luggage dumped. Now you have a much lighter aircraft that can take some decent amount of refuel and still be light enough to take off from a runway ordinarily thought to be too short. And a fully-qualified pilot and copilot come aboard. From there it proceeds sans transponders to, say, Iran, where it awaits their first nuke, which they have for years called "The Islamic Bomb."

Next stop Tel Aviv? Haifa? Washington? Even Jerusalem?

We may truly be in nightmare territory now. At this point we'd better hope the plane crashed somewhere because an alternative is too potentially terrible to contemplate.

Update: Slate reinforces this line of thought:
When the flight first disappeared from air traffic controllers’ radar a week ago, the default assumption was that the plane had crashed. Now it seems unlikely that a plot as ingeniously planned and carefully executed as this one would not also have included plans for safe arrival at some ultimate destination. As I reported earlier, the 777 is capable of landing on small airstrips and on relatively unimproved surfaces, such as packed dirt and dry lake beds. In such a scenario, the odds are good that, unless they were murdered, the passengers remain alive. The motives and intentions of whoever took MH370 remain as murky as ever, but possibilities include a hostage scenario, the repurposing of the aircraft as an enormous flying bomb, or some combination of these and other outcomes.
As I said, it is increasingly looking like the best outcome will be to find positively-identified wreckage or remains floating on the sea.

Update:  Power Line:
... the time during which Flight 370 apparently remained aloft continues to be extended:
Although U.S. officials previously said they believed the plane could have remained in the air for several extra hours, Najib said Saturday that the flight was still communicating with satellites until 8:11 a.m. — seven and a half hours after takeoff, and more than 90 minutes after it was due in Beijing. There was no further communication with the plane after that time, Najib said. If the plane was still in the air, it would have been nearing its fuel limit.
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