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MH370 missing
March 7, 2014 8:48 PM   Subscribe

Malaysia Airlines MH370 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing is missing.
Flight MH370, operated on the B777-200 aircraft, departed Kuala Lumpur at 12.41am on 8 March 2014. MH370 was expected to land in Beijing at 6.30am the same day. The flight was carrying a total number of 227 passengers (including 2 infants), 12 crew members.
Rumors that the plane has landed in Nanning, China are debunked. Chinese media had originally reported Vietnamese officials saying they've picked up a signal, but this has also been refuted. There has been no contact nor distress signals, and the case is especially puzzling as the plane lost contact at the safest moment of the flight.

The last Malaysia Airlines-related fatal crash was in 1995, where a Fokker 50 crashed into a small town, killing 34 passengers and crew.
posted by divabat (1953 comments total) 133 users marked this as a favorite

 
The Guardian has live updates.

A modern plane just disappearing like that is terrifying. My thoughts are with all those poor people on board and their families.
posted by triggerfinger at 8:50 PM on March 7 [1 favorite]


Yahoo Singapore: Vietnam media quote Navy Admiral Ngo Van Phat saying military radar recorded MH370 crashing into sea 153 miles south of Phu Quoc island
posted by divabat at 8:53 PM on March 7


"There has been no contact nor distress signals" makes me think of TWA flight 800. Other than total catastrophic in-air destruction, it's hard to imagine another event in a modern airliner that wouldn't allow at least some sort of communication from the crew.
posted by barnacles at 8:55 PM on March 7


People on Twitter are speculating terrorism - who has such a beef against Malaysia that they'd attack Malaysia Airlines?!

This has gotten me really spooked. I am a lifelong flyer who's spent a lot of time on Malaysia Airlines. My parents just flew to Korea yesterday, possibly on MAS. This is hitting so many personal buttons, just wtf.
posted by divabat at 8:58 PM on March 7 [2 favorites]


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I, too, find it terrifying that in this day and age we can just... lose a big plane for a while.
posted by TwoStride at 9:02 PM on March 7 [2 favorites]


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posted by humanfont at 9:02 PM on March 7


From The Guardian:

James Fallows, following the story in The Atlantic, says whatever has happened to the plane is unlikely to be a result of chronic poor practices by Malaysia Airlines (“a good, competent and modern airline”). The Boeing 777 also has an excellent safety record.


So if it crashed, I'm wondering if it was due to human error, which is why the Air France flight went down a few years back.
posted by triggerfinger at 9:03 PM on March 7


divabat: "People on Twitter are speculating terrorism ..."

It seems like with modern security measures that terrorism would be one of the least likely reasons. A more recent crash with no distress signal was Helios 522, which was a bizarre one.
posted by barnacles at 9:05 PM on March 7 [1 favorite]


:S

My aunt works in Beijing and frequently flies back and forth between Beijing and KL to visit our family there. She's probably flown that route a dozen times in the last couple of years. Hell, I've flown that route.

This is hitting way closer to home than I'd like.
posted by Xany at 9:06 PM on March 7 [2 favorites]


I hope against hope that it turns up safe but it's looking like it's crashed. I've flown MAS a few times and always found them competent and safe.
posted by arcticseal at 9:11 PM on March 7


Thanks for the post. I'm Malaysian, and this hits altogether too close to home too - I've been tracking flights to Beijing from Singapore this summer, and I really really wanted to fly MAS for sentimental reasons. I still want to, but this is just awfully sad.

Meanwhile, some erstwhile acquaintances of mine are speculating that it's a ploy or hoax to divert attention from the Anwar case, which is the most WTF thing ever.
posted by undue influence at 9:13 PM on March 7 [2 favorites]


People on Twitter are speculating terrorism - who has such a beef against Malaysia that they'd attack Malaysia Airlines?!

It's WAY too early to jump to that conclusion, but in light of recent events, I'd expect Chinese officials to (pretend to?) do just that.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:13 PM on March 7


Here's the (first) MH370 thread on airliners.net, which is where I turn to for air-disaster information. It's morbid but they really know their stuff. From there I've learned:

* Route was KUL to PEK
* Unconfirmed but they suspect the specific aircraft is tail number 9M-MRO. That plane is only 11 years old.
* From records, 9M-MRO was involved in an accident in 2012. "The wing hit the tail of a China Eastern A340 with the tip left hanging. Not serious but noteworthy."
* This would be only the 4th ever loss of a 777
* Event now has a Wikipedia entry
posted by ceribus peribus at 9:14 PM on March 7 [18 favorites]


My dad was a frequent flyer, including in that part of the world, and for all that he's been gone for 25 years, I still get a chill when I hear about an air crash. A plane just vanishing is even more frightening. It feels like we ought to be able to keep better track, and yet, just losing things and people is the norm through most of history, and knowing where everything is all the time is the anomaly.

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posted by immlass at 9:15 PM on March 7 [1 favorite]


It appears the Vietnamese Navy has confirmed it crashed

My thoughts are with the families; how absolutely awful
posted by saucysault at 9:16 PM on March 7


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posted by Vibrissae at 9:22 PM on March 7


Been texting my dad who is flying home tomorrow. He's all "but our family friend says the plane landed safely in Kota Baru!" Gah.

Though honestly I'll gladly trade a "told you so" given the alternative ...
posted by divabat at 9:26 PM on March 7 [6 favorites]


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posted by Renoroc at 9:45 PM on March 7


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posted by rozaine at 9:49 PM on March 7


As freaky as plane accidents are, I like to remind myself that I'm a lot more likely to die in a car accident.
posted by mantecol at 9:50 PM on March 7 [3 favorites]


There are at least two infants on board, one from China, one from United States. I don't know why that information should make it seem even more horrendous, but somehow it does.
posted by Anitanola at 10:00 PM on March 7 [1 favorite]


Thank goodness the fact that this is such big news is because it is such rare news; considering the number of planes in the air at any one time it is a feat of engineering and human ability that there are so few catastrophic failures.

I know the next couple of days will be hard for you divabat, until your Dad is safe home. Be gentle with yourself.
posted by saucysault at 10:15 PM on March 7 [10 favorites]


It's not terrifying that a plane could be lost, it's stupid. Planes should have satellite uplinks reporting GPS position. Consumer versions of that cost about $200. But commercial planes mostly don't have them. Stupid.

Also stupid is the breathless breaking news and up to the minute speculation and rumor. The 24 hour news cycle and instant worldwide Internet communication makes it worse. It's ghoulish, unhealthy infotainment.
posted by Nelson at 10:19 PM on March 7 [13 favorites]


This is hitting way closer to home than I'd like.

At the risk sounding like a one-upsman, I flew from Boston-Logan to LAX a week before 9/11, and never thought more than "hmmm, that's weird."

Granted, "close to home" will vary from person to person, but let's keep a little perspective here.
posted by ShutterBun at 10:28 PM on March 7 [6 favorites]


So if it crashed, I'm wondering if it was due to human error, which is why the Air France flight went down a few years back.

Is that the flight where one of the pilots was pulling back on the stick while the other pushed forward, thus locking the controls until the plane lost so much airspeed it stalled despite there being absolutely nothing whatsoever wrong with the plane? That one was chilling to read about.

Nelson is right; there isn't an excuse for every single commercial flight to be outfitted with a GPS uplink. Planes should never be "lost" in this day and age.
posted by Justinian at 10:37 PM on March 7


Well, to be fair that was also written by someone who has family in KL, and - at least for me, having grown up here - is likely to be connected to someone on that flight, as I am rather distantly. For some people that's close enough that it gives them chills and saddens them, for some it isn't. And while it's not particularly commendable, it's natural that the first thought for many is "well, there but for the grace of God (or luck)", while others see the flip side of that and see that well, it just wasn't you.

But as the speculation turns into concrete fact, what happens will be less abstracted, and "perspective" will probably be more grounded to begin with, so we'll deal more with facts than "that is so scary to me because [X]".

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posted by undue influence at 10:40 PM on March 7 [1 favorite]


Dad's just apologised to me for the misinformation. Can't blame them really, my parents are worrywarts enough without a catastrophe.

They are flying MAS. I told them to anticipate being stuck in Korea for a while - been hearing flights cancelled today. (I doubt they'd cancel all international flights, but given that this is so new for MAS who knows what the response is.)

I've been working with a youth arts project where local youth collaborate with Malaysian youth on issues of citizenship and identity. A bunch of our kids are flying to KL and vice versa. I'm going to break the news to them in our next class. Hoping no one we know has been lost.
posted by divabat at 10:43 PM on March 7 [1 favorite]


"who has such a beef against Malaysia that they'd attack Malaysia Airlines?!"

They've got the same problem as everyone else in that part of the world: Islamic militants.

But it could also be someone who has a beef with China.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:44 PM on March 7


Does everything have to be about Islamic militants? Because no other religion has ever hijacked planes?

Please. The terrorism speculation is bordering on distasteful here.
posted by divabat at 10:46 PM on March 7 [20 favorites]


...It could also be an accident. I meant to add that. I was answering the "who has such a beef" question.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:47 PM on March 7 [1 favorite]


fair enough. i'm sorry.
posted by divabat at 10:48 PM on March 7


Reuters now reporting the plane crashed in the South China Sea.

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So sad.
posted by misha at 10:49 PM on March 7


From what I can tell on Twitter, authorities in China, Malaysia, and Vietnam can't seem to agree with each other.
posted by divabat at 10:54 PM on March 7


Reuters article tentatively confirming crash.
posted by divabat at 11:04 PM on March 7


Granted, "close to home" will vary from person to person, but let's keep a little perspective here.

I don't think it's unreasonable for my first thought to wonder if my aunt was on that plane. And I mean, she wasn't, but I imagine people with family who flew Brazil-France also had an uh-oh moment when they heard about Air France 447.

I'm sorry if that doesn't fit your vision of appropriate perspective in this situation.
posted by Xany at 11:08 PM on March 7 [30 favorites]


Much respect for the airline posting this:

"We regret to announce that Subang Traffic Control lost contact with flight MH370 at 2:40 am today.

We are currently working with international authorities on the search and rescue mission and as at 1400 hours, 08 March 2014, we have no information on the location of the airline."

Sadly, I cannot imagine a United States airline making such a clear statement.
posted by ITravelMontana at 11:18 PM on March 7 [3 favorites]


Regarding perspective, my father was an airline pilot. When I was a little kid, I couldn't mentally separate the plane my father was flying from any other plane. When he was on a trip and there was a plane accident, I thought he'd died until he came home. When he was home, I always asked him how he was going to be able to go to work now that his plane had crashed.

Anyhow, obviously I'm older now and have figured a thing or two out about the total number of planes. Also, my dad retired years ago. To this day, when I hear about a plane accident, I experience a reduced version of the same anxiety I felt forty years ago. It's irrational, but there it is. I don't know that I've mentioned this outside of my therapist's office before.

Anyhow, we all react the way we react to news of tragedy. I feel for the families and friends of everyone effected by this tragedy. Part of the reason I feel for them is because of my own personal anxiety - and obviously part is empathy and basic decency.

My sincere condolences to the families and friends. This is dreadful.
posted by Joey Michaels at 11:29 PM on March 7 [27 favorites]


It's not terrifying that a plane could be lost, it's stupid. Planes should have satellite uplinks reporting GPS position. Consumer versions of that cost about $200. But commercial planes mostly don't have them. Stupid.

How is this supposed to prevent airplanes from disappearing? The aircraft in this case was equipped with a location-tracking system that was broadcasting and then stopped broadcasting. That's why it's missing.
posted by Authorized User at 11:38 PM on March 7 [19 favorites]


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posted by univac at 11:39 PM on March 7


Of note, a Chinese plane with 200 people on board passed through the trajectory of a North Korean missile seven minutes after a test earlier this week. The plane was flying from Shenyang in China to Tokyo.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that North Korea was involved in this. Given the location, that seems highly unlikely. But given how recent that incident was, it felt worth flagging for the thread.

My condolences go out to the families of the passengers and crew.
posted by dry white toast at 11:46 PM on March 7


Because no other religion has ever hijacked planes?

Well, no. But it's not so much a religion as the adherents.
posted by mattoxic at 12:14 AM on March 8


Considering Malaysia is in itself a Muslim country, and the ruling party itself can be pretty extremist at times...yeah no.
posted by divabat at 12:18 AM on March 8


though the Opposition party isn't really helping matters either.
posted by divabat at 12:24 AM on March 8


[Comment deleted. Metatalk if you want to have a discussion about the appropriateness of the post.]
posted by taz at 12:48 AM on March 8 [1 favorite]


.

I've been following this all day. I hope it was quick and the passengers and crew didn't know it was coming. I also hope they find the wreckage soon.

(Although part of me is hoping this is one of those air crashes where one person survives against the odds).
posted by daybeforetheday at 1:17 AM on March 8 [3 favorites]


I hope. I always hope.
posted by Anitanola at 2:07 AM on March 8 [5 favorites]


the plane lost contact at the safest moment of the flight.

This is an absurd phrasing from CNN. Cruise is a safer phase of flight than landing or takeoff, but that doesn't make it "the safest moment".

It's not terrifying that a plane could be lost, it's stupid. Planes should have satellite uplinks reporting GPS position. Consumer versions of that cost about $200. But commercial planes mostly don't have them. Stupid.

The term "lost" is used when there is no conclusive knowledge of the state of the aircraft. It's a more complex situation than just "if only we had GPS tracking". The better phrasing would be that controllers have "lost contact with" the airplane, which is also mostly a statement of uncertainty but it at least avoids the implication that position is the operative issue. Perhaps some of your displeasure at news outlets for reporting speculation and rumor should temper your rash claims of airline and FAA stupidity.
posted by kiltedtaco at 3:09 AM on March 8 [10 favorites]


Based on that Guardian feed, there's a lot of anger from the families of passengers due to lack of information. I guess that's understandable, but at the moment there really seems to be no information.

For some reason I'm following this closely, I guess because of several trips I've made to Malaysia over the years, and because of the way the airline has just disappeared without any indication of where or what went wrong.

I'm not one for praying, personally, but I'm sure hoping.
posted by Jimbob at 3:09 AM on March 8 [1 favorite]


An Italian website is reporting that the one Italian passenger that was reported to be on the flight is safe in Thailand but had his passport stolen from him in august...
posted by QueenHawkeye at 3:26 AM on March 8 [2 favorites]


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posted by Smart Dalek at 3:35 AM on March 8


This is an absurd phrasing from CNN. Cruise is a safer phase of flight than landing or takeoff, but that doesn't make it "the safest moment".

What would you say the safest moment of flight is?
posted by Authorized User at 3:54 AM on March 8 [1 favorite]


I wonder if any of the passengers used cell phones to call or text friends or family. If not, I'd guess that whatever happened happened very quickly.
posted by amro at 4:01 AM on March 8 [1 favorite]


I think the problem with the wording there is that it implied that the safest moment is more like a singular peak (during which the plane disappeared), whereas the reality is that all the moments during cruise (which account for the longest portion of flight) are safer than the takeoff and landing phases.
posted by iamkimiam at 4:02 AM on March 8 [2 favorites]


What would you say the safest moment of flight is?

Bolting down the stairs to thankfully kiss the Tarmac always seemed like a safe flight moment.
posted by oceanjesse at 4:05 AM on March 8 [9 favorites]


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posted by oceanjesse at 4:05 AM on March 8 [1 favorite]


Here's the passenger manifest from Malaysia Airlines, via The Guardian's live updates page.
posted by undue influence at 4:08 AM on March 8


amro: cellphones don't work too well when you're a hundred miles from land over the open ocean.

Justinian: "planes should never be lost in this day and age" — per the Aviation Herald incident log, the plane was on radar when it was observed to make a sharp turn and rapid descent, without any communication. Contact was then lost, presumably when the aircraft disintegrated in mid-air or crashed. The trouble is, it will have been cruising at approximately 550mph, at an altitude of nearly seven miles, when it went down. The wreckage could easily be scattered over an area of the South China Sea twenty miles long and five miles wide.

Adding a GPS location squawk via satellite link would tell us nothing useful that we don't already know about its location (from air traffic control radar). It would also cost a metric fuckton to retrofit every commercial aircraft in the global fleet (approximately 20,000 airframes in service), and probably require a whole new satellite constellation to handle the data from 20,000 aircraft making an average of over 50,000 flights per day, especially if we wanted it to do something useful like upload the Flight Data Recorder and Cockpit Voice Recorder logs in realtime (so that in event of another AF447 we don't end up waiting nearly a year to recover the black boxes—and, in the case of AF447, requiring a nuclear submarine, a couple of deep ocean exploration vessels, and costing millions).

Or did you mean "lost" as in "crashed"? Airliners are already the safest form of transportation per passenger-mile ever invented; you're more likely to die on one of a heart attack or other natural causes than in a crash.
posted by cstross at 4:19 AM on March 8 [31 favorites]


amro: cellphones don't work too well when you're a hundred miles from land over the open ocean.

My understanding is that Malaysia Airlines offers pay cell service on select Boeing 777 flights, and that it would normally work at anytime during the flight that it's permitted. I don't claim to be an expert, though.
posted by amro at 4:41 AM on March 8


Speculate! It's all we can do captain!
posted by spitbull at 5:11 AM on March 8 [4 favorites]


I was working with and close professionally with a person who's wife's immediate family were lost in the Air France accident. We were working on a project together in Beijing. I was in contact with him in the immediate aftermath and to observe the horrific impact of that sort of loss was difficult. As far as I know his and his wife's life have gone a completely different direction.

I'll offer a . to all the families that have so much to deal with. I wish you well and remain hopeful that there might be something positive to come.
posted by michswiss at 5:11 AM on March 8 [2 favorites]


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posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:18 AM on March 8


New York Times says an oil slick has been sighted.
posted by gudrun at 5:20 AM on March 8 [1 favorite]


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posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:22 AM on March 8


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posted by travelwithcats at 6:03 AM on March 8


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posted by cmyk at 6:09 AM on March 8


oceanjesse: Bolting down the stairs to thankfully kiss the Tarmac always seemed like a safe flight moment.
You're FAR more likely to suffer an injury from using those stairs than from anything involving the flight itself. Jet bridge are a lot better than stairs, but still less safe than the actual flying.
posted by samworm at 6:11 AM on March 8 [7 favorites]


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posted by samsara at 6:57 AM on March 8 [2 favorites]


The Guardian is reporting that a second passenger on the flight manifest, an Austrian man, had his passport stolen two years ago and was not on the flight.
posted by lalex at 7:20 AM on March 8 [1 favorite]


It does seem significant that two people reported to be on the plane were not, and/but their passports were stolen, right? Am I dense? Is this being intentionally left unspoken?
posted by Fists O'Fury at 7:36 AM on March 8


Don't tell me that the conspiracy theories about this being a hijacking or terrorist attack are true.
posted by divabat at 7:37 AM on March 8


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posted by joethefob at 7:40 AM on March 8


How common is passport theft/cloning? Is two on the same flight just by chance particularly improbable?

But terrorism speculation aside, I hope those people whose passports were stolen were easily contactable when the word came. I can only imagine the emotional whiplash you'd experience as the authoritative reached out to let you know your loved one had been killed in a plane crash when you thought they were at work, or out buying some milk or something.
posted by adamt at 7:45 AM on March 8 [2 favorites]


It does seem significant that two people reported to be on the plane were not, and/but their passports were stolen, right? Am I dense? Is this being intentionally left unspoken?

I don't have enough context to tell. Maybe stolen passports being used on flights in asia is A Thing that happens all the time?
posted by RustyBrooks at 7:45 AM on March 8


Don't tell me that the conspiracy theories about this being a hijacking or terrorist attack are true.

Personally, I don't have any view about this at this point--who does[?]--but it it seems odd to me to call that a conspiracy theory... Just sounds like a hypothesis to me.

I don't really know anything about air disasters--few of us probably do. All people can do in such circumstances is cast about for hypotheses. And the disasters most of us remember are, perhaps, not representative... So, perhaps that's a bad hypothesis from the perspective of someone who is knowledgeable... But from my perspective, anyway, it seems like one of the two or three obvious hypotheses.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 7:47 AM on March 8 [4 favorites]


Sorry, I did not at all mean to imply support for a conspiracy theory, or really any theory at all at this early stage. I just always get shivers when I think of the families of passengers on the manifest who ended up missing their flight, or, as in this case, appear to be the victims of identity theft.
posted by lalex at 7:49 AM on March 8


If it was terrorism, wouldn't whichever terrorists it was have taken credit by now?
posted by amro at 7:51 AM on March 8 [2 favorites]


There have been a couple folks on airliners.net who say that Thailand has a thriving black market for stolen passports; if this is true then it's entirely possible this is just an odd coincidence.
posted by lalex at 7:52 AM on March 8 [2 favorites]


Oh, I don't mean to imply that you all support a conspiracy theory. It's just popped up all over Twitter and it just doesn't make any sense to me as to why they'd go after Malaysia Airlines.
posted by divabat at 7:53 AM on March 8


It's all good. I just wanted to make sure I wasn't being dense.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 7:54 AM on March 8


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posted by cristinacristinacristina at 7:55 AM on March 8


Also: well, Twitter.

The amazing thing about Twitter is that somebody actually figured out a way to make the internet stupider. I guess they figured that blog posts were too sober and reflective, and gave people too much time to think before they spoke to the world and eternity.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 7:56 AM on March 8 [15 favorites]


Pilots on PPRUNE, my go-to forum whenever there's an air disaster, are commenting that the sea over which this plane would have flown is crowded with fishing vessels, so many that it sometimes appears to pilots as a city beneath them.

It will take a day or two but I suspect some of the people on those vessels witnessed something in the sky, even though it was the wee hours of the morning. Perhaps someone shot some video.
posted by brianstorms at 7:59 AM on March 8 [8 favorites]


Stolen passports were used to buy two tickets for Malaysia Airlines missing flight - South China Morning Post

Two people named on a list of passengers on board missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 were not on the plane, but both had reported their passports stolen.

Foreign ministry officials in Rome and Vienna confirmed on Saturday night that the names of two nationals listed on the manifest of the flight matched those of passports reported stolen in Thailand.


China Southern, who jointly shared the route with Malaysian Airlines in what is termed in the industry a 'code share', said in a statement they had sold tickets to one Austrian and one Italian.


The revelations will raise questions over security at Kuala Lumpur's airport, and how the stolen passports were able to be used by people other than their rightful owners.

At a press conference on Saturday evening an airline spokesman refused to rule out terrorism as a possible reason behind the very sudden disappearance of the flight.

posted by infini at 8:25 AM on March 8


Is that the flight where one of the pilots was pulling back on the stick while the other pushed forward, thus locking the controls until the plane lost so much airspeed it stalled despite there being absolutely nothing whatsoever wrong with the plane? That one was chilling to read about.

Yes. Here's the story about it.
posted by triggerfinger at 8:47 AM on March 8 [1 favorite]


The stolen passports could have been used for the cause of terrorism.

Or the owners of the stolen passports might have been crime cartel members, drug runners, people in shady "import/export" businesses, or have some other not-particularly legitimate reason to launder their identities regularly, and had the misfortune to be on a doomed flight.

There's no reason to rule it out and no reason to leap to conclusions yet either.
posted by ardgedee at 8:48 AM on March 8 [2 favorites]


For this to be a meaningful terrorist act, somebody will eventually have to make a claim and stake a cause.

A terrorist incident that's indistinguishable from an accident is ineffective terrorism. It is like silently boycotting something you would never buy. So if there is terrorism underpinning it, there will either be follow-up news from a recognizable authority about communications they've had, or communications directly to the press, addressed either to the public or to relevant government or businesses. I think it's reasonable to wait until then before assuming terrorism happened.
posted by ardgedee at 8:51 AM on March 8 [6 favorites]


If the cause is to deter people from flying than our hypothetical terrorists have no need to stake claims and in fact would be better off not taking credit.
posted by Mitheral at 9:06 AM on March 8


I find it hard to believe the two stolen passport travellers weren't photographed/captured on security footage prior to boarding. I'd guess the authorities already know who the travellers with the stolen documents were.
posted by Keith Talent at 9:11 AM on March 8


There's no reason to rule it out and no reason to leap to conclusions yet either.

Sure, but I don't think anyone here is in any way jumping to conclusions. Looks like people are just floating tentative hypotheses and offering fairly tentative suggestions about evidence for and against those hypotheses.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 9:11 AM on March 8


All of this is just conjecture until someone finds physical evidence.
posted by arcticseal at 9:13 AM on March 8


I am suddenly feeling a bit paranoid.

The presence of one stolen passport shouldn't be too surprising. They get stolen for a reason, after all: people want to travel without being detected (or for identity theft and fraud, but that's not in the frame right now).

However, it gets interesting because two stolen passports were used to buy two tickets, via China Southern (the flight being a codeshare operated by Malaysian).

The probability of one person with a stolen/fake passport being on a given wide-body is not high, but is non-zero. But the probability of two stolen/fakes independently showing up on the same flight is vastly lower.

Inference: the presence of multiple stolen passports on a single flight is very unlikely to be a coincidence.

Next up: if you're part of a group using stolen passports and you simply want to travel from A to B undetected, you probably want to travel separately. (If one of you trips an alarm, you'd prefer that only one was caught rather than losing everybody.) KL to Beijing is a daily or more-frequent service -- they're both major regional hubs. So there's no obstacle to doing that.

Second inference: the folks with the stolen passports wanted to be on the flight together, despite the elevated risk of interception. Which suggests that for their purposes group action was the goal, rather than relocation.

Am I reading too much into this?
posted by cstross at 9:16 AM on March 8 [5 favorites]


Following up on brianstorm's awesome comment, here is a thread on PPruNe regarding the missing plane: MH370 Contact Lost. All speculation as well, but with some expert knowledge.
posted by rozaine at 9:18 AM on March 8 [2 favorites]


The probability of one person with a stolen/fake passport being on a given wide-body is not high, but is non-zero. But the probability of two stolen/fakes independently showing up on the same flight is vastly lower.

You don't know what the probability is of one person with a stolen passport being on the flight, so you can't say whether two on the same flight is unusual or commonplace.

if you're part of a group using stolen passports and you simply want to travel from A to B undetected, you probably want to travel separately

Nobody found out that there were two people traveling with stolen passports until they started looking into what happened to the plane, suggesting it would have gone undetected otherwise, and therefore there was no need to be so cautious.

Am I reading too much into this?

In the absence of more information, I'd say yes.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 9:24 AM on March 8 [14 favorites]


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posted by yeoz at 9:26 AM on March 8


Eh. Passports get stolen all the time. A lot of the world isn't equipped to confirm passports are valid at ports of entry/exit. Unless you've got some specific numbers on probability of someone traveling on a plane in SE Asia on a stolen passport that are really minute, it just seems like a coincidence to me. How many people fly on domestic American flights with illegitimate ID? Keep in mind that there have been repeated occurrences of state licensing offices having fraud problems where employees were selling "real" documents, not to mention the thriving industry in making credible fakes. Even with a pretty small rate of travelers using stolen / fraudulent documents, two of them on a 400 person plane is going to happen pretty frequently.

Also this is sad obviously. :(
posted by R343L at 9:28 AM on March 8 [3 favorites]


Two stolen passports could just be two members of the same family who obtained their fake documents through the same supplier that deals in stolen passports, I think. I'm not reading anything in until there's more of a reason.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:36 AM on March 8 [4 favorites]


Passports get stolen all the time.

In the US alone, a quarter-million go missing every year: "the State Department reported 253,037 lost passports and 60,984 stolen worldwide [in 2011]," out of "more than 109 million valid United States passports."

Whether American statistics are representative of worldwide statistics is a good question, but there are probably more fake and stolen passports floating around globally than I would have guessed.
posted by cjelli at 9:37 AM on March 8


Bangkok is a major centre in the trade of fake/altered/stolen passports. Such passports are very handy if you are moving drugs around.
posted by Mister Bijou at 9:39 AM on March 8


Professor Plum in the living room with the wrench.
posted by spitbull at 9:40 AM on March 8 [3 favorites]


> You don't know what the probability is of one person with a stolen passport being on the flight, so you can't say whether two on the same flight is unusual or commonplace.

I wasn't able to find even one example of a crash with one person with a stolen passport on it. And this would pop up right away, as the "victim" announced that they were still alive. You can certainly find plenty examples of crashes with victims carrying fake passports...

Pending another example of a crash with even one victim carrying a stolen passport, I'd agree with cstross that having two such victims is extremely unlikely and has a strong possibility of being connected to the cause of the crash.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:40 AM on March 8


Two drug couriers?
posted by Mister Bijou at 9:41 AM on March 8


Prima facie I'd expect flying to be a pretty common thing to do with a stolen passport.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 9:46 AM on March 8 [5 favorites]


I wasn't able to find even one example of a crash with one person with a stolen passport on it. And this would pop up right away, as the "victim" announced that they were still alive. You can certainly find plenty examples of crashes with victims carrying fake passports...

There aren't really that many plane crashes, period, nor that many in proportion to the number of flights made every day, or every year. That's not indicative of anything other than having a thankfully small sample size.
posted by cjelli at 9:46 AM on March 8 [1 favorite]


If p(person with stolen passport on flight) = 0.01, then for two persons, p(stolen passport) * p(stolen passport) = 0.001. Elementary stats.

And I suspect that for a 400-seater 777, p(stolen passport) is probably less than 0.01 -- otherwise we're assuming that one in 40,000 flyers is a ringer.
posted by cstross at 9:51 AM on March 8


Well, 0.0001 ... but why couldn't the fraction of fake passports be much larger than 1/40000?
posted by lukemeister at 9:54 AM on March 8


Years ago, when I was studying in Dublin, I was mugged by a guy who took my bag, with my passport in it. He dumped the bag, but the passport was gone. I wouldn't be at all surprised if someone ended up traveling on my passport. Lot's of non-terrorist people might have a reason to want to travel on a US or EU passport, whether for drug-smuggling purposes or to migrate illegally to a place to which they wouldn't be able to get a tourist visa or for some other reason.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:54 AM on March 8


> There aren't really that many plane crashes, period, nor that many in proportion to the number of flights made every day, or every year. That's not indicative of anything other than having a thankfully small sample size.

There were 119 plane accidents in 2012 alone, with 794 deaths. Since 2001, the world has averaged about 1000 fatalities a year. (Source.)

Most of these crashes are regional jets, but that's still a reasonable sample size. Pending anyone demonstrating even one stolen passport on any other crash, I'd say that the existence of two such passports on the flight is still deeply suspicious.

My understanding was that most stolen passports are used as raw material to produce fake passports....

> If p(person with stolen passport on flight) = 0.01, then for two persons, p(stolen passport) * p(stolen passport) = 0.001.

0.0001, actually. :-D
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 9:54 AM on March 8


Most of these crashes are regional jets, but that's still a reasonable sample size. Pending anyone demonstrating even one stolen passport on any other crash, I'd say that the existence of two such passports on the flight is still deeply suspicious.

I am not sure KL to Beijing qualifies as a "regional jet".
posted by Mister Bijou at 9:57 AM on March 8


The China Southern thing, *if* it correlates to some sort of terrorist plot, does take away the question of who would hate Malaysia so much to hijack their plane.

Do we know that the two fake passport holders bought tickets *together* and travelled *together*?

I'm trying to remember how check-ins work at KLIA. Malaysia was the first country to use RFID passports but I think the scan machines are only used by Malaysian passports. The security system is nowhere near as intense as the US.
posted by divabat at 9:57 AM on March 8


And I suspect that for a 400-seater 777, p(stolen passport) is probably

Please stop. Statistics are meaningless when the antecedent is guesswork. We're all welcome to our conjectures but kindly don't attach random numbers to them. It's hard enough to get people to understand probability as it is. :(
posted by phooky at 9:59 AM on March 8 [23 favorites]


> I am not sure KL to Beijing qualifies as a "regional jet".

Of course it doesn't. How did you get from what I wrote to that?

> Statistics are meaningless when the antecedent is guesswork.

The antecedent isn't guesswork - we have a large volume of hard data on plane crashes. Given that we have pretty detailed information about many previous crashes, and given that there wasn't(*) even one stolen passport on any of them, the claim that "having two passengers carrying stolen passports on a crashed plane is not improbable" does not seem correct.

(* - more precisely, that no one here has come up with any example of a stolen passport being attached to a plane crash victim. More data could of course invalidate the conclusion, if not the reasoning.)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:11 AM on March 8 [1 favorite]


The odds of any individual being on the flight were very low (223 passengers out of millions of passengers). Therefore no one was on the plane because statistics.
posted by humanfont at 10:13 AM on March 8 [19 favorites]


The Interpol head honcho testified that they are tracking at least 6.7 million stolen passports in 2007. Let's call it 11 million.

So the probability of any random person on Earth holding a stolen passport is around 0.0016. My statistics chops suck, but I think the odds of one person out of 227 random people having a stolen passport are likely to be fairly high.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:17 AM on March 8 [2 favorites]


To sum up: none of us have a clue what any of this means. Also, actual investigations move a lot slower than metafilter threads.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:20 AM on March 8 [10 favorites]


> My statistics chops suck, but I think the odds of one person out of 227 random people having a stolen passport are likely to be around 1 in 3.

Were this the case, we'd be seeing stolen passports involved in plane crashes all the time, yes?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:21 AM on March 8


Most of the passengers are/were Chinese citizens. I don't think it's likely, but this could be sympathizers/organizational allies* to some more extremist and religious section of the Uyghur independence movement against their "atheist oppressors". I'm not arguing for this idea at all and I hate immediate Islamophobic assumptions of "Muslim terrorists" but I'm sure it's being discussed on the Chinese internet given the Kunming attack this past week. It definitely gives a motive.

* from a Muslim majority country with a history of anti-ethnic Chinese opinions and actions at times (not all the time).
posted by Gnatcho at 10:23 AM on March 8


(Sorry, I edited my post to remove my speculative answer ... point is there are a lot of stolen passports running around and the number has at least doubled in the last five years)
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:24 AM on March 8


from WSJ:
"Among the people believed to be on the plane was a group of painters and calligraphers. The group of 24 artists, organized by business-to-business e-commerce network IBIcn.com, had traveled to the Malaysian capital last Wednesday for an exhibition of their work..."
posted by artdrectr at 10:25 AM on March 8 [1 favorite]


[Couple comments deleted. Folks, please don't use the edit function to add or remove content, it's for typo fixes only - if you need a delete just drop a note to the contact form. And let's keep it cool in here, we're all operating without much information and thinking about how to make sense of the few facts available.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:27 AM on March 8


Ok, lupus, using math, please explain how a sample size of 1000 a year globally, let alone 229 mostly Chinese passengers traveling from KL, is statistically representative of tens of millions of passengers who fly each year on international commercial flights. Remember your sample has to include only international flights, worldwide.

I am asking sincerely. I know stats but it's been a while since I brushed up. Your claim rests on a premise ("travel on false passports is so rare that that no such person ever died in a crash before") that implies very few people ever travel on false documents. Depending on your definition of "very few," I doubt it is so few that there aren't regular situations where two such people might wind up on the same flight, for example traveling together.

Also, where did you find proof noone has ever gone down with a fake passport? Just because no one has a counter-example handy here? I'm an aviation buff, and I'm not aware I've ever seen that remarkable claim made, or on what basis it could be determined quickly. Most accidents happen on domestic flights without passport control, so noone would even collect such data even if passengers had fake passports for when they did travel internationally. So your initial annual death statistic, which includes a majority who would not have needed passports at all, is incorrect.

We will know what happened. We almost always do. The speculation in this thread is sort of gross, as well as irrelevant to the truth.
posted by spitbull at 10:34 AM on March 8 [2 favorites]


First, we assume a perfectly spherical stolen passport in a vacuum...
posted by strangely stunted trees at 10:34 AM on March 8 [4 favorites]


Could we maybe have a little more respect for the dead here?
posted by crayz at 10:41 AM on March 8 [12 favorites]


List of (in my opinion mostly bullshit) theories on WhoDunit that I've seen floated:

* missile strike by North Korea or somebody
* Islamic militants from China or Malaysia
* anti-Islamic Chinese
* Ukraine/Crimea/Russia
* the pilot is Muslim therefore he crashed the plane on purpose
* alien abduction
* something Bermuda Triangle-esque
* Conspiracy by Malaysian Gov to distract from current political climate
* Conspiracy to hide MAS financial losses
posted by divabat at 10:43 AM on March 8


Likeliest explanations based on history, in rough order of probability for complete hull loss at cruise altitude (or controlled descent into terrain from cruise):

* Catastrophic mechanical failure
* pilot error
* combination of mechanical failure and pilot error
* terrorist bombing/hijacking or pilot suicide
* flammable/explosive cargo improperly secured
* mid-air collision with so-far undocumented other aircraft
* missile strike from hostile source (it's happened a few times, KAL 007 and IR 655, for example)

(Weather doesn't seem to be an issue or it would be high on the list.)

The first three, plus weather, explain the vast majority of hull loss incidents over the history of aviation. If you really want to use statistical reasoning, it's one of those explanations to a very high degree of probability, with terrorism/missle strike/pilot suicide being a wild card since it requires intentionality and the others are accidental catastrophes. Statistics don't explain the probability of intentional actions against the normal human interest in surviving one's flight. It's not a risk one can exactly calculate since it depends on non-aviation-industry countermeasures like passport control or mental health screening, not to mention regionally specific political contexts and security protocols.

Why repeat baseless conspiracy theories here? Why speculate based on rumors and irrational explanations ("Bermuda triangle" lolwut)? We will know roughly what happened, almost certainly, fairly soon. It's a settled science, and investigators are very good at it.
posted by spitbull at 11:07 AM on March 8 [9 favorites]


"the pilot is Muslim therefore he crashed the plane on purpose"

That has happened.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:09 AM on March 8


Exactly once, and whether it had anything to do with that pilot's religious beliefs is disputed. The leading theory is he was depressed over a demotion. Can we not spread Islamophobic memes too?
posted by spitbull at 11:12 AM on March 8 [19 favorites]


It's unlikely we'll learn anything about it until they recover the black boxes.

And if the plane went down in deep water, it could be a long time. It may well take days before they even locate the air frame, and weeks before robots can extract the black boxes.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:12 AM on March 8


Chocolate Pickle: Malaysia is a Muslim country, a large number of their crew are Muslim. Malaysian Muslims, even the most extremist ones, aren't prone to terrorism.

spitbull: the Bermuda Triangle one came from a Malaysian politician on Twitter, as a joke - as you can imagine it did not go down well.

There are a fair few Malaysians, including families of passengers, that aren't happy that MAS nor the Malaysian government are particularly forthcoming about anything. I have first-hand experience of their incompetence and shadiness, so I am somewhat sympathetic to their concerns, but at the same time I really doubt this was anything politically motivated.
posted by divabat at 11:16 AM on March 8


MAS has a stellar, world-class safety record. Whatever "incompetence" you are talking about, it isn't likely a generalized problem that affects safety unless it just recently started. I think this is only their second ever fatal accident.

Joking about the cause is gross no matter who does it, or repeats it. There are no supernatural causes of air disasters. I'll bet the victims' families really appreciate the levity.
posted by spitbull at 11:20 AM on March 8 [1 favorite]


spitbull: the incompetence I'm talking about relates to the Malaysian Government, which I'm not going to relate here as my stories have nothing to do with this case. I've flown MAS zillions of times and have mentioned before about their stellar safety record.

The info about relatives being angry comes from here:
Relatives of those on the missing flight who were waiting at Beijing Capital International Airport were taken to a hotel and kept waiting in a room for hours, prompting complaints. One woman said no one from Malaysia Airlines had come to the room to talk to relatives.

[...]

At the Kuala Lumpur airport, a grief-stricken relative of a passenger aboard MH370 screamed uncontrollably as he was escorted out of the terminal by airline employees.

“Be truthful about this!” said the man, Koon Chim Wa, whose booming voice echoed through the cavernous terminal.

“They say they don’t know where the plane is,” Mr. Koon said, his hands and body shaking. “Is this a joke?”
I can't tell if your comment about levity is sarcastic or not - I can tell you that the Bermuda Triangle comment was met with a lot of horror by Malaysians.

I made this post. I've ranted many many times about the (mostly bullshit, as I said in my comments) theories people are spouting based on senseless "evidence". I made that list because I was so frustrated and angry by all the theories and I wanted to show the lengths people go to to claim conspiracy. In no way am I agreeing or joking around about this case.
posted by divabat at 11:27 AM on March 8 [2 favorites]


If p(person with stolen passport on flight) = 0.01, then for two persons, p(stolen passport) * p(stolen passport) = 0.001. Elementary stats.

[morbo] ELEMENTARY STATISTICS DO NOT WORK THAT WAY! [/morbo]

Even if you want to treat it the way you implicitly were -- as independent draws -- you have to start with the individual pr(carrying stolen passport). Call that x.

We know there were 227 passengers, so the probability of exactly zero passengers carrying a stolen passport is

pr(zero)=(1-x)^227

and the probability of exactly one is

pr(one)=(x)(1-x)^226 / (227!/(1!*226!))

And the probability of at least two people carrying stolen passports is 1-pr(zero)-pr(one).

If we use robotvoodoopower's back-of-the-envelope estimate that x=0.0016 then (using bitesti in stata because online tools get stroppy about calculating 227!) the answer turns out to be 0.052.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:35 AM on March 8 [13 favorites]


Which isn't to say that's a smart thing to do, because it isn't, because people on a plane aren't independent trials because people keep having those stupid "families" and "friends" that screw up the numbers. But if we're not going to do the statistics, we should at least choose not to do the vastly-oversimplified-but-correct-within-that-gross-simplification statistics instead of not doing the just-plain-wrong statistics.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:39 AM on March 8 [9 favorites]


Most of the passengers are/were Chinese citizens. I don't think it's likely, but this could be sympathizers/organizational allies* to some more extremist and religious section of the Uyghur independence movement against their "atheist oppressors". I'm not arguing for this idea at all and I hate immediate Islamophobic assumptions of "Muslim terrorists" but I'm sure it's being discussed on the Chinese internet given the Kunming attack this past week. It definitely gives a motive.

* from a Muslim majority country with a history of anti-ethnic Chinese opinions and actions at times (not all the time).
posted by Gnatcho at 10:23 AM on March 8
[+] [!]


Uyghur anti-Chinese extremism is mainly a nationalist rather than a global Islamist thing, if I can recall rightly. Though there are some connections to global Islamist extremism , which it has been in China's interests to highlight and play up. But it's mainly an ethnic conflict ( from my recollection if what I've read, IANAUE)
posted by Bwithh at 11:39 AM on March 8 [1 favorite]


I'm not being sarcastic. I just don't see what purpose is served repeating tasteless humor.

Every time a plane goes down under hard-to-recover circumstances, relatives of the dead are understandably upset and angry with the carrier and government officials and feel they are being left in the dark. It is predictable and completely understandable. The wait is agonizing and every passing hour means hope slips a little further. But usually the carrier and involved governments are doing all they can. Their colleagues were on that plane too. My guess is they just don't have any news to give yet. It takes time to do search and recovery at sea.

The arc of this is predictable and bog standard.

So I don't really buy that MAS or the Malaysian or Chinese governments are acting incompetent or corrupt, and I certainly don't accept that the expected angry relatives prove any such accusation.

As I said, MAS had a nearly perfect safety record and is highly regarded for competence and service by international business travelers.
posted by spitbull at 11:42 AM on March 8 [5 favorites]


using bitesti in stata because online tools get stroppy about calculating 227!

227! / 226! = 227.
posted by dirigibleman at 11:52 AM on March 8 [6 favorites]


Don't bring facts into it, Hindenburg.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:53 AM on March 8 [4 favorites]


Uyghur anti-Chinese extremism is mainly a nationalist rather than a global Islamist thing, if I can recall rightly. Though there are some connections to global Islamist extremism , which it has been in China's interests to highlight and play up.

Yeah, I agree and wish I had made that clearer (including that in my baseless speculation it could be Uyghurs and not allies/sympathizers). It mostly has to do with Han settler-colonialism from what I've read.

Like everyone else I don't know anything and I think it was most likely mechanical failure of some sort. My point in posting a baseless speculation (assuming the stolen passports had any meaning), was in response to divabat since, based on the passenger list, I doubted any intentional attack had Malaysia as its primary target.
posted by Gnatcho at 11:58 AM on March 8 [1 favorite]


There's been a few reports of the general crash area usually being full of fishing boats. Not one of those boats reported seeing something fall from the sky or land in their waters? No unusual water events?
posted by divabat at 12:05 PM on March 8


From a FlyerTalk thread: The captain had over 18,000 hours of flight time. The first officer had over 2,700 hours of flight time. MH has had a good safety record.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:09 PM on March 8


Even on fishing boats, people tend to sleep a bit at 2am, and it's a big ocean. And it's dark.

They will find it, don't worry. They always do.
posted by spitbull at 12:12 PM on March 8 [1 favorite]


Spitbull, would you please turn on your MeMail? I'd like to send you a note.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:24 PM on March 8


A blog post about the pilot, Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:27 PM on March 8 [3 favorites]


A 2007 quote from the Interpol Secretary in my previous link: "The greatest threat in the world is that last year there were 500 million ... international air arrivals worldwide where travel documents were not compared against Interpol databases."

Also more recently: "... only a handful of countries are systematically using SLTD (Stolen and Lost Travel Documents Database) to screen travelers."

Based on this, it appears that people travel with fake identities all the time, in some countries more than others. I think this is an important counterpoint to the evidenceless smoking gun claims of Anonymous Senior Official and Anonymous Terror Analyst quoted in the media.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 12:42 PM on March 8 [2 favorites]


I don't use mefimail, sorry CP.

I made an error above. MAS has two fatal accidents on its record, not one. Loss of 100 in 1977, and loss of 34 in 1995.
posted by spitbull at 12:53 PM on March 8


> p(stolen passport) = 0.001. Elementary stats.

Multiplication result aside, doesn't that assume that the two events are independent, i.e. that the two people on the flight with bogus passports were completely unconnected and unrelated? If I'm remembering that correctly it seems a pretty big assumption to make until we know, well, something, anything, about these two. Instead of nothing, which is what we know now.
posted by jfuller at 1:03 PM on March 8 [1 favorite]


However, the 1977 loss of 100 was, interestingly enough, due to domestic hijacking. Weirdly, they never figured out who the hijackers were.
posted by spitbull at 1:16 PM on March 8


Incidents like this bring our own fears (and ignorance) to the fore, when we have very few "facts".

As spitbull points out, the likelihood of this being a "terrorist" act are far down the list of probables--but are high on the list of immediate assumptions.

That in itself points out how effective terrorism actually is--when people are so frightened that every major incident is subject to endless speculation about terrorism, the terrorists have, indeed, won. Terrorism is also a justification for "othering" a lot of the time; there is a (repellent) tendency for some to immediately look for and then post as "ahas!" surnames and the like when those things are, at best, poorly correlated with actually being a terrorist.

I hope that whatever befell this flight was over quickly, and that folks on board did not suffer. I also hope their family and friends get quick closure to the mystery of what happened, but experience tells us that will take a lot of careful investigation.
posted by maxwelton at 1:28 PM on March 8 [3 favorites]


Associated Press:
If there was a minor mechanical failure — or even something more serious like the shutdown of both of the plane's engines — the pilots likely would have had time to radio for help. The lack of a call "suggests something very sudden and very violent happened," said William Waldock, who teaches accident investigation at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Ariz.

Instead, it initially appears that there was either a sudden breakup of the plane or something that led it into a quick, steep dive. Some experts even suggested an act of terrorism or a pilot purposely crashing the jet.

"Either you had a catastrophic event that tore the airplane apart, or you had a criminal act," said Scott Hamilton, managing director of aviation consultancy Leeham Co. "It was so quick and they didn't radio."
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:36 PM on March 8 [1 favorite]


Yeah, that's the implication of a plane "crashing" while at cruise altitude. It takes an unfortunately awful amount of time for a plane to fall from the sky if it stops working which would give the pilots plenty of time to contact controllers. Given there was no radio call the implication is that either the plane exploded in flight, someone prevented the pilots from calling for help, or one of the pilots crashed the plane.

Likeliest explanations based on history, in rough order of probability for complete hull loss at cruise altitude (or controlled descent into terrain from cruise):

Spitbull: A bunch of the "highest probability" explanations you list fall way down in plausibility when you take into account the lack of distress call from the pilots. Pilot error does not cause a plane to dive into the sea from cruise altitude without any sort of communication. Mechanical failure, ditto. Unless that mechanical failure causes the plane to completely break up in flight, of course, but those are extremely rare kinds of failure.
posted by Justinian at 2:53 PM on March 8 [3 favorites]


Not really. Mechanical failure and pilot error have indeed combined to bring down planes in uncontrolled descent from cruise alt. look at Air France. No distress calls because they didn't realize they were in trouble until too late. Explosive decompression from a blown hatch can rip an engine off a wing too.
posted by spitbull at 3:02 PM on March 8


You can look at the history of lost hulls at cruise altitude and find more examples of rapid decompression or collision than terrorist bombs. There are plenty where no calls were made too.
posted by spitbull at 3:04 PM on March 8


Yeah, I don't mean that the airframe breaking up has to be the result of a bomb or anything. Just that the sorts of mechanical failure which lead to rapid decompression or the airframe breaking up are much rarer than the sorts of failure which can lead to a crash on takeoff or landing.
posted by Justinian at 3:11 PM on March 8


My point being that while those are indeed "rare" kinds of failure (since failure is rare anyway), bombs are even more rare.

I'm not placing bets one way or the other, but I think there are reasons to be calm about the terrorism possibility for now. Sure it's possible. It's always possible. But the passport derail was leading us into total speculation, is all I'm sayin'

Anyway, so sad.
posted by spitbull at 3:12 PM on March 8


That's true. I don't think we have any idea at all whether the passport thing is related to the crash. It could be a coincidence.
posted by Justinian at 3:20 PM on March 8 [1 favorite]


Reuters:

"John Goglia, a former board member of the National Transportation Safety Board, the U.S. agency that investigates plane crashes, said the lack of a distress call suggested that the plane either experienced an explosive decompression or was destroyed by an explosive device.

"It had to be quick because there was no communication," Goglia said.

He said the false identities of the two passengers strongly suggested the possibility of a bomb.

"That's a big red flag," he said.

If there were passengers on board with stolen passports, it was not clear how they passed through security checks.

International police body Interpol maintains a database of more than 39 million travel documents reported lost or stolen by 166 countries, and says on its website that this enables police, immigration or border control officers to check the validity of a suspect document within seconds.
"
posted by travelwithcats at 3:40 PM on March 8 [3 favorites]


.
posted by homunculus at 4:13 PM on March 8


Surely someone would have noticed a plane exploding!
posted by divabat at 5:13 PM on March 8 [1 favorite]


(I'm sure the people on board would notice...)

I would think someone would notice a jet coming down whether it exploded or not. But the Gulf of Thailand is a big place, and there may not have been anyone near enough.

One article I read pointed out that if the plane blew up, wreckage would be spread widely, whereas if it was in one piece when it hit the water the wreckage would be very concentrated. So we'll get one hit once they find the wreckage.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:21 PM on March 8 [1 favorite]


According to the LA Times, the FBI has now gotten involved in the investigation.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:59 PM on March 8


Surely someone would have noticed a plane exploding!

Like who? Any fisherman likely to be up at 2am is probably not looking at the sky, but lines, nets, ocean, charts, motors, other boats. Besides, a plane breaking up is not necessarily going to produce a big light-filled explosion. Light comes from materials igniting, but it just takes a breach of the plane's physical integrity for an explosive decompression event. That can be caused by a bomb, but also by physical failure of some part. Not all explosive decompression events cause the plane to immediately crash, but it is one of the possible scenarios in this case.
posted by oneirodynia at 6:05 PM on March 8 [2 favorites]


Interesting comment from here:

I'm troubled and puzzled by the two passengers travelling on fake/stolen passports.

>>>

Just as an aside, on a course in the '80s about dealing with major incidents with numerous fatalities, one of the lectures was by Kentons, who at that time, and perhaps now, undertook the task of identifying victims from whatever remains were available at most of not all such events in the UK.

One of the many memorable things we learnt was the fact that in every such event, about 5% of the victims will be travelling under false identities, or secretly under their own identities, or otherwise are not quite what they appear to be. The speaker cited an amazing dance troupe of young girls, who turned out to be entirely male. Others were travelling on false passports, and on every flight, it seems, there is at least one gent with a lady not his wife/partner, who was supposed to be somewhere else entirely (the gent, not the lady).

So I wouldn't be too troubled or puzzled by this (I'm puzzled about why you are "troubled"); it's pretty much normal and doesn't mean anything.


I'm sure things have changed somewhat since the '80s, but a bit of data nonetheless.
posted by oneirodynia at 6:11 PM on March 8 [6 favorites]


oneirodynia: that sort of reminds me of a discussion I've had with a couple of Twitter folks about how the nationality lists on the manifests could be misleading, as they're basing that on passports but these people may be residents of some other country. For example, had I been on a flight that crashed about five years ago, I would be on the manifest as 'Bangladesh' despite being for the most part functionally Malaysian - trying to contact the Bangladesh government to look for me wouldn't work well. (And also I'd be resident in Australia at that point so you're better off looking for me there.)
posted by divabat at 6:13 PM on March 8


Twitter user @juliedemdam: My cousin is flying over Asia and this is her view. I wonder if they're troops searching for [the plane]. (Not verified.)
posted by shortfuse at 6:20 PM on March 8


Pilot of another plane headed for Japan flying over Vietnamese airspace claims he had brief, muffled contact with the MAS plane, at the request of Vietnamese ATC.
posted by Jimbob at 6:26 PM on March 8


Then there's this 2010 article: At least 10 passengers of crashed Air India plane had fake passports


At least ten passengers on the ill-fated Air India Express flight from Dubai were using fraudulent passports, it was revealed. Police in Mangalore in southern India, where the plane crashed last week killing 158 passengers and crew, have now launched an investigation into every travel document used on the flight.


India’s ambassador to the UAE, MK Lokesh, said 10 passports had been “tampered with”. Irregularities included false addresses and photos that did not match the user. The investigation was initiated when a Dubai resident registered a complaint with the Indian consulate after his passport number and other personal details, including his address, were listed as belonging to one of the crash victims.


May 27, 2010

posted by oneirodynia at 6:28 PM on March 8 [2 favorites]


Oh, divabat, was that the flight you just mentioned you could have been on?
posted by oneirodynia at 6:30 PM on March 8


oneirodynia: oh no, my example was hypothetical. I never missed any flights that eventually crashed - my point was more that I had a Bangladesh passport until very recently, despite having never actually lived there, so if I had been on a passenger manifest it would have been misleading.

Someone talked about the possibility of fake visas for the Italian and the Austrian. They wouldn't need Malaysian visas but they would need Chinese visas.
posted by divabat at 6:33 PM on March 8


Twitter user @juliedemdam: My cousin is flying over Asia and this is her view. I wonder if they're troops searching for [the plane].

WHOA -- julie's my good friend. how random. I can verify she's real & truthful, at least. she says her cousin is flying to singapore.
posted by changeling at 6:47 PM on March 8


changeling - Twitter told me that Barack Obama follows her, so I thought, well, she's probably not a troll.
posted by miomiomio at 6:52 PM on March 8


"Asia" is pretty big and those boats don't really look like they're in a search formation, very closely spaced like that.
posted by Rumple at 7:05 PM on March 8 [1 favorite]


At least 4 people on MH370 were traveling with stolen passports. It may mean nothing, but there were more than two.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:35 PM on March 8 [2 favorites]


So is there something obvious I'm not getting here, with the stolen passports? You steal someone's passport, you use it to buy a ticket, but when you go through immigration or to get on the plane the officials are surely still giving the photo a cursory glance to make sure you look like the photo, right? They always have with me. So presumably the travellers with those passports look like the Austrian and Italian they were stolen from?
posted by Jimbob at 7:56 PM on March 8


Maybe the photos are more easily replaced with new ones, whereas the exact paper stock / printed patterns / other material aspects of the passports are harder to replicate? Just a guess. Not that the security officials would know the exact paper stock, etc. of every country's passport...
posted by shortfuse at 7:59 PM on March 8


A catastrophic electrical problem could cut communications, yes?

We really don't know much right now except this is a tragic loss of life.
posted by mazola at 8:02 PM on March 8


Jimbob: It must be fairly simple to swap out the picture on a stolen passport at least convincingly enough to get past airport security, probably many border crossings, etc. otherwise there wouldn't be a market in stolen passports.
posted by R343L at 8:15 PM on March 8


This is one of the reasons behind the push to including biometric identifiers and RFID chip in each passport. You could possibly replace the physical photo on a passport (though that is harder and harder to do), but if the passport had a RFID chip containing a digital image of the photograph as well, it wouldn't match the fake. Likewise, the person with the altered passport would not have the same biometric measurements as the original bearer, and so would be flagged at a properly-equipped passport control station.
posted by modernnomad at 8:28 PM on March 8


Weird. In my (Australian) passport, my photo is printed multiple times, with holograms floating over and under it. I guess that's not the case for other countries.
posted by Jimbob at 8:30 PM on March 8


Depends on the country, jimbob, or the age of the passport. Most western passports I've come across that have been issued in the last 5 years have the same kind of hologram features you're talking about. Though my most recent Canadian passport did not have biometrics, while my UK passport did. There's still no single global standard.
posted by modernnomad at 8:33 PM on March 8


Twitter user @juliedemdam: My cousin is flying over Asia and this is her view. I wonder if they're troops searching for [the plane]. (Not verified.)

They're cargo ships near Singapore. There are always masses of them passing through or biding for hire. Go to satellite view on Google Maps and you'll see them.
posted by Thing at 8:38 PM on March 8 [4 favorites]


He said the false identities of the two passengers strongly suggested the possibility of a bomb

Here is a Forbes article from the same person who was quoted where he says nothing about a bomb, and in fact claims it is too early to speculate about the cause of the crash.

If there were passengers on board with stolen passports, it was not clear how they passed through security checks.

Yes it is, because Interpol (the maintainer of the stolen passport database) says that not enough countries check against their database.

I hate to have to say this, but please stop quoting Reuters articles verbatim. Journalists, you suck. Friends of journalists, tell your friends they suck.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:48 PM on March 8 [3 favorites]


A pilot on a nearby flight was in brief radio contact with MH370 when the Vietnamese air traffic control could not raise them per this New Straits Times article.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 10:13 PM on March 8


Yes, that was posted approx 10 comments ago.
posted by mlis at 10:41 PM on March 8


AP: Plane may have turned back before disappearing.
(also jesus that is a creepy picture)
posted by divabat at 10:43 PM on March 8 [2 favorites]


Now searching Straits of Malacca as well as South China Sea. Less than 3 hrs of daylight left for today.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 12:53 AM on March 9


From the Grauniad's live blog, regarding the two stolen passports:

Both passengers used Thai bhat to purchase their travel tickets on 6 March, a day before the flight took off from Kuala Lumpur destined for Beijing.

The pair, who booked tickets with consecutive numbers, were due to fly to Beijing, then wait for around 10 hours before flying to Amsterdam. Once they arrived in Amsterdam, one of the passengers was due to travel on to Frankfurt and the other to Copenhagen.

posted by daveje at 3:05 AM on March 9


The brief communication and the turning back suggest a mechanical failure, I'd say. I suspect the passports will turn out to be nothing but the normal noise of false identities. It's unlikely that any incident executed by humans would happen so fast that there would be no communications, unless Malaysian Airlines doesn't lock cockpit doors. No one is going to be able to personally transport on board a bomb big enough to cause instant vessel loss. And if it was a bomb in cargo or planted elsewhere, the bombers would hardly be on board.
posted by tavella at 3:41 AM on March 9 [3 favorites]


daveje: I'll take the "stolen passports bought tickets with consecutive numbers" as support for my hypothesis that whatever their motivation, the passengers with those two stolen passports were working together.

Those two stolen passports bought tickets on MH370 for Thai Baht, the day before departure.

The tickets were KUL-PEK (Beijing), then a long connection window, then PEK-AMS. Then they diverged, one to Frankfurt and one to Copenhagen. The tickets were bought via China Southern.

This is a very odd routing if you want to fly to AMS on Malaysian, because Malaysian fly KUL-AMS direct. (I've been on that flight! In fact, Malaysian had four B777s, which mostly operated that route. There's about a 25% chance I was on the plane that crashed around this time last year ...)

Let us bear in mind that while Uighur separatists seem happier attacking railway stations with knives, Al Qaida spokesmen have denounced China as an "enemy of Islam" in the not-too-distant past.

Airline security in that part of the world is lax compared to the USA/EU. KUL operates gate security with cursory passport checking. I've no idea how easy it would be to get a suitcase onto the plane un-inspected, but AIUI checking is rather less thorough than over here. Maybe somebody thought that tactics that won't work here any more might still come in useful ...

My new hypothesis: if you wanted to get onto a Chinese airliner packed with Chinese folks flying to or from Beijing by using stolen passports without raising flags when you applied for a Chinese entry visa, this would be how to do it. The fact that it was a codeshare operated by Malaysian, in this scenario, suggests none-too-bright bad guys; that 75% of the passengers were Chinese suggests a motivation for them bringing the plane down anyway. ("Wrong airline, right target.")

I am now hoping even more desperately that this turns out to be an airframe failure -- possibly the spar of that wing that got damaged 18 months ago -- and the stolen passports belonged to smugglers or some other species of ordinary criminal, because the last thing we need is another round of global security theatre.
posted by cstross at 3:57 AM on March 9 [1 favorite]


Now searching Straits of Malacca as well as South China Sea.

I'm guessing this is done just to emphasize that everything possible is being done. It's almost impossible for the plane to have diverted across the country without being detected. Probably a whole bunch of coast guard resources in the Straits area that cannot be diverted to the South China Sea but on the other hand having them just be idle in port might look bad so they're doing something.
posted by Authorized User at 4:02 AM on March 9


Then there's this 2010 article: At least 10 passengers of crashed Air India plane had fake passports

So that whole passport derail above was based on lupus yonderboy making up (nay, insisting on) a fact not in evidence ("no one traveling on a false passport has ever died in a crash before"). This is why I asked how he knew that was true, which he did not answer, as it seemed wildly implausible. We can't of course extrapolate from ten such people being in one accident in India just a few years ago either, but I imagine the math jocks can show us that this one case probably ups the probability of there being fake passport holders on any given international flight fairly significantly.

Thus that whole statistics derail above was based on a flawed premise, which was my original point in engaging with it. Math won't correct flawed data.

Carry on.
posted by spitbull at 4:27 AM on March 9 [2 favorites]


spitbull: I deny your reality and assert my own. (See comment n - 2 above yours.)

Another aspect emerges: 30 missing on MAS flight believed to be Freescale employees -- "As authorities scramble to search for the Malaysia Airlines MH370 flight that went missing. It is learnt that 30 on board are believed to be employees of Freescale Semiconductor Malaysia. According to a source close to the group, they were heading to China on a working trip."

Freescale Semi used to be the i/c wing of Motorola; it's still a big player in the embedded controller market. (Total employees, 23,000 globally; revenue in single-digit billions.)
posted by cstross at 5:10 AM on March 9


My reality says nothing about whether the supposed two fake passport passengers played a role in bringing down the plane.

My reality is just that it is not vanishingly unlikely that there would BE two such passengers, traveling for reasons other than bringing down the plane, on any given international flight. The idea that traveling on false documents is so rare that it guarantees these two were involved in causing the accident is what I find absurd. Your comment above is entirely plausible.
posted by spitbull at 5:27 AM on March 9 [4 favorites]


The tickets were KUL-PEK (Beijing), then a long connection window, then PEK-AMS. Then they diverged, one to Frankfurt and one to Copenhagen. The tickets were bought via China Southern. This is a very odd routing if you want to fly to AMS on Malaysian, because Malaysian fly KUL-AMS direct.

Not if you are drug couriers.
posted by Mister Bijou at 6:13 AM on March 9 [2 favorites]


Or a wealthy man and his mistress on a shopping junket.
posted by ardgedee at 6:19 AM on March 9 [1 favorite]


Besides, internationally, it's often cheaper to fly from A to B via C.
posted by Mister Bijou at 6:50 AM on March 9 [1 favorite]


[Interpol] holds information on more than 39 million travel documents reported lost or stolen by 166 countries. This database enables INTERPOL National Central Bureaus and other authorized law enforcement entities (such as immigration and border control officers) to ascertain the validity of a suspect travel document in seconds. Stolen and Lost Travel Documents
posted by Mister Bijou at 7:13 AM on March 9


But not everyone uses the Interpol database. Still... 39 million travel documents is an awful lot of documents.
posted by Mister Bijou at 7:17 AM on March 9 [1 favorite]


It seems very unlikely that the plane came apart in midair, because airplane interiors are full of distinctive stuff that floats. The fact that they haven't found a debris field yet would argue that the plane hit the water in one piece and sank mostly intact
posted by localroger at 7:21 AM on March 9 [1 favorite]


From the Pilots Forum linked above:

Two passengers on the flight had onward flights from PEK meaning they avoided visa checks and would be allowed on the flight to PEK - PAX 1 had onward flight to AMS and then CPH, PAX 2 had onward flight to FRA both with China Southern Airlines.

Both passengers were using stolen passports.

posted by readery at 7:23 AM on March 9


Yeah... it's the kind of routing I'd take if I were a drug courier. Also, an EU passport is very handy if you are an "illegal" immigrant wanting to make a fresh start in the EU.
posted by Mister Bijou at 7:33 AM on March 9 [1 favorite]


In the evening of Mar 9th 2014 local time Malaysia's Transport Ministry reported, that no trace of the missing aircraft has been found at dawn Mar 9th after two days of search. The oil slicks as well as debris found so far are not related to the aircraft. Rumours like other crew establishing contact to the accident flight after radar contact was lost, phone contact to a mobile phone of one the passengers of the missing flight or the aircraft having landed in China or Vietnam, are false.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:49 AM on March 9 [1 favorite]


It's the kind of route I'd take if I wanted to go to Beijing first. Occam needs a shave.

As it turns out, however, convoluted routes through multiple borders is, counterintuitively, a core technique of passport fraud practiced by terrorists, smugglers, and human traffickers, according to my reading of a bunch of articles on the subject just now. Based on the number of cases investigated and document thefts I'm seeing cited, this happens all the damn time.
posted by spitbull at 8:15 AM on March 9


"When an Air India plane crashed in Mangalore in 2010 en route from Dubai, with the loss of 158 lives, as many 10 fraudulent passports were recovered."
Source: BBC
posted by Mister Bijou at 8:51 AM on March 9


It seems to me if the plan was to bomb this flight, then you don't need or even want two fake passport people to carry the bomb on board. It's redundant and doubles the risk of detection. It just seems less likely to me you'd put two of your team on a single-bomb, single-plane suicide mission. So, if bombing was the idea, then it seems more likely that the target was multiple connecting flights out of Beijing to European cities, and then one of the bombs went off prematurely. This also fits with comments I've seen that those stolen Euro passports would definitely be detected on entry through European immigration, even if they are fine for just getting around in East Asia. So as a means of getting into the EU they wouldn't be a smart choice.

An alternative is, if the passports have anything to do with it, then the fact there is more than one of them suggests an attempt to take over the plane with a team of hijackers. This seems unlikely since everyone knows that'll be harder to do post 9-11 between the cockpit doors and the motivated passengers. The brief turning back, if that is validated, is maybe suggestive of this alternative. And Kuala Lumpur has an attractive target if you're thinking of a repeat of 9-11. I doubt this is the case only because it seems so obviously seeing the present through the rear view mirror, and also would seem to have a low chance of success from the perspective of the attackers.

If the passports have nothing to do with this, and that's certainly possible, then truly it'll have to wait for the investigation. It could be some kind of incident paralleling one we already know about, whether Air France style crew fuckup, or the faultily-repaired wing on this plane catastrophically failing like that Japan airlines case from a while back, where a badly-repaired bulkhead failed years after it was "fixed". Or, it could be some completely new failure mode, though chances are there'd be hints of that found retrospectively (e.g., freezing pitot tubes were a known issue for Air France already, they just underestimated the risk).

The fact there was no distress call seems to not mean a real lot yet, since aircrew are taught to Aviate - Navigate - Communicate, in that order, so if you can't get past the first stage (fly the plane) you never get to the next ones.
posted by Rumple at 8:56 AM on March 9 [1 favorite]


The passport business is basically looking for your lost keys only underneath the streetlight. If there were any other facts to go on, I think the focus would be elsewhere.

No distress call means a rapid deterioration of the situation, but not necessarily an instantaneous one. The only scenario that I think it would argue against is a loss of power from both engines, which at cruise gives the pilots quite a bit of time to work with.

I don't know why people are using the phrase "explosive decompression". Loss of cabin pressure is not a significant threat to the safety of the flight, as it is a somewhat common occurrence as far as in-flight incidents go. Donning of oxygen masks and a descent to 10k feet is all that is required. Structural failure is however a threat to the flight, in which case decompression may be a symptom but is not really a cause.

The purported turn-back is compatible with basically any scenario you can imagine (including bad radar data) and has very little discriminatory power at this point.
posted by kiltedtaco at 9:19 AM on March 9 [1 favorite]


"The mysteries surrounding the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, and the true identities of some of its passengers, are as deep as the southeast Asian waters where multinational search teams are searching for the jet." This is the bullshit writing we get when there's nothing to report.

I'm still confused about the source and quality of position reports. Initial reports were that the plane was entirely lost, like no one knew where in SE Asia it was. Later reports was that the plane had some automatic GPS uplink independent of the ground-based ATC radar systems. But the reporting I've read indicates they still aren't really sure where the plane was, much less where it is now. I guess the ELT isn't working either.
posted by Nelson at 9:43 AM on March 9 [2 favorites]


To follow up on what Nelson said, I find it remarkable that we don't have an actual hard fix on where the plane was last detected by radar. The waiting is maddening, and I can't imagine what it's like for the families.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 10:06 AM on March 9 [1 favorite]


Part of the problem is radar doesn't have complete coverage, particularly over water. You really want some GPS fix communicated from the airplane itself. In the US at least position uplinks are still not required for aircraft. Largely because of air carrier recalcitrance, also because of the hugely inflated cost of aviation-approved electronics. The $99 + $150/yr Spot receiver in my pocket does mediocre position reporting to satellites, but the equivalent aviation systems cost $20,000+ per plane.
posted by Nelson at 10:14 AM on March 9


killedtaco, there is a continuum between "loss of cabin pressure" and "explosive decompression." If a wing rips off or the tail structure, etc, and you get a big enough hole, those masks are a joke and the plane can disintegrate rapidly.
posted by spitbull at 10:27 AM on March 9


I can recall accidents where the force of debris ejected during loss of pressure gets sucked into an engine or impacts a rear structural component, causing cascading failures of power, hydraulics, etc.
posted by spitbull at 10:29 AM on March 9


Here, Wikipedia obliges with a list of decompression accidents, including quite a few explosive decompression instances.

The most immediate consequence of rapid or explosive decompression at altitude is that no one can breathe at all. If other systems are damaged in the incident, O2 masks might not even work.
posted by spitbull at 10:35 AM on March 9


parents update: they arrived fine, though their KUL-JHB flight was delayed.four hours because they were "checking something". My dad's joined in on the Vietnam Triangle bandwagon, sigh.
posted by divabat at 10:43 AM on March 9 [8 favorites]


If it were terrorism I would expect a credible claim of responsibility by now. The whole point of terrorism is lost if nobody knows who did it.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:28 AM on March 9 [4 favorites]


The whole point of terrorism is lost if nobody knows who did it.

I don't think that's true at all. The whole point of terrorisms is to put fear of helplessness into a population. I don't think this airline went down because of terrorism, but the lack of a party coming forward doesn't have anything to do with my opinion.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:30 AM on March 9


RobotVoodooPower: Journalists, you suck. Friends of journalists, tell your friends they suck.

Could we maybe not do this?

posted by Chutzler at 11:57 AM on March 9


The whole point of terrorisms is to put fear of helplessness into a population.

"The fundamental fear of terrorism is that it's not just random or unintentional."
posted by benbenson at 11:59 AM on March 9


benbenson, point taken, but I think it's much more complicated than that. It doesn't matter if a group claims responsibility.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:09 PM on March 9


If it were terrorism I would expect a credible claim of responsibility by now. The whole point of terrorism is lost if nobody knows who did it.

I'm pretty sure that there were no credible responsibility claims after Philippine Airlines Flight 434, because it was a practice run for the Bojinka Plot.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:10 PM on March 9 [1 favorite]


If a wing rips off or the tail structure, etc, and you get a big enough hole, those masks are a joke and the plane can disintegrate rapidly.

Yes, catastrophic structural failure is obviously a risk. The point is that the decompression part has little bearing on the airworthiness of the plane compared to whatever structural damage caused that decompression. Glancing at the list of incidents you linked, in every one I checked the decompression was a symptom, not a cause. E.g., KAL 902 - shot down by a missile, loss of cabin pressure not at fault. Turkish Airlines 981 - "The crash resulted from the rear cargo hatch blowing off, causing decompression and severing cables that left the pilots without control." Several others are listed as midair collisions, obviously not caused by depressurization. The fact is that loss of pressure is survivable as long as the damage that caused it doesn't otherwise impair the aircraft.

You really want some GPS fix communicated from the airplane itself.

I'm not really understanding why this position business is throwing everyone for a loop. The last known position, as reported in the aviation herald, was N6.9 E103.6. Presumably something very bad happened after that. I'm not sure what you expect the aircraft or radar or GPS to do after that point, none of them are magic and they all have their faults, and if this was an in-flight breakup then I wouldn't expect any of them to keep working. Sure a few more position reports would be helpful for the search, but they're not going to really tell us much more about the incident. This is where the ELT is supposed to take over.
posted by kiltedtaco at 12:13 PM on March 9 [2 favorites]


I found the bunch of pilots discussing possibilities on Quora here pretty interesting. Sounds like it would have to be something very sudden and very major not to trip all the redundant electronic beacon type systems present in a newer airliner.
posted by mathowie at 12:40 PM on March 9 [3 favorites]


Some people are claiming that if the plane exploded mid-air there would be debris all over the place by now. Is that actually true?

Also if the debris isn't from MH370 where is it from - another plane crash?

(I've ended up being a semi-debunker on Twitter. I feel like pulling a PicPedant and document the scams popping up, or something. There's been a few already.)
posted by divabat at 1:08 PM on March 9


NOTE: I don't think is what happened, but now my inner "action movie" fan is curious.

If you were making a Spy Adventure Movie Starring Top Actor, is there a plausible scenario where you could "steal" a 777 mid-flight by making it look like it vanished? Something like turning off everything that pings, taking it down to wave-top level and then hightailing it to your favorite handy abandoned airfield?
posted by maxwelton at 1:10 PM on March 9


SPECTRE would no doubt have a specially built Super Guppy transport that could hijack a 777 by engulfing it in mid air, but I doubt that's possible in real life.
posted by ceribus peribus at 1:42 PM on March 9


Killedtaco, Well, yes of course something has to cause a hull breach to cause decompression. I never said decompression on its own was causal. Planes are built to minimize the risk of rapid decompression, but it happens and can be the proximate cause of further system failures and deaths from barotrauma or suffocation.

You said explosive decompression didn't happen to airplanes. In major hull breaches, it does indeed happen. I don't quite know what your point is. Something has to happen to cause decompression, but when it does, if the breach is big enough, it's categorized as "explosive." That is a thing that happens to airplanes, and it's likely what happened here (due to some other ultimate cause) since the debris field now appears to be widely scattered.

Metal fatigue, bomb, missile, collision, fire can all cause it. Obviously it doesn't happen independently of other damage.
posted by spitbull at 1:49 PM on March 9


And you're wrong about the effect of decompression too. It's likely what kills most people in a mid-air disintegration. A complete loss of all pressure at 35k feet causes rapid pulmonary barotrauma, and certainly contributes to structural integrity failure independently from the initial breach if the hole is big enough.
posted by spitbull at 1:53 PM on March 9


If you were making a Spy Adventure Movie Starring Top Actor, is there a plausible scenario where you could "steal" a 777 mid-flight by making it look like it vanished? Something like turning off everything that pings, taking it down to wave-top level and then hightailing it to your favorite handy abandoned airfield?

If you read mathowie's link the writer puts forward this as a "not really likely but technically possible" scenario. It explains both the swift loss of contact with the utter lack of debris, but only by posing something which in itself is even harder to explain and believe.
posted by Thing at 1:54 PM on March 9


Air.Crash.Investigation.S16E03.HDTV.x264-C4TV

I have watched enough of these to know that mechanical failure is the most likely cause. Like the horizontal stabilizer fell off and they were to busy trying to stay alive to call in.
posted by johnpowell at 2:09 PM on March 9


divabot: Some people are claiming that if the plane exploded mid-air there would be debris all over the place by now. Is that actually true?

I'm one of those people. Yes, if the passenger cabin is seriously disrupted at 30,000 feet then it would spray debris, much of which floats, over an area of tens of square miles. The fact that *nothing* has been detected in relatively clear weather argues heavily against this. There would be dozens of seat cushions, suitcases, and interior finishings floating around.

For the plane to go down without creating such a wide field of floating debris would require for it to be intact on hitting the water. For no debris to be found at all, as seems to be the case, would require the plane to hit the water mostly non-catastrophically, so as to also not disrupt the cabin too much on impact, so that such debris would be contained within the cabin as the plane sinks.

That could happen if the plane was under partial control, or if it was in an unrecoverable flat spin as it hit the water.
posted by localroger at 2:19 PM on March 9


El Pais has a photo from a Vietnamese plane which could be a solitary bit of debris from the crash.
posted by Thing at 2:33 PM on March 9


Thing, they've subsequently announced that the object in that photo is unrelated to the missing airplane.
posted by localroger at 3:02 PM on March 9


Ok, that's great. Thanks for the clarification.
posted by Thing at 3:10 PM on March 9


I thought I'd check the flight history on my usual tracking site that I use for my own flights, and this is a strange visual to see.
posted by mrzarquon at 3:15 PM on March 9 [1 favorite]


FlightAware does not have good data in SE Asia. They don't have data from all ATC in the area. FlightRadar24 has a little more. Neither show the possible evidence of turning back that has been reported from by the Malaysian military from their radar.
posted by Nelson at 3:44 PM on March 9 [1 favorite]


localroger: "Thing, they've subsequently announced that the object in that photo is unrelated to the missing airplane."

Have they? The WSJ is still reporting the "door" as a possible lead. Can you point to a solid rebuttal?
posted by crazy with stars at 4:08 PM on March 9


One of many reports.
posted by localroger at 4:43 PM on March 9


localroger: "One of many reports"

Thanks for the link. It's strange to me that some sources are still reporting the door as a possible lead, but I suppose many sources are working at the same geographical remove many of us are.
posted by crazy with stars at 5:25 PM on March 9


It's strange to me that some sources are still reporting the door as a possible lead

Hey, clicks = eyeballs = $$$. Gotta publish a new story about this missing airplane every couple of hours.
posted by Nelson at 5:26 PM on March 9 [1 favorite]


Adding a GPS location squawk via satellite link would tell us nothing useful that we don't already know about its location (from air traffic control radar).

Charlie: Reports today are that they're shifting their search from the South China Sea all the way to the Andaman Sea.... which is on the other side of Thailand. They think the plane "may have turned around" and crashed in a completely different location. So clearly a GPS squawk would be a lot more accurate than what they got from radar since they apparently don't even know where the plane went down within a hundred miles.
posted by Justinian at 6:18 PM on March 9


Reports today are that they're shifting their search from the South China Sea all the way to the Andaman Sea.... which is on the other side of Thailand.

I'm kinda wondering if that whole thing regarding the Andaman Sea / Straits of Melaka is a bit of a token effort - Malaysia obviously has a whole pile of boats on that side of the peninsula, and want to put them to use doing something. I find it incredibly difficult to believe the plane could have turned around, made it all the way back across Malaysia / Thailand, without it communicating or being picked up on radar somewhere across the peninsula. But then the whole thing is awfully, depressingly strange.
posted by Jimbob at 6:28 PM on March 9


If that were the case it would be a depressing real life example of that streetlight & lost keys joke.
posted by Justinian at 6:30 PM on March 9


The effort isn't wasted though as it still good training.
posted by Mitheral at 7:02 PM on March 9


Danica Weeks anxiously waiting for news of husband on missing Malaysia Airlines flight
posted by readery at 7:31 PM on March 9


March 10 statement from Malaysia Airlines.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:33 PM on March 9 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the link roomthreeseventeen.
Malaysia Airlines' primary focus at this point in time is to care for the families. This means providing them with timely information, travel facilities, accommodation, meals, medical and emotional support. The costs for these are all borne by Malaysia Airlines.

Initial financial assistance has been given out to all families over and above their basic needs.

At least one caregiver is assigned to each family. These caregivers are well-trained staff and volunteers from Malaysia and other organisations.

As of now, there are more than 150 "Go Team" members consisting of senior management and caregivers at Beijing to attend to these families. In Kuala Lumpur, a different group of caregivers are attending to the families’ needs.

Families from other nations apart from China have been arriving at Kuala Lumpur since early yesterday. More are expected to arrive today.
That is great. Those poor, poor people. I can't imagine the anguish they are in.
posted by cashman at 7:39 PM on March 9 [1 favorite]


cashman: "Malaysia Airlines' primary focus at this point in time is to care for the families. This means providing them with timely information, travel facilities, accommodation, meals, medical and emotional support. The costs for these are all borne by Malaysia Airlines."

Yeah that's great and all, but you've lost a plane (!) with >200 passengers for over two days. I'm thinking finding that plane should still be your focus, and will go much further than some free hotel rooms.
posted by Big_B at 8:00 PM on March 9 [1 favorite]


What can the airline actually do to find their plane at this point? I understand the cynicism, but don't know what they can do, as opposed to the various military and other search operations going on.
posted by gingerbeer at 8:04 PM on March 9 [8 favorites]


Yeah that's great and all, but you've lost a plane (!) with >200 passengers for over two days. I'm thinking finding that plane should still be your focus, and will go much further than some free hotel rooms.

Uh, not every single employee of the airline is actually needed out in the middle of the ocean to look for the plane. Not to mention the fact that if they didn't find help family members find lodging, etc., they'd be criticized for that.
posted by scody at 8:24 PM on March 9 [8 favorites]


(belatedly i realised how silly my answer must be, carry on.)
posted by cendawanita at 8:30 PM on March 9


Internal Probe On Immigration Dept Commences - Zahid:
Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the detailed investigation would give special attention to the department's Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) branch.

"We will conduct an internal probe, particularly on the officers, who were on duty at the KLIA Immigration counter during flight MH370.

"I am still puzzle how come (immigration officers) cannot think, an Italian and Austrian (passengers) but with Asian facial features," he told reporters at the Kembara Bumi Suci 2014 convoy participants meeting with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak at Seri Perdana here Sunday.
I was so hoping this was a hoax when I read a reference to this on another news site, but it seems not! I'm not sure where he's getting the 'Asian features' from, or why he thinks Asian-looking people can't also have European names, but I'm not entirely surprised that this attitude exists either.

on a side note: does someone want to co-run a fact-checking/debunking/PicPedantish blog about MH370 with me?
posted by divabat at 8:31 PM on March 9


> Yeah that's great and all, but you've lost a plane (!) with >200 passengers for over two days. I'm thinking finding that plane should still be your focus, and will go much further than some free hotel rooms.
In fact, it isn't the airline itself that's actually sending staff out there and searching - as we've seen so far, it's primarily the navies of the countries involved. I hardly think that MAS maintains such capacity for search and rescue operations year-round. It makes so little sense, then, for them to 'focus' on something they can't do anything about at all, and sit there twiddling their thumbs.
posted by undue influence at 8:39 PM on March 9


From the New Straits Times:

Vietnamese searchers on ships worked throughout the night but could not find a rectangle object spotted Sunday afternoon that was thought to be one of the doors of a Malaysia Airlines passenger jet that went missing more than two days ago.
Doan Huu Gia, the chief of Vietnam’s search and rescue coordination centre, said Monday that six planes and seven ships from Vietnam were searching for the object but nothing had been found.

This is the possible "door with window" that was spotted by a search plane just before sunset last night (March 9) which boats were not able to look for until this (Monday) morning.

Not the possible "yellow" debris that was spotted yesterday during the day which a search vessel reached about 7 pm last night and determined it was not MH 370-related.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 8:57 PM on March 9 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure where he's getting the 'Asian features' from, or why he thinks Asian-looking people can't also have European names, but I'm not entirely surprised that this attitude exists either.

I don't know where he's getting it from either (as far as I know there has been no public information about who was flying on those tickets?) but two people with Asian features flying together on passports from different European countries with European names would certainly be enough to flag them for further scrutiny such as checking if the passports have been stolen. Which they clearly didn't do.

Oh, we know they were probably flying together because the two tickets were sequentially numberered.
posted by Justinian at 9:05 PM on March 9 [1 favorite]


We don't know how he knows those two have Asian features to start with. I tweeted him asking about proof that those two have Asian features. I asked a Malaysian journalist who's been pretty adamant about factchecking about it and he says the Home Minister has a history of assuming things, which I don't find terribly surprising.

A lot of other news outlets are taking his quote about "how can Immigration people not question European names on Asian faces" and extrapolating it to "it's confirmed that they have Asian features" though we don't know that for sure.
posted by divabat at 9:11 PM on March 9 [1 favorite]


That is unfortunately par for the course. Some guy said something with little or no basis so we'll print it as fact and spend all day analyzing it!
posted by Justinian at 9:28 PM on March 9


I'm with you, Justinian (and Nelson, above) the clutching at straws is infuriating. But so is the lack of any real information.
posted by Jimbob at 10:16 PM on March 9


Some reports of 4 passengers with stolen passports with at least 2, but perhaps all 4, with contiguous ticket numbers, meaning they were purchased together
posted by zia at 10:52 PM on March 9


Yeah we know. It's either random noise, or drug couriers, especially with the onward plans of fly-to-Amsterdam-then-split-up. As has been rehashed in this thread over and over, there are 32 million stolen travel documents in the Interpol database - people are travelling with this stuff all the time. Until we find evidence of a bombing, or someone claims responsibility, it's a dead end.
posted by Jimbob at 10:58 PM on March 9


The Malaysian journalist I linked to a few comments ago and I are collaborating on a MH370 factchecking blog.
posted by divabat at 11:28 PM on March 9 [7 favorites]


"European" names are surely the most widely shared names on earth. Anybody who doubts that Christian Kozel and Luigi Maraldi could be of "non-white" appearance need to answer what they think Philip Roessler and Mario Balotelli look like. It's just straight out prejudice or ignorance, especially as on the flight itself the head of the cabin crew (whose nationality and identity is known!) was called Patrick Gomes.
posted by Thing at 12:10 AM on March 10 [1 favorite]


It's just straight out prejudice or ignorance, especially as on the flight itself the head of the cabin crew (whose nationality and identity is known!) was called Patrick Gomes.

I'd suggest that if you know a little about Malaysia, and the fairly outdated racial "awareness" of the ruling party, that one of their politicians would be quite ignorant enough to suggest that "Asian faces" wouldn't have European names.
posted by Jimbob at 12:20 AM on March 10 [1 favorite]


I don't want to go around in circles again, so I'll keep it short

Metal fatigue, bomb, missile, collision, fire can all cause it. Obviously it doesn't happen independently of other damage.

This is my whole point. If I'm going to start asking why did this plane crash, my suspects are going to be fatigue, bomb, fire, etc, not decompression. It is not itself an event which can cause a loss of the aircraft.
posted by kiltedtaco at 1:49 AM on March 10


Sunset again.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 3:58 AM on March 10


Following a report on a Vietnamese website here, now picked up by Yahoo Malaysia about a debris field 60 km southeast of Vung Tau, Vietnam.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 5:02 AM on March 10


Anybody who doubts that Christian Kozel and Luigi Maraldi could be of "non-white" appearance need to answer what they think Philip Roessler and Mario Balotelli look like.

Funny you should say that, Thing.
Department of Civil Aviation Director-General Azharuddin Abdul Rahman confirmed the men DID NOT look Asian. Asked what they looked like, he replied: "Do you know Balotelli (the famous Italian footballer). They look like Balotelli."
[via Yahoo!News]
posted by de at 5:46 AM on March 10 [1 favorite]


There is some new info on the two tickets for the passengers with stolen EU passports.

Apparently, they were booked on the MA flight with little advance notice and originally planned to travel separately on March 1st, flying with Qatar Airways and Etihad respectively.
The story also mentions an "Iranian contact", possibly a middle man.

Another story says that one of the travelers was identified based on security footage at the airport.
posted by travelwithcats at 5:49 AM on March 10


"Do you know Balotelli (the famous Italian footballer). They look like Balotelli."

Since I did not know Balotelli: Mario Balotelli.
posted by Georgina at 5:51 AM on March 10


Also, from The Guardian:
[Azharuddin Abdul Rahman] confirmed that five passengers had checked in for the flight but not boarded, adding that their baggage was removed from the aircraft as necessary in such cases.
They don't seem to be treating it as suspicious, but it seems so odd to me that people who were already at the airport didn't board the flight. Is it commonplace and I'm just not aware of it?
posted by Georgina at 6:22 AM on March 10


It's pretty common. People fall asleep or get lost in airports, maybe are too busy shopping at the duty-free.
posted by dominik at 6:26 AM on March 10


It's not uncommon, esp. for people who miss their connections in an unfamiliar airport while their bags make it. But since there's no way of knowing, the bags are pulled anyway. I was once on a BA flight where the pilot apologized for the delay and then added, "but we thought that you'd prefer to arrive 30 minutes late to London than 30 years too early in the next world."
posted by Westringia F. at 6:29 AM on March 10 [2 favorites]


Who checks in from the *airport* these days? They no doubt did online checkin.
posted by tavella at 6:34 AM on March 10


It's not uncommon, esp. for people who miss their connections in an unfamiliar airport while their bags make it. But since there's no way of knowing, the bags are pulled anyway

My now-wife and I once were once booted from an O'Hare-to-Grand Rapids (MI) connection when they brought a smaller plane than scheduled. Our bags were sent on without us.
posted by stevis23 at 6:44 AM on March 10


tavella: "Who checks in from the *airport* these days? "

People traveling who don't have access to mobile data services?

Hell. I didn't have access to mobile data last week, because Verizon wanted to charge me an arm and a leg for data access in Canada. So, I checked in at the airport for my return flight.
posted by schmod at 6:47 AM on March 10 [1 favorite]


Baggage being removed from a flight because a passenger doesn't board is not uncommon. On a recent flight from JFK to Montreal we'd already pulled away from the gate when it was determined that a couple passengers hadn't boarded, but their baggage had been put in the cargo hold. We had to return to the gate and wait for a good hour for handlers to locate the baggage and remove it from the plane before we could take off. I recall the pilot saying this regulation applied only to international flights, but I may be misremembering.
posted by theory at 6:58 AM on March 10


I've been reading a bit about China Airlines 611, a 747 which suffered explosive decompression in 2002, killing all 225 people aboard. Like MH370, Flight 611 disappeared from the radar without any distress call. And also like MH370, which supposedly suffered previous damage to its wing, Flight 611 had sustained damage in a tail strike incident years earlier. 611's tail was improperly repaired, but it held for 22 years of flights until fatigue caused its catastrophic mid-air failure. The debris was located two hours after the disaster, and only 15% of the wreckage was recovered.

By all accounts, MAS's maintenance practices are substantially better than China Airlines' were, but if those reports of the MH370 aircraft's prior wing-strike accident are accurate, it wouldn't surprise me if a similar structural failure were responsible. It strikes me as being much more likely than silent foul play, in any case.
posted by Westringia F. at 7:10 AM on March 10


> Who checks in from the *airport* these days? They no doubt did online checkin.

Well, the issue isn't passengers checking-in but not making it aboard; the issue is passengers checking bags but not making it aboard. Online check-in can't account for the luggage making it into the hold.
posted by Westringia F. at 7:27 AM on March 10 [2 favorites]


Here is an updated map of the search areas.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:26 AM on March 10 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the link, roomthreeseventeen.
posted by drezdn at 9:19 AM on March 10


According to this Twitter feed: BREAKING: Civilian airliner reports "large, solid debris" off Vietnam coast. Vietnamese & Malaysian authorities to investigate. -Reuters
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:55 AM on March 10


roomthreeseventeen: "According to this Twitter feed: BREAKING: Civilian airliner reports "large, solid debris" off Vietnam coast. Vietnamese & Malaysian authorities to investigate. -Reuter"

I think that airline reporting is what's referred to in this PPRuNe comment, and it didn't pan out.
posted by barnacles at 10:08 AM on March 10


Well, the issue isn't passengers checking-in but not making it aboard; the issue is passengers checking bags but not making it aboard.

That is so so so common. It happens in every airport in the US every single day. Any time you hear a gate agent making repeated calls for passenger so-and-so for such-and-such a flight that's about to leave without them? The vast majority of those people are in the airport in the bathroom, asleep, at the bar, etc. It's just as much a red herring as the stolen passports. Noise.
posted by stoneweaver at 10:13 AM on March 10 [1 favorite]


"According to this Twitter feed: [...]"

There seems to be nothing about this on the Reuters' site.
posted by travelwithcats at 10:15 AM on March 10


Who checks in from the *airport* these days? They no doubt did online checkin.

I've never understood online checkin, personally. It's not like it's saving me a trip to the airport, you know? I only consider it if the line at the self serve machines is too long.
posted by ceribus peribus at 10:39 AM on March 10 [2 favorites]


Who checks in from the *airport* these days? They no doubt did online checkin.

"Hahahaha" laughed the resident alien whose details seem to confound online check-in systems of all airlines in all countries.
posted by srboisvert at 11:12 AM on March 10 [3 favorites]


Westringia F.: "By all accounts, MAS's maintenance practices are substantially better than China Airlines' were, but if those reports of the MH370 aircraft's prior wing-strike accident are accurate, it wouldn't surprise me if a similar structural failure were responsible. It strikes me as being much more likely than silent foul play, in any case."

It would surprise me. A tailstrike is typically a violent and forceful action against the "spine" of the aircraft. On the other hand, I can't think of many things that could go wrong with a wingtip that could cause the instant and total destruction of a modern airliner (especially during a point of the flight when there is minimal load on the wings). The wings of a 777 are ridiculously strong.

This is absolutely something that should (and will) be investigated if the plane is located and recovered. However, until that point, any idle speculation is just that.

We have literally nothing to go on. Each of the theories being tossed around are almost beyond implausible.
posted by schmod at 11:15 AM on March 10


schmod--thanks for the link on the wing test--I forgot Alan Mulally was CEO of Boeing before Ford. Great to see the pride and enthusiasm of the project team.
posted by rmhsinc at 11:27 AM on March 10


Online checkins for international flights usually necessitate some sort of immigration check.

What I'm personally not understanding is how multiple times now Vietnam would report something only for Malaysia to refute it a little while later.
posted by divabat at 11:35 AM on March 10


On the other hand, I can't think of many things that could go wrong with a wingtip that could cause the instant and total destruction of a modern airliner

Not a wing tip, a wing. Concentrating the impact force at the tip means you're applying the maximum bending moment possible for that amount of force across the wing spar. And yes, that static test looks impressive, but it's not telling you what happens if you just bend it 70% of the way to breaking and then go on to fly it for another decade or 2 under non-abusive conditions. These sorts of incidents affect the fatigue life.
posted by indubitable at 12:07 PM on March 10 [1 favorite]


> What I'm personally not understanding is how multiple times now Vietnam would report something only for Malaysia to refute it a little while later.

Apparently you're not alone, divabat. Reported in Yahoo!News last night, UPDATE [8:38pm]:
[Department of Civil Aviation Director-General Azharuddin Abdul Rahman] also spoke about the media reports coming out of Vietnam.

"Vietnam has reported whatever they have found to their media. Whenever we receive such news, we contact our counterparts in Vietnam and all the time, Vietnam authorities deny that they have found whatever it is that they have disclosed to the media."
Yahoo, I know, but supposedly a direct quote from a press conference. Maybe the problem lies with Vietnam's complexities.
posted by de at 12:51 PM on March 10


For reference, this is what the wing of the MH370 aircraft (9M-MRO) looked like after its ground collision last year [via].

(And yes, speculation. I didn't mean to imply otherwise, only to say that of the various uninformed conjectures that are being entertained, this seems less implausible to me than others. Certainly all hypotheses should be thoroughly & expertly investigated, and hopefully will be without any obstruction.)
posted by Westringia F. at 1:12 PM on March 10


From the BBC:
Malaysia Airlines: How is the search being carried out?
posted by readery at 1:17 PM on March 10 [1 favorite]


"not decompression. It is not itself an event which can cause a loss of the aircraft."

Right, we agree on this. So maybe we are arguing in circles without agreeing on the meaning of "cause." Rapid, explosive decompression following hull damage caused by impact or bomb could potentially render the crew unable to communicate because they would be unable to breathe and be unconscious in a matter of seconds.

In most accidents, there are ultimate causes (a bomb, a missile, a collision, a mechanical failure, a pilot error, weather), and then there are proximate causes that escalate the situation. Among the escalating factors, fire and decompression are major ones, and can cause human effects that render the ability of the plane to keep flying moot. Pilots don't wear oxygen masks normally, so a structural failure at cruise altitude could cause pilots to lose consciousness really rather immediately. Like in seconds. That's why the degree of decompression (the size and location of the hole, effectively) matters. Same with a fire in or near the cockpit.

Most air disasters have multiple causes, usually including pilot errors in responding to the initial crisis out of stress or lack of preparation, or most commonly, communication failures in the cockpit (of the sort that also might preclude sending a distress signal, although why autobeacons wouldn't come on is mysterious).

The point at which they become unsurvivable may be well past the point where the crisis begins. Decompression is often a factor in that. Your plane can still fly, but no one is alive to fly it.
posted by spitbull at 2:27 PM on March 10


AF 447, for example, was not doomed the moment the pitot tubes froze over. It was doomed by the way the crew responded and failed at cockpit resource management, as all analyses I've seen agree. That was a survivable crisis.
posted by spitbull at 2:29 PM on March 10


From readery's link: Indonesia has dispatched a corvette, four rapid patrol vessels and a maritime surveillance plane after Malaysia requested assistance to scour the waters around Penang Island in the Malacca Strait.

I guess they are throwing everything they have at this so that's something.
posted by Big_B at 2:31 PM on March 10


Not quite everything. Indonesia has a whole bunch of corvettes.
posted by dominik at 2:40 PM on March 10


Real-time flight trackers seek missing Malaysian Air flight 370, find only holes: explains a bit more about how FlightAware and FlightRadar24 work. Apparently FlightRadar24 has its own network of ADS-B receivers. I think FlightAware gets at least some of its data directly from the FAA ATC network, but I don't know for sure.

Since I'm here, I'm surprised I haven't read more speculation on one possible cause: deliberate pilot suicide. I have zero evidence for this but it's an explanation that fits what we know, in particular for the lack of radio communication. Not sure it explains the lack of an ELT though.
posted by Nelson at 2:40 PM on March 10


That was a survivable crisis.

My understanding after reading about it in detail is not just that it was a survivable crisis but that it should barely have qualified as a crisis at all. The iced over pitot tubes are a minor malfunction at worst. The pilots simply screwed the pooch in horrifying fashion.
posted by Justinian at 2:52 PM on March 10 [2 favorites]


Your plane can still fly, but no one is alive to fly it.

I'm more than willing to be corrected on this, but the only case I can find where a plane was airworthy but the pilots were incapacitated by decompression was the learjet incident. It's possible, yes, but extremely rare amongst decompression incidents.
posted by kiltedtaco at 2:55 PM on March 10


Helios Airways Flight 522.
posted by Thing at 2:57 PM on March 10


Helios 522, while not an explosive decompression, involved the pilots basically forgetting to pressurize the plane in the first place, thus causing the pilots to lose consciousness, which led to fuel exhaustion, which led to a crash that killed 121 folks in 2005.
posted by spitbull at 2:58 PM on March 10


LOL, h/t to Thing.

There are other cases of decompression incapacitating pilots, although I can't immediately come up with one involving a commercial jetliner.
posted by spitbull at 3:00 PM on March 10


And sadly, Helios is one case where the armored cockpit may have killed people. There was a flight attendant who finally managed to break into the cockpit, and who had a pilot's license and might have had a decent chance of landing the plane with instruction and enough time, but by the time he was able to get through the door it was too late, the plane was already out of fuel.
posted by tavella at 3:11 PM on March 10 [3 favorites]


The pilots simply screwed the pooch in horrifying fashion.

Yeah, if you want to scare the fuck out of yourself, read the transcript of the AF447 accident cockpit communications. It was an utter fuckup, a failure of tried and tested CRM procedures, and an example of how the very best technology (although one could argue that the non-synched controls for P and CP on the A330 were a technological failure too, as were the faulty pitot tubes) is no defense against human error.

Even highly trained people lose a lot of edge under severe stress. That transcript is one of the saddest things in aviation history. No one needed to die on that flight.

And that's my point. Most accidents do not have a single proximate cause. Usually, crews have time to radio a distress call or hit the beacon, but sometimes they get so caught up in trying to understand the immediate crisis that they forget their training.
posted by spitbull at 3:11 PM on March 10


> Indonesia has a whole bunch of corvettes

Sixteen, according to Wikipedia. I didn't realize the Indonesian Navy was so large, although it makes sense now that I think about it.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:14 PM on March 10


By the way, really, don't read that AF447 transcript if you're already scared of flying.
posted by spitbull at 3:15 PM on March 10 [3 favorites]


> I can't think of many things that could go wrong with a wingtip that could cause the instant and total destruction of a modern airliner (especially during a point of the flight when there is minimal load on the wings).

I got curious & googled wing flutter. NASA's Langley Rsch Center's YouTube page has a bunch of old flutter test videos that show (less modern!) planes hitting "Galloping Gertie"-like resonances and flying to bits, sometimes after only a few oscillations. Needless to say, modern aircraft are designed to dampen such oscillations and are extensively tested both in simulation & real life; here's a neat video of Boeing's flutter test of its new 787 Dreamliner.

I have absolutely no idea what happened in this tragedy, but I can certainly imagine how the loss of a wing-tip, and the resulting turbulence around the blunt edge, could compromise the 777's ability to damp aeroelastic flutter.
posted by Westringia F. at 3:16 PM on March 10 [5 favorites]


Coincidentally, the 787 is just going through a worldwide service bulletin due to newly discovered cracks in the composite material used for the wings. Eeek!
posted by spitbull at 3:19 PM on March 10


I had honestly never heard of a corvette warship until that usage.
posted by Big_B at 4:13 PM on March 10 [4 favorites]


> Helios 522, while not an explosive decompression, involved the pilots basically forgetting to pressurize the plane in the first place, thus causing the pilots to lose consciousness, which led to fuel exhaustion, which led to a crash that killed 121 folks in 2005.

Jesus, that flight is terrifying on so many levels.
posted by mrzarquon at 4:30 PM on March 10


That Fox News' story linked above on real-time flight trackers mentions that only 60% of passenger aircraft have a black box (ADS-B transponder) on board. That surprised me. Are the transponders that expensive or why are not all airplanes equipped? This article argues that the technology is outdated, so is price really the deciding factor?
posted by travelwithcats at 4:31 PM on March 10


travelwithcats, I think you're confounding a couple of things. A "black box" is the Flight Data Recorder, the thing that's supposed to record what happened to an airplane to be recovered after an accident. They have been enormously useful to researchers to figure out what caused a plane crash. Recovery is not easy; it took two years to pluck the black box for AF447 from some 10,000 feet underwater, for instance. Closely related to the flight data recorder is the Cockpit Voice Recorder. In AF447, at least, they were separate boxes.

The Fox News article about plane tracking is talking about the ADS-B transponder, the thing on the airplane that's actively broadcasting the plane's identity during flight. There's a variety of transponder technologies in use right now. Long story short, airplanes mostly broadcast their identity, altitude, and (if you're lucky) GPS position and velocity. Those transmissions are designed to be picked up by ground stations for air traffic control and, in some circumstances, other airplanes. These transponders are the primary way ATC knows where airplanes are; passive radar is only secondary. We're in the middle of an FAA clusterfuck to upgrade these systems, I don't know the status of international law. But in general transponders work pretty well. What happened to the Malaysian plane's transponder signal is a central mystery that the black box may eventually unravel.

That Guardian article you linked is arguing that at least some of the data recorded in the black box should also be broadcast live from the plane during flight, so we don't have to recover the recorder to know what happened. That's a sensible enough idea, although as they say it's expensive and awkward. Something like that already happens now by the air carriers; IIRC Air France already had a fair amount of data from AF 447 the day it crashed thanks to engine monitoring, etc. (References welcome!)

I've been arguing something similar, which is that airplanes should be broadcasting their ADS-B information to satellites. In particular position data. And, this is key, up to satellites in orbit; not just down to ground stations. That way you get position coverage no matter where the plane is, in a global ATC system. There are a variety of technological and economical barriers to doing this, but I think it's doable.

It's not clear any of this discussion of transmitters on the plane is relevant; the lack of any voice radio communication from the pilot suggests no transmitter in the cockpit would have worked. Which then raises the question of the ELT, the emergency transmitter that's supposed to activate when a plane crashes. Modern ELTs include GPS receivers and broadcast identity and position data to satellites at 406MHz. They're also designed to work even in a catastrophic incident. Why there's been no ELT from this Malaysia Air flight is another mystery.
posted by Nelson at 4:58 PM on March 10 [4 favorites]


Can it be inferred that on the Helios flight the passengers were all dead of aphyxiation before the crash? The plane had 12 minutes worth of oxygen for passengers, the flight attendant had a portable oxygen canister. What a macabre scene that must have been.

Yet strangely better than the long silent glide after the engines cut out.
posted by Rumple at 5:03 PM on March 10


In tech's golden age, why can't black boxes do more?: 2011 article exploring the idea of black boxes uplinking data to satellites, motivated by AF447. Includes discussion of NTSB working on an implementation.
posted by Nelson at 5:04 PM on March 10 [1 favorite]


Kinda off-topic, but: I fly internationally maybe once per year. I check in online because...I don't know. I have absolutely no idea why I check in online. When I get to the airport, I still have to wait in the check in line in order to check my bags in. Online check-in, as far as I know, doesn't save me any time or effort or anything.

So, I guess, two part question: Part I: Am I missing something? Is my online check-in somehow offering me a convenience I'm not even aware of? Part II: Are there a lot of people like me who don't understand the point of online check-in? Are there any current or former MeFi airport workers who can estimate what percentage of people check in online vs. at the airport?
posted by Bugbread at 5:09 PM on March 10 [1 favorite]


I check in online in case I can get a better seat, make sure there haven't been any changes in timing or anything, and to try to ensure a vegetarian meal. (Someone once told me that if they overbooked I'd be in a more advantageous position for having checked in early, but I don't think that's actually true.) I feel like it's slightly faster and it means I have to groggily talk less to people, but I don't know that it makes a huge difference.
posted by jetlagaddict at 5:16 PM on March 10


Thanks to all who answered my question about checking in but not boarding. I hadn't considered people on connecting flights, especially -- that makes a lot of sense.
posted by Georgina at 5:20 PM on March 10


Checking in online get you your seat in the event that the flight is overbooked.
posted by srboisvert at 5:21 PM on March 10


Thanks Nelson.
Quoting the Fox news' article: "That data comes from the ADS-B transponder on the plane -- the so called black box [...]."
I didn't double-check that before I posted the question, but it makes sense that it's actually two separate things, like you pointed out.
posted by travelwithcats at 5:39 PM on March 10 [1 favorite]


Well, I check in online because I travel with a single suitcase whenever possible. And when I don't, there is often curbside checkin which almost never has any substantial line, and if not curbside checkin frequently the luggage self-checkin kiosks are much faster than having to stand in line for an agent. I haven't talked to a airline agent in person in probably a decade, except occasionally at the gate.
posted by tavella at 5:41 PM on March 10 [1 favorite]


By the way, really, don't read that AF447 transcript if you're already scared of flying.

Ooops, too late. Between that, and the Japan air flight where the crew battled to keep the plane going for over half an hour (one article I read said that passengers had time to write farewell notes) scared the bejesus out of me.

I do hope that at the very least this tragedy was instantaneous for all aboard.
posted by TwoStride at 5:52 PM on March 10 [1 favorite]


That's not very likely, unfortunately. Complete decompression at altitude could render everyone unconscious pretty quickly or a massive explosion could kill everyone but that would have to be a one really big boom.
posted by Justinian at 5:56 PM on March 10


Big_B: "I had honestly never heard of a corvette warship until that usage."

The car model was actually named after the ship class.
posted by Mitheral at 6:05 PM on March 10 [1 favorite]


tavella: " And when I don't, there is often curbside checkin which almost never has any substantial line, and if not curbside checkin frequently the luggage self-checkin kiosks are much faster than having to stand in line for an agent. I haven't talked to a airline agent in person in probably a decade, except occasionally at the gate."

Maybe it's an international vs. domestic flight thing? In the last two decades all my US-related flights have been international-only (that is, I've flown into the US from overseas, and flown from the US to overseas, but haven't flown from one US airport to another US airport). I've never seen curbside check-in or self check-in kiosks for any of my flights.
posted by Bugbread at 6:17 PM on March 10


Oh yeah that Fox News article just completely misuses the term "black box". The article's really about transponders, not flight data recorders, and I think it gets most of the rest of it right.
posted by Nelson at 6:24 PM on March 10


Crowdsourcing the search for MH370
posted by travelwithcats at 6:37 PM on March 10 [2 favorites]


Yikes, it is really upsetting to look at satellite pictures for bits that look plausibly like wreckage. :/
posted by bewilderbeast at 7:25 PM on March 10


Another interesting thing from that Prune forum is that one of the other major incidents involving a 772 was a cockpit fire that thankfully started on the ground. AvHerald has a report, along with pictures. The damage to the controls is astonishing. A fire like that might well be able to incapacitate a plane fast enough to mean no messages were sent, since it would burn the pilots to death to burn them until they flee to the temporary safety of the passenger cabin.
posted by barnacles at 7:40 PM on March 10 [1 favorite]


Oh, and the fire hypothesis has the added implications that the plane wouldn't have needed to broken up before it went into the ocean. Given the lack of debris field being found thus far, it doesn't seem like the plane disintegrated at 35000 feet, but rather nosedived into the water making as small a footprint as possible.
posted by barnacles at 7:43 PM on March 10


I believe they don't yet know for sure what caused that fire, but it involved the copilot oxygen line and burned hot and fast. Had that happened at altitude the pilots would have burned alive, or if not, and they had extinguished, their oxygen system would have been useless with a big hole under their feet. Seconds to loss of consciousness.

Creepy as fuck.
posted by spitbull at 8:03 PM on March 10


Wow, that Tomnod crowdsourcing imagery sure does load slowly.
posted by rollbiz at 8:04 PM on March 10 [1 favorite]


Urh, not only does that Tomnod load slowly, it doesn't even seem to work at all. After actually browsing around for a while to ease my sense of helplessness I found small scatters of stuff which "could" be debris. 99.9% that it isn't, but I thought that as seen as I was there it was burdened on me to actually tag it for somebody else to look at. So...I clicked to place a tag but it seemingly placed 19 at once and shot across the map to load a borked image down in one corner.
posted by Thing at 8:26 PM on March 10


From the New Straits Times:
Malaysian civil aviation chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, whose agency is leading a multinational effort to find the Boeing 777, ....

Azharuddin said the search includes northern parts of the Malacca Strait, on the opposite side of the Malay Peninsula and far west of the plane’s last known location.

Azharuddin would not explain why crews were searching there, saying, “There are some things that I can tell you and some things that I can’t.”
[my bf]

The official Malaysian sources (including the NST) are not very forthcoming but Vietnamese sites have a lot more information. One of their satellites, VNRED SAT-1 is due to pass over Tho Chu Island (original search area) right about now (11AM) but results won't be available until this evening.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 8:47 PM on March 10


Here's the final report for that Egyptair 772 cockpit fire, also from avherald. Just read a comment on that incident on an aviation forum where someone said they were creeped out by the inconclusiveness of this report:

The EAAICD final report is superficial and testing should have been performed to further identify the causes of the fire.


That was 2011. Be a hell of a note were this to be prescient.
posted by spitbull at 8:47 PM on March 10 [1 favorite]


First new data in a while.

Sydney Morning Herald reports two false passport holders were Iranian nationals, but the evidence seems to point to them being illegal immigrants to Europe. One was going to see his mother. Their behavior does not suggest they were terrorists, as I read this.
posted by spitbull at 9:04 PM on March 10


So, I guess, two part question: Part I: Am I missing something? Is my online check-in somehow offering me a convenience I'm not even aware of? Part II: Are there a lot of people like me who don't understand the point of online check-in? Are there any current or former MeFi airport workers who can estimate what percentage of people check in online vs. at the airport?

Lots of frequent flyers or business travelers only take a carry-on, which means they can skip the baggage check line altogether. Checking in online if you aren't checking any baggage saves a shitload of time.
posted by triggerfinger at 9:13 PM on March 10 [1 favorite]


Rumple: Can it be inferred that on the Helios flight the passengers were all dead of aphyxiation before the crash? The plane had 12 minutes worth of oxygen for passengers, the flight attendant had a portable oxygen canister. What a macabre scene that must have been.

The autopsies suggested they were still alive but deeply unconscious, so the only one who suffered was the poor bastard trying to save the plane, likely.
posted by tavella at 9:41 PM on March 10 [1 favorite]


From the Straits Times (Singapore)(12:26 PM Tuesday):

Missing Malaysia Airlines plane: Search now focused on west of Peninsular Malaysia: Official

The search operations for the missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner is now focused on the west of Peninsular Malaysia in the Strait of Malacca, as no signs of the plane has been found in the South China Sea, officials said.

"The search and rescue teams have expanded the scope beyond the flight path. The focus now is on the West Peninsular of Malaysia at the Strait of Malacca," Malaysia Airlines chief executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said in a statement on Tuesday.

He said the authorities are looking at a possibility of an attempt made by flight MH370 to turn back to the Subang airport in Selangor, about 50km from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

posted by TWinbrook8 at 9:59 PM on March 10


This is the BBC Persia report that originates the claim that the two fake passport holders were Iranian. Can someone who reads Persian help translate the article? My cursory Google Translate says that BBC Persia was contacted by someone claiming to be an Iranian living in Malaysia, but nothing conclusive.

Also an explanation of the claim that the suspect was Black [semi-self-link] - the writer was at the very same press conference that's mentioned here. Basically it came out of a badly interpreted question.

speaking of which: Would any of you that are giving great science-based knowledge of air crashes be willing to contribute to our blog?
posted by divabat at 10:21 PM on March 10


Lots of frequent flyers or business travelers only take a carry-on, which means they can skip the baggage check line altogether. Checking in online if you aren't checking any baggage saves a shitload of time.

But don't you still have to print your boarding pass? As long as I'm printing my boarding pass, I might as well just use the little self serve computer at the airport to check in anyway.
posted by Kwine at 11:25 PM on March 10


We're all still waiting to find out what happened and the fate of the people on that plane.

But I can't help but speculate about matters of policy which may come out of this.

If the two passengers who traveled using stolen passports did effect the destruction of flight MH370, how will governments attempt to close this security issue?

I am concerned there will be calls for biometric scanning.

If we discover the disappearance of flight MH370 was the result of an act perpetrated by the two passengers using stolen passports, I hope we will have the collective sense to reject any calls for biometric identification at the ports through which we travel.
posted by mistersquid at 11:32 PM on March 10


mistersquid: "I am concerned there will be calls for biometric scanning."

I don't think that's super likely. If the passports were RFID passports, then maybe, but otherwise what would be more likely is a push for more universal use of RFID passports, the argument being "if those passports had been chipped, this wouldn't have happened".
posted by Bugbread at 11:35 PM on March 10


INTERPOL created the Stolen and Lost Travel Documents (SLTD) database in 2002. The Austrian and Italian passports that were used to board this flight were in SLTD system, so the information was there to be found. The problem seems to be that most countries don't use it.

More from INTERPOL on the subject.
posted by Georgina at 11:51 PM on March 10 [1 favorite]


There already is a way to avert these kinds of situations - Interpol's Stolen Passports Database - the problem is that many countries don't use that database enough when checking in people (and they're pretty annoyed about that).

Interestingly Malaysia was the first country to introduce RFID passports, and Italian and Austrian passports are already RFID-enabled (though Austria has a chip-free option).
posted by divabat at 11:52 PM on March 10


I hope we will have the collective sense to reject any calls for biometric identification at the ports through which we travel.

Explain it to me like I'm stupid because I've been sitting here for 10 minutes trying to figure it out - why am I supposed to reject biometric identification at customs? What's the big thing I'm supposed to be upset and scared about? More trustable, personally-associated travel documents seems like a smarter idea than "You share the same name with someone on this watch list, so no flying for you!"
posted by Jimbob at 11:56 PM on March 10


Jimbob: "why am I supposed to reject biometric identification at customs?"

I'm guessing stuff in here, but considering "biometrics" would probably mean retinal scans or fingerprints or the like, not DNA testing or anything, I don't really see what the big deal could be. They'd find out before I did if I had glaucoma or something?
posted by Bugbread at 12:10 AM on March 11


Briefing by Malaysian officials happening now.
posted by theory at 12:11 AM on March 11


I think your link is off.
posted by Bugbread at 12:17 AM on March 11


Everybody who booked the flight boarded the plane, according to an official giving the briefing.
posted by theory at 12:19 AM on March 11


Never mind. Article text says briefing earlier was cancelled, but video at the top of the article is showing briefing happening now. Confusing site design.
posted by Bugbread at 12:20 AM on March 11


theory: there's been some twitter reports of people who missed the flights because they were sick or unavailable or something - sounds like they may be fake.

Also where did the 5 passengers story come in then?
posted by divabat at 12:27 AM on March 11


19-year-old Pouria Nour Mohammad Mehrdad, an Iranian who appeared to be attempting to immigrate to Germany, is identified as one of the passengers flying with a stolen passport. Malaysian police have been in touch with his mother in Frankfurt, who has said she is expecting him to arrive.
posted by theory at 12:28 AM on March 11


Divabat: The police official is flatly denying the veracity of those reports. I missed his full explanation, but he seems certain.
posted by theory at 12:32 AM on March 11


OK, the fact that the police, the DCGA, and the various Ministers can't seem to have one consistent story going is making my debunking work all the more difficult to accomplish. I'm already grumbling to my collaborator about having to debunk a debunking of a debunking.
posted by divabat at 12:47 AM on March 11 [2 favorites]


divabat, thanks. Just a reminder to all and sundry... divabat's debunker debunking: here
posted by Mister Bijou at 2:56 AM on March 11 [1 favorite]


Sunset, Thursday.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 4:07 AM on March 11


Also, regarding switching the search to the Straits of Malacca today, Berita Harian has published a more detailed explanation from the Chief of the Royal Malaysian Air Force which says that the RMAF base in Butterworth (near Penang on the west coast) detected a (primary radar) signal near Pulau Perak, a tiny island in the Straits, around 2:40 AM.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 4:26 AM on March 11 [1 favorite]


My gut tells me they find it today. (Or tonight, for those of us in the US. )
posted by spitbull at 5:15 AM on March 11


Kudos, divabat and your colleague, for the debunking. Well done. People are talking some crazy shit out there, huh?
posted by spitbull at 5:20 AM on March 11 [2 favorites]


SkyNews Australia: Stolen Passport Held by Asylum Seeker

A man travelling with a stolen passport on a missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner was an Iranian teenager trying to migrate to Germany, and is not believed to have any terrorist links, police say.

The announcement is likely to dampen, at least for now, speculation that the disappearance of the Boeing 777 was linked to terrorism. ...

News that two of the passengers were travelling with stolen passports immediately fuelled speculation of foul play. However, Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu Bakar told a news conference Tuesday that investigators had determined one was a 19-year-old Iranian, Pouria Nourmohammadi Mehrdad, who was planning to enter Germany to seek asylum.

'We believe he is not likely to be a member of any terrorist group,' Khalid said.

He said the young man's mother was waiting for him in Frankfurt and had been in contact with police. He said she contacted Malaysian authorities to inform them of her concern when her son didn't get in touch with her.

posted by spitbull at 5:37 AM on March 11


Head of Interpol says "unlikely this was a terrorist event." (VOA News link)

I feel pretty confident that the head of Interpol is not going to say that without a firm basis in reviewing the passenger data, so that continues to be my own view: that this was mechanical failure or pilot error or both to a high probability, as I argued above.
posted by spitbull at 5:45 AM on March 11 [1 favorite]


Profile on some of the passengers
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:45 AM on March 11 [2 favorites]


A man travelling with a stolen passport on a missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner was an Iranian teenager trying to migrate to Germany

Well that's just heartbreaking.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 7:43 AM on March 11 [15 favorites]


I think, given the news and noise about these stolen passports, a greater push to get all countries to use the Stolen Passports Database may be the one thing to come out of this.
posted by Thing at 8:14 AM on March 11


More on the new theory that the plane flew for more than an hour after losing contact, perhaps crashing in the Indian Ocean.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:25 AM on March 11 [4 favorites]


Gotta love the Vietnamese. Their Air Search and Rescue HQ announced at 22:11 the planned search area for tomorrow--Soc Trang Province and the sea between Phu Quoc and Tho Chu--because as of 19:46 they'd not received "official" word that the Malaysian air force had tracked MH370 to Pulau Perak off the west coast of Malaysia.

Now at 22:20, the Deputy Minister of Transport has requested clarification from Malaysia since it looks like the Malaysian government has sat on this information for two days during which time Vietnam, in the spirit of cooperation, had allowed two Chinese navy ships to enter their territorial water, despite ongoing diplomatic tension between the two countries.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 9:02 AM on March 11 [2 favorites]


Can't really blame the Vietnamese being pissed about that. A lot of wasted effort on a lot of people's part, in fact, and with every passing day what debris there is, is being dispersed.
posted by tavella at 9:06 AM on March 11 [2 favorites]


If the story with the military radar checks out, who's to say that the plane crashed at all? If it was possible to travel for 350 miles without being noticed, maybe it flew even further? It had fuel for more than 7 hrs, I think.
Are there any ideas why the plane changed its course? Can the military radar pick up on what aircraft it was specifically?
posted by travelwithcats at 9:24 AM on March 11


Yeah, I actually think a Helios or Lear Jet-type scenario sounds plausible. The longer the search goes without recovering anything, the more it appears the plane might have flown for a significant time after the reported last radar contact. If that is the case, then an abnormal response to an abnormal situation starts to sound like likely option, rather than the catastrophic failure/fire/bomb/etc scenarios. Or really, knowing nothing else about the incident our prior should always be a series of failures, but this one seemed so weird that it temporarily overrode that.
posted by kiltedtaco at 9:43 AM on March 11


If true, it does seem to bring the possibility of human intervention back into the mix. Would it be possible to simultaneously have a power failure that cut off all beacons and communication, a decompression or cockpit fire that took away human control (at least, if the pilots were still flying, I would have expected they would divert to the nearest airfield after such a power failure) and the plane *still* fly for a hour?
posted by tavella at 9:44 AM on March 11


Well, I know that a decompression incident could definitely lead to such a flight, so I guess the question would be how plausible it would be to have the transponders/beacons knocked out as well. Are they purely run off the plane's power system or does it take something else to put them offline?
posted by tavella at 9:46 AM on March 11


Missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370: Passengers' Mobile Phones Ring But Not Answered
posted by Golden Eternity at 9:53 AM on March 11


Weird.
posted by mazola at 9:56 AM on March 11


Isn't that as expected? If my phone is off, disabled, or physically destroyed, it's still possible to call my number and leave a voicemail, for instance.
posted by gilrain at 9:57 AM on March 11 [2 favorites]


Missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370: Passengers' Mobile Phones Ring But Not Answered

That does not inherently mean the mobile phone is physically ringing.

From divabat's site: "I find the entire cell phone thing really odd..."

Also, previously on AskMe: What do outgoing phone rings mean?
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 9:57 AM on March 11 [1 favorite]


That phone ringing story seems to be based on an understanding of how telephones works that hasn't really been true since landlines were dominant. Hearing a ring while calling a cell phone doesn't imply anything about what's happening on the receiving side. It's a little unusual that it doesn't go straight to voice mail, but there are a lot of reasons why that may be. One may be that the system which provides service on the plane provides the appearance to the network that users are connected to an actual physical cell somewhere, while in reality, that connection is being relayed through a satellite network and is non-deterministic. None of the major news outlets with this story could find an expert who knows how this stuff works for sure?
posted by feloniousmonk at 9:58 AM on March 11 [3 favorites]


Also reports of phones registering as online with an IM service, QQ, but I assume that registration might be subject to the same network issues.
posted by audi alteram partem at 10:10 AM on March 11


Actually, my favorite thing about the media going on about the phones is that it's been 3 days. It doesn't pass the sniff test.

Sure, it kind of creeps me out because I can envision some sort of scenario where everyone's still alive and just hidden away by, like, SPECTRE in an underground base or something. But in what scenario do the passengers have a bunch of electrical outlets to keep their phones charged?
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 10:15 AM on March 11 [1 favorite]


From divabat's website: "All that proves is that the number is still in service and that their telco provider hasn’t cancelled their account. For instance, I could theoretically be hit by a bus right now (knock on wood!) and have the bus run over my phone, completely destroying it; if you called me after the crash, the phone would still ring, because as far as my telco provider is considered my number’s still valid."
posted by Mister Bijou at 10:21 AM on March 11 [1 favorite]


Also not everyone has voicemail activated.

ARGH PEOPLE KEEP ASKING US ABOUT THE CELLPHONE THING ARGH STOP ASKING OR ELSE I WILL THROW A PHONE AT YOU
posted by divabat at 10:25 AM on March 11 [2 favorites]


The phone rings because the phone company routes the call to the last place it pinged, then tries to locate the phone by other cells before it routes to voicemail. That takes time, and if it were silent during those transfers people would just hang up.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:29 AM on March 11 [2 favorites]


Would there be any downside/upside in attempting to trace last known pings from passenger cell phones? At this point the operation seems to be grasping at straws anyway...
posted by mazola at 10:32 AM on March 11


It seems unlikely that they were pinging against physical cell towers vs. a "virtual" cell contained within the plane and connected via satellite. That's how the systems I've seen in the US work, but I'm not an expert on them nor do I know if this plane has the same kind of system. It's possible they could've pinged a real tower while over land, of course.
posted by feloniousmonk at 10:35 AM on March 11


So how long does a big airliner have to be silent before people start going "hm"? I would have thought that was a period measured in minutes. (By silent, I mean any form of active communication from the jet, whether it's a ping to a satellite or ground receiver from onboard data transmitters.)
posted by maxwelton at 10:35 AM on March 11


Malaysian plane sent out engine data before vanishing.

These reports are sent via VHF radio or satellite at take-off, during the climb, at some point while cruising, and on landing.

Take off and climb reports filed, cruising and landing: not.
posted by mazola at 10:35 AM on March 11 [1 favorite]


I think the mobile phone issue is because in some countries they won't ring if the handset is turned off or not working.
posted by Thing at 10:38 AM on March 11


I think oneirodynia has it probably right. I think the phone ringing has to do with the phones having last connected to an overseas network and therefore the home network has to do some routing before it can work out if the phone is available.

There may also be idiosyncrasies to the Malaysian/Vietnamese/Chinese mobile network that cause this.

Only someone familiar with the mobile phone systems of at least Malaysia and China, and any mobile phone routing done via the airplane could say for certain what the phones ringing means.
posted by lrobertjones at 10:43 AM on March 11 [1 favorite]


Reports of plane turning back refuted by RMAF.
posted by divabat at 10:47 AM on March 11 [1 favorite]


It's like the Keystone Kops over there.
posted by Justinian at 10:48 AM on March 11 [2 favorites]


Well that's clear as mud.
posted by mazola at 10:53 AM on March 11


It's like the Keystone Kops over there.

The disappearance of MH370 has currently got aviation experts worldwide baffled. Maybe you should go over there and sort them out.
posted by Mister Bijou at 10:55 AM on March 11 [6 favorites]


However...
(Reuters) - Malaysia's military believes a jetliner missing for almost four days turned and flew hundreds of kilometers to the west after it last made contact with civilian air traffic control off the country's east coast, a senior officer told Reuters on Tuesday.
So, not by Berita Harian but maybe someone who reads Berita Harian? Also is a Facebook post by a Defense Journalist how one normally disseminates this information? The New Straits Times only got around to posting the BH story an hour and a half ago. The Straits Times at 8:28 PM.

It's also interesting combined with this article:
Four days after flight MH370 went missing in mid-air with 239 people on board, no nation has stepped forward to initiate and lead an official probe, leaving a formal leadership vacuum that industry experts say appears unprecedented.

Malaysian officials are conducting their own informal investigations, in cooperation with other governments and foreign agencies, but they lack the legal powers that would come with a formal international probe under UN-sanctioned rules...

Those powers include the legal rights to take testimony from all witnesses and other parties, the right to have exclusive control over the release of information and the ability to centralise a vast amount of fragmentary evidence.

Without a formal investigative process being convened quickly under rules set out by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a UN agency, there is a risk that crucial early detective work could be hampered, and potential clues and records lost, air accident experts said....

A lack of clarity over the investigation already appears to be a source of tension between Malaysia and China, which had up to 154 citizens on the Beijing-bound flight and is pushing for a significant role in the investigation.

China's Foreign Ministry urged Malaysia yesterday to step up its search efforts and start an investigation "as soon as possible and correctly".

The deputy head of China's civil aviation authority urged Malaysia to help a team of investigators it has said is ready to fly to the Southeast Asian nation to help with the probe....

The official familiar with the preliminary Malaysian investigation said the Malaysian government could not launch a formal probe until the crash site had been found, and that it planned to work closely with US authorities and Australia.

Witnesses such as cargo handlers, mechanics and company officials might be reluctant to speak to Malaysian investigators who were operating outside a formal ICAO-sanctioned probe which could offer them some protection from law suits, experts said...

The lack of a formal investigation also means Malaysia does not have exclusive control over the release of information...
posted by TWinbrook8 at 11:20 AM on March 11 [2 favorites]


I'm trying to get the journalist to send me the original copy of the release by email.
posted by divabat at 11:22 AM on March 11


It's like the Keystone Kops over there.

And thanks for proving the claim, TWinbrook8!

Seriously, this is a real-life enactment of the "combing the desert" scene from Spaceballs..

Malaysia Airlines new motto: "We ain't found shit!!"
posted by ReeMonster at 11:23 AM on March 11 [1 favorite]


The disappearance of MH370 has currently got aviation experts worldwide baffled. Maybe you should go over there and sort them out.

The issue isn't that they haven't found the airframe, the issue is that all kinds of officials are out there making contradictory statements, sometimes within hours of the previous statement. See previous statement about the Keystone Kops. The messaging is crazy.
posted by Justinian at 11:31 AM on March 11 [1 favorite]


NYTimes: "I guess to me it sounds like they were turned off deliberately.”
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:32 AM on March 11


What's also not helping is the media misinterpreting statements made at press conferences - for example, that whole saga with the features of the 2 fake passport holders.
posted by divabat at 11:34 AM on March 11 [1 favorite]


divabat, I believe there are some language issues that are causing that to happen.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:36 AM on March 11 [1 favorite]


Someone expert in aviation: would the RAT deploy automatically in the event of a complete loss of engine-driven electrical power at cruise altitude without a pilot throwing a switch?
posted by spitbull at 11:42 AM on March 11


Letterhead version of the RMAF statement.
posted by divabat at 11:48 AM on March 11


OK, this is just weird and I hope it's bullshit, but there is a report the pilot of MAS370 (at the time a copilot) had allowed (and in fact invited) two attractive young women to ride in the cockpit for the entire duration of an earlier international flight, takeoff to touchdown, and that the pilot and a different copilot had tried to get the women to stay with them for a few days in KL. What's more, the women report that the cockpit crew smoked throughout the flight. Which is like fucking crazy.

(Link is to a Youtube to an Australian tabloid news show, so I have no idea how far to trust the source.)
posted by spitbull at 11:49 AM on March 11


I've been in a MAS flight where someone tried to smoke in-flight. They cut that out pretty quickly.

That does explain MAS's 13th statement, however.

ACA is not to be trusted.
posted by divabat at 11:51 AM on March 11


My understanding is that Malaysia cannot open an investigation yet because they do not know the country in which the accident occurred, which by ICAO procedures should lead the investigation.

And yes the RAT deploys automatically in the event of power loss on both AC busses, dual engine failure, or all three hydraulic systems pressures low (confirmed with boeing docs).
posted by kiltedtaco at 11:55 AM on March 11 [2 favorites]


Here, I'll reproduce that 13th statement to save people a click:

Tuesday, March 11, 11:30 PM MYT +0800 Malaysia Airlines MH370 Flight Incident - 13th Media Statement

Malaysia Airlines has become aware of the allegations being made against First Officer, Fariq Ab Hamid which we take very seriously. We are shocked by these allegations.

We have not been able to confirm the validity of the pictures and videos of the alleged incident. As you are aware, we are in the midst of a crisis, and we do not want our attention to be diverted.

We also urge the media and general public to respect the privacy of the families of our colleagues and passengers. It has been a difficult time for them.

The welfare of both the crew and passenger’s families remain our focus. At the same time, the security and safety of our passengers is of the utmost importance to us.



ACA is showing photos that appear to confirm at least the basis of the story, and would seem hard to refute, of Fariq, the pilot, and the two young women with their arms around each other having a blast, with the comely Jaan Maree wearing the co-pilot's cap.
posted by spitbull at 11:55 AM on March 11


killedtaco, thanks for that.
posted by spitbull at 11:56 AM on March 11


It's good to be the king pilot.
posted by Justinian at 11:56 AM on March 11


and that the pilot and a different copilot had tried to get the women to stay with them

Sorry, misspoke, Fariq (then copilot) and the pilot he was serving under at the time.
posted by spitbull at 11:57 AM on March 11


That they took that one photo doesn't mean they managed to ride the cockpit for the entire duration of the flight or whatever else they're claiming.
posted by divabat at 11:58 AM on March 11


And if anything like this is involved, I imagine that will be the end of MAS. The lawsuits will be Himalayan in scale. And insurers are likely to balk.
posted by spitbull at 11:58 AM on March 11


And no, of course, divabat, I agree. My main riff here is that hoofbeats mean horses not zebras until proven otherwise. The claim is so outrageous it would take more than a photo in the airport lounge to convince me, for sure. But there are going to be witnesses, and other people these women told the story to soon afterwards, if it happened.

On the surface of it, it's hard to figure out why anyone would make something like this up, though. The woman they interviewed seems believable to me, but also sort of used to getting treated special because she's so attractive, which gives her the blasé "yeah, it happened, it didn't seem like such a big deal, of course we went along because it's a cool opportunity most people wouldn't get."

But I utterly agree: prove it incontrovertibly, which they should be able to do, or it didn't happen. I'm sure the flight attendants would have noticed this if it happened.
posted by spitbull at 12:02 PM on March 11


And if anything like this is involved, I imagine that will be the end of MAS.

Witnesses?
posted by de at 12:02 PM on March 11


Good point.
posted by spitbull at 12:02 PM on March 11


This article is claiming Fariq as the pilot, but he was first officer of MH370.

The photo of the cockpit has them on the ground - you can see wheels on the road.

See also Chk Chk Boom.

As to why? There's already been a lot of people making up stories about their connection to MH370 for attention.
posted by divabat at 12:06 PM on March 11 [2 favorites]


Could someone explain more about ICAO procedure? I don't understand why the default provision, in case of a disappearance, is that there'd be a clear designation of who should run things until discovery jurisdiction, or whatever, comes into play. I'd imagine that it would be something like "until further evidence, the country of departure [or country of airline?] runs things." Is that not what happens? Is it complicated by the tensions in this region in particular, and/or is Malaysia ill-equipped to run this search and investigation?
posted by TwoStride at 12:07 PM on March 11


Wild speculation: the plane was hijacked by pirates who disabled the transponder, flew below radar for several hours to some secret jungle airfield.
posted by humanfont at 12:13 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]


Attractive young blonde pirates.
posted by spitbull at 12:15 PM on March 11 [2 favorites]


Sorry, bad taste to joke. I'm still gobsmacked by the story, which belies all the confidence I normally have in the professionalism of the aviation industry at that level.
posted by spitbull at 12:17 PM on March 11


What puzzles me is that I haven't read about an Indonesian reaction to the Straits of Malacca scenario other than to reprint what other newspapers are saying. Pulau Perak is about midway between the Sumatra and the west coast of Malaysia. I imagine their military radar would've picked up something.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 12:37 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]


While Malaysia is one of the top software piracy hubs in the world, I doubt they'd need to take down a plane .

(if anyone wants to work on examining the ACA story, go for it.)
posted by divabat at 12:39 PM on March 11


TWinbrook8, I don't think that a crash in the Straits of Malacca makes sense, in terms of wreckage. We're almost at five days now, and nothing washing ashore? The Strait of Malacca narrows to 2.8 km (1.5 nautical miles) wide.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:40 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]


Until 13 years ago there was nothing at all remarkable about pilots inviting passengers into the cockpit. Until 20 or so years ago there was nothing at all remarkable about pilots smoking in the cockpit either, and even today it's hard to image how that would be a major safety issue. It's not particularly remarkable that people fly on stolen passpoprts. And it's still unremarkable that when you call someone's cell phone, it rings, even if it's off network.

What is remarkable is how people turn to any shred of information and immediately pounce on it assuming it's The Cause.
posted by Nelson at 12:44 PM on March 11 [10 favorites]


"Aviation experts have criticised the way Malaysian authorities have fuelled what is likely to be misleading speculation about what caused flight MH370 to go missing."
posted by travelwithcats at 12:46 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]


What is remarkable is how people turn to any shred of information and immediately pounce on it assuming it's The Cause.

It is frustrating, but it's also a deeply common behavior. Observe the 9/11 attacks for a particularly salient example -- but there are others occurring everywhere around us. It's just something people tend to do unless they're pretty careful, and once the random assertions are uttered it's nearly impossible to stamp them out (witness the 9/11 "Truther" nutballs).
posted by aramaic at 12:58 PM on March 11


witness the 9/11 "Truther" nutballs

I've seen a bunch of posts on one particular message board insisting that we don't KNOW for sure it wasn't aliens. :/
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:02 PM on March 11


when you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.
posted by phaedon at 1:03 PM on March 11


Some major revelations today: The pilots turned off the plane's transponder, then turned nearly around and flew back across the Malaysian peninsula and made it all the way to the Strait of Malacca before crashing. No one knows why they might have done that. (Evidently the authorities have known this for a while without revealing it, and that's why they've been searching in the strait.)

With their transponder off, the jet wouldn't have been visible on normal traffic control systems; only things like military radar could have tracked them.

Also, the two stolen passports were used by two Iranians, one 18 and one 29.

Hijacking begins to be a plausible explanation... Or maybe UFO's.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:03 PM on March 11


The pilots turned off the plane's transponder, then turned nearly around and flew back across the Malaysian peninsula and made it all the way to the Strait of Malacca before crashing.

This is not fact. It's hypothesis.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:04 PM on March 11 [6 favorites]


Are you sure about the width roomthreeseventeen? I'm reading that the it is 65 km wide at its narrowest, with the current flowing northwest, ie towards the search area. But yes, it is similarly shallow and even more heavily trafficked than the Gulf of Thailand.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 1:05 PM on March 11


TWinbrook8, I'm not sure. I took it off the Wikipedia entry.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:05 PM on March 11


The pilots turned off the plane's transponder, then turned nearly around and flew back across the Malaysian peninsula and made it all the way to the Strait of Malacca before crashing.

Before losing contact.
posted by mazola at 1:05 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]


Yeah, that is all basically still conjecture right now. There's no evidence they turned off the transponder rather than it failing somehow.
posted by kiltedtaco at 1:05 PM on March 11 [2 favorites]


Encyclopedia Brittanica
posted by TWinbrook8 at 1:09 PM on March 11


I deeply apologize - the statement from RMAF isn't him refuting that the plane turned back , but that he hasn't made a strong statement either way.
The RMAF has not ruled out the possibility of an air turn back on a reciprocal heading before the aircraft vanished from the radar and this resulted in the Search and Rescue Operations being widen to the vicinity of the waters of Pulau Pinang.
Note that Berita Harian and co are reporting that it's at Pulau Perak, while RMAF is saying that it may be in Pulau Pinang, two different places.
posted by divabat at 1:09 PM on March 11


Why has no one mentioned elves as a possibility yet?
posted by klausness at 1:10 PM on March 11 [2 favorites]


Maybe they were just the first to rapture.
posted by Golden Eternity at 1:18 PM on March 11


Why has no one mentioned elves as a possibility yet?

Well it hasn't been officially discounted either...
posted by mazola at 1:19 PM on March 11


I'm feeling better about my comment earlier in the thread that a GPS pinger which cannot be deliberately shut off by someone on the plane would have made this whole situation much less confusing. It's pretty obvious now that radar tracking is no substitute.
posted by Justinian at 1:24 PM on March 11


The claim is so outrageous it would take more than a photo in the airport lounge to convince me, for sure. But there are going to be witnesses, and other people these women told the story to soon afterwards, if it happened.

For the PR of the airlines, and for the memory of the pilots (who up until this point had been hailed in the media as utmost professionals) it's pretty dreadful. But for reality, it's inconsequential. This stuff used to happen all the time, it was par for the course. Hell, everyone smoking on a plane was par for the course, and when I was a kid there was practically a revolving door on the cockpit for all the people being invited up there. And, yes, ACA is a tabloid show of the worst kind. Actual relevance to the loss of MH370 is difficult to see.
posted by Jimbob at 1:27 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure if this has been mentioned here yet, but do we have any examples of large jets disappearing and wreckage never being found? Today's WSJ says the last precedent was in 1962...

"In 1962, a Military Air Transport Service charter operated by Flying Tiger Line carrying 107 passengers disappeared on a flight from Guam to the Philippines. The Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation was presumed to have crashed, but the wreckage was never recovered. According to the Aviation Safety Network, the search covered 144,000 square miles using 48 aircraft and eight surface vessels."


Is this the most recent example there is? Apologies if this has been covered already and I've missed it.
posted by triggerfinger at 1:32 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]


(The Flying Tiger charter cargo air service was the forerunner to FedEx. Carry on.)
posted by vibrotronica at 1:38 PM on March 11


Here is the wiki for the Flying Tiger Line Flight 739.
posted by travelwithcats at 1:41 PM on March 11


Here is a list of all accidents and incidents involving commercial aircraft, if someone wants to check.
posted by travelwithcats at 1:44 PM on March 11


And here is the wiki for List of aerial disappearances

Nothing with lots of people on board since the 1962 tiger line fight but several large cargo planes that went missing.
posted by pixie at 1:45 PM on March 11


Blog by a Delta pilot talking about MH370
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:06 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]


TL;DR - The pilot hypothesizes that the plane was hijacked, the pilot initially complied with the hijackers' demands, and when he realized what might happen he deliberately put the plane into the ocean.
posted by Justinian at 2:27 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]


Third-hand via TPM:

Basically it's totally unclear what happened. But pilots who are discussing this on the cable nets point to another possible scenario: If the plane experienced a total loss of electrical power, that would turn off the transponders. But it would also allow the plane to keep flying, at least for some period of time.

So perhaps the plane experienced electrical failure, knocking out all communications and telemetry from the plane, the pilots turn around but somehow get lost and the plane eventually goes down.

Again, to be clear, that [is a] hypothetical sketched out by a highly experienced pilot. But purely a hypothetical based on an almost unprecedented and hard to interpret collection of data.

posted by RedOrGreen at 2:36 PM on March 11 [3 favorites]


That's another reason why I think separate GPS squawkers are a good idea; they can have their own battery power supply which can keep them going even if the plane experiences a total loss of electrical power.
posted by Justinian at 2:38 PM on March 11


You'd think there would have been attempts to text/call from passengers if 'knocked out electrical' were the case. In that area you'd think some would be successful?
posted by mazola at 2:40 PM on March 11


Yeah, I don't think the scenario on TPM makes sense unless some sort of decompression rendered everyone unconscious. One, for the reason you bring up. Two, the plane supposedly flew all the way across Malaysia and over the Andaman sea. If the pilots were in control and trying to recover from a loss of electrical power they would have tried to land somewhere rather than fly all the way across the landmass.
posted by Justinian at 2:42 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]


Unde what scenario would a plane crossing peninsular Malaysia not have been picked up at all on civillian or millitary radar?
posted by Jimbob at 2:51 PM on March 11


How plausible is this scenario?
posted by divabat at 2:51 PM on March 11


I've seen it reported that this airframe did not have that satcom antenna installed.
posted by kiltedtaco at 2:54 PM on March 11


A kaiju caught the aircraft in its maw mid-flight, transponder was blocked by radiation. Enourmous monster attacks are well documented in the area. For example to cover up the Gulf of Tonkin incident and defeat a previous monster the US and Vietnam staged a decade long war to cover up civilian relocation, b-52 bombardment and ultimately the use of Agent Orange to poison the creature's food supply.
posted by humanfont at 2:55 PM on March 11 [2 favorites]


The pilot roomthreeseventeen linked to also still thinks TWA 800 was a missile (in the comments). She presents a somewhat plausible narrative, but I think she might have terrorists on the brain.
posted by stevis23 at 3:20 PM on March 11 [2 favorites]


She definitely has hijackers on the brain. Now that we've learnt that at least one of the fake passport holders is a teenage asylum seeker, the likelihood of it being a hijack is a little lower (not completely gone, but not an obvious yes either.)

This article claims that there's a device that if installed could have helped solve this mystery. Any evidence?
posted by divabat at 3:22 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]


I'm feeling better about my comment earlier in the thread that a GPS pinger which cannot be deliberately shut off by someone on the plane would have made this whole situation much less confusing.

I'd be surprised if there's very much at all that the pilots can't turn off if needs be, and that very, very little should be outside that control. If nothing else, anything electrical can short and start a fire, and when that happens I want the pilot to be able to kill power to it.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:25 PM on March 11


If you put the GPS pinger somewhere inaccessible while in flight I don't see how they could turn it off. It doesn't have to be in the cockpit or crew/passenger compartment. Hell, you could weld the thing to the outside of the airframe if you had to. Okay not literally but you get the idea.
posted by Justinian at 3:29 PM on March 11


Anything that emits RF is a hyper expensive PITA on a jet which is basically a sealed aluminum tube.
posted by localroger at 3:53 PM on March 11


Are any of the search countries using drones to assist in the search? This is something they could theoretically be used for, right?
posted by triggerfinger at 4:11 PM on March 11


The US Navy has a number of drones. I suspect they would be using them.
posted by Golden Eternity at 4:13 PM on March 11


Our summary of what we've fact-checked and debunked so far.

Sparked by finding an article from The Guardian that has such horrid reporting that it made me facepalm hard.
posted by divabat at 5:37 PM on March 11 [6 favorites]


Possible lead from villagers who heard noises.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:41 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]


I just spent a minute figuring out if that report was from the east or west coast - here's a map - the people in Marang claim to have heard the noise to the east over the South China Sea. Still clutching at straws, obviously.
posted by Jimbob at 6:50 PM on March 11


If you put the GPS pinger somewhere inaccessible while in flight I don't see how they could turn it off.

Pop the circuit breaker.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:02 PM on March 11


RedOrGreen: "Basically it's totally unclear what happened. But pilots who are discussing this on the cable nets point to another possible scenario: If the plane experienced a total loss of electrical power, that would turn off the transponders. But it would also allow the plane to keep flying, at least for some period of time."

777s have ram air turbines, though (vid), and in fact its RATs are designed to not just provide hydraulic power but to provide electrical power too.
posted by barnacles at 7:06 PM on March 11


Pop the circuit breaker.

What circuit breaker? It could easily have a battery in case of power loss.
posted by Justinian at 7:21 PM on March 11


If you were making a Spy Adventure Movie Starring Top Actor, is there a plausible scenario where you could "steal" a 777 mid-flight by making it look like it vanished? Something like turning off everything that pings, taking it down to wave-top level and then hightailing it to your favorite handy abandoned airfield?

While unlikely, I had a similar thought today...and took it further with speculation on what could be done with a stolen 777. This isn't really speculation on this flight, which is absolutely tragic. But if one of these planes was stolen in this manner, what are the odds it could be later used as a weapon? With a traditional missile you'll light up radar screens like no tomorrow...but with an airplane, you have range and potential abilities to spoof a legitimate flight path. It's essentially a giant trojan horse that could be equipped with numerous kinds of payloads (chemical, nuclear, etc)

Again I don't feel that's what has happened here...but judging on how the response has been handled, and the complexity of the search...what once seemed unlikely to me suddenly seems plausible..and that's unsettling.
posted by samsara at 7:38 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]


It's essentially a giant trojan horse that could be equipped with numerous kinds of payloads (chemical, nuclear, etc)

You'd have to be talking serious-evil-billionaire-in-a-lair-in-a-volcano plans, though, surely.

Where are you going to land it and take off from? Those planes need quite large runways - there are only a limited number of runways in the world where you'd be able to keep it, and presumably satellite imagery would be capable of imaging them and spotting it within hours. I really doubt you could easily take a 777 down and get it back up from some abandoned jungle airstrip.
posted by Jimbob at 7:45 PM on March 11 [2 favorites]


New developments regarding the search and rescue mission:
The Indian navy joins the activities with satellite support, China expands the search zone to include land areas while Vietnam scales down its efforts to a few search flights today.
posted by travelwithcats at 8:11 PM on March 11 [1 favorite]


This is so strange. I normally have no taste for disasters, but this is such a mystery and a tragedy it sits in the back of my head a lot.
posted by Brainy at 8:21 PM on March 11 [4 favorites]


Where are you going to land it and take off from? Those planes need quite large runways

You wouldn't need to land it. Someone hell-bent on destruction could load it up with bio weapons (or whatever) and crash it in the middle of a large city (if you're using it in the missile sense).
posted by triggerfinger at 8:28 PM on March 11


This seems like a decent theory:

PPRUN - 'onetrack'
Let's say an oxygen bottle in the cabin exploded and caused major decompression, and took out a heap of electrical wiring and comms, including the transponder.
The crew immediately commenced a left turn to return to KL and initiated a rapid descent. However, hypoxia took over prior to reaching a low level and the crew became unconscious. The aircraft continued to fly in a gentle arc, back over the Malay peninsula, at a steadily reducing height, or at a low height preset by the crew on the AP.

In that case, there's a strong possibility the aircraft crashed into the Gunung Leuser National Park - one of the largest, largely unpopulated, mountainous wilderness areas in Northern Sumatra. An aircraft crashing into a high-elevation area of this park at 3:00AM local time would be heard by very few people - and it would disappear into the jungle just as GOL 1907 did.
posted by Golden Eternity at 8:31 PM on March 11 [2 favorites]


I think the first paragraph has possibilities (not that I know anything about aviation) but I come up against the lack of warning on Indonesian military radar. Even if a station was er, unmanned, I believe they can review tapes? And wouldn't there be fire upon impact that would register on satellite?
posted by TWinbrook8 at 8:46 PM on March 11


It wouldn't disappear into the jungle all that rapidly. It would be readily visible for at least weeks.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:57 PM on March 11


Now Yahoo News reports that the search will be expanded into the Andaman Sea.
posted by travelwithcats at 9:00 PM on March 11


triggerfinger: "You wouldn't need to land it."

Unless you are planning some sort of adhoc mid air fueling and explosive/bioweapon/nuclear bomb transfer scheme you have to land it at least once.
posted by Mitheral at 9:04 PM on March 11 [6 favorites]


@divabat - that theory has now been picked up by the Sydney Morning Herald and quotes that same site I think.

(Personally I think the credibility of the argument on the original site suffers from the use of the "ringing phones" info, which seems to me a lot less significant than others are implying.)
posted by Cheese Monster at 10:06 PM on March 11


The next press conference is supposed to be at 3pm MYT today.
posted by travelwithcats at 10:17 PM on March 11


With the US hard-on for spy stuff and military hardware, if I was on a game show and the question was "The United States government knows the position of every aircraft larger than a Learjet flying at over 100' off the ground at all times--true or false?" I would probably have said "true." I guess I would have lost the lounge suite.
posted by maxwelton at 11:46 PM on March 11 [5 favorites]


WSJ:
The Malaysia Airlines Disappearance Shows Technology's Limits
Radar, Satellites Are Powerful Tools but Still Have Limited Reach


Subscription only but you can access the full text from Google News by clicking here.

The Aviation Safety Network, a database tracking accidents, lists 80 planes as "missing" since 1948. No trace of the planes or their occupants was ever found. . .

1979 - A Boeing 707 was lost in the Pacific Ocean after leaving Tokyo.

1990 - A Boeing 727 sent distress messages before vanishing after taking off from Reykjavik, Iceland.

2003 - A Boeing 727 took off from Luanda, Angola, and vanished.

2009 - A USCG C-130 Hercules crashed into the ocean off the California coast.

posted by mlis at 12:18 AM on March 12 [2 favorites]


It's been delayed until 4:30-5:00 PM Malaysian time.

Yesterday's was postponed for several hours as well and that's when we got the information about the Iranians on forged passports.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 12:18 AM on March 12


The first photos from the Vietnamese satellite VNRED-SAT-1 of the area around the island of Tho Chu in the Gulf of Thailand have been analyzed but show no signs of debris from MH370. It can show objects as small as 2.5 m x 2.5 m. It will download another batch of photos tomorrow.

The Chinese are supposed to be using their satellites too but have not heard anything re that.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 12:33 AM on March 12


It can show objects as small as 2.5 m x 2.5 m. It will download another batch of photos tomorrow.

The thing to remember about satellite imagery is that if it detects a 2.5m x 2.5m object, that object will occupy a single pixel and won't be identifiable, so with a satellite of that resolution you'd be hoping to see a fairly significant debris collection. The higher resolution the satellite (you'd really be hoping for something with sub-meter resolution), the smaller its field of view, and the less frequently it passes over a given spot on the Earth. So unfortunately, it's not as simple as getting the high-resolution satellites that take the kind of imagery you see on Google Earth to take images of the whole ocean in the area. It might be weeks before they swing past again.
posted by Jimbob at 12:45 AM on March 12 [2 favorites]


Now the Malaysian air force chief is denying that the plane was tracked heading to the west. See my previous comment about the Keystone Kops.
posted by Justinian at 2:15 AM on March 12


Yeah I have to say, I'm a bit weary of Malaysian authorities insinuating something, then 12 hours later vigourously denying they ever said it.
posted by Jimbob at 2:54 AM on March 12


Tho to be fair, it's clear nobody has any idea what the fuck has gone on, and the press conferences seem to be forcing them to say *something*.
posted by Jimbob at 3:01 AM on March 12 [1 favorite]


That thing I said this morning? Yeah, I never said it.
posted by Justinian at 3:03 AM on March 12


Are they denying having said it, or are they just changing their story (i.e. tacitly admitting they were wrong earlier, without actually saying that they were)?
posted by Bugbread at 3:50 AM on March 12


Sunset, Wednesday.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 4:22 AM on March 12 [2 favorites]


This is so strange. I normally have no taste for disasters, but this is such a mystery and a tragedy it sits in the back of my head a lot.

I get you on that. I think because at the moment, with no evidence, this does feel more like a movie than real life.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 4:56 AM on March 12 [2 favorites]


Are they denying having said it, or are they just changing their story (i.e. tacitly admitting they were wrong earlier, without actually saying that they were)?

I for one had understood that they had detected something but were not sure what but it could have been the plane, having crossed the peninsula. Journalistic echo chamber where everyone reports on any detail until it gets amplified and distorted seemed to have turned it into: "MH370 tracked over peninsula". The radar contact might not even be a plane
posted by Authorized User at 5:29 AM on March 12


This could very likely be a hoax, but: "Chinese Martyrs' Brigade" claims responsibility for missing jet. To my thinking, it's a bit suspicious that this communique was sent so long after the event. Anything's possible, but as we all know, it's not uncommon for looney tunes and wannabes to take credit for events like this.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:02 AM on March 12


Fascinating and beautiful map of wind and water currents for this region.

It appears that wreckage from MH370 would be blown onshore eventually unless it passed over Sumatra into the Indian Sea.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 6:10 AM on March 12 [10 favorites]


it = airplane
posted by TWinbrook8 at 6:44 AM on March 12


Fascinating and beautiful map of wind and water currents for this region.

Wind. It shows which way the wind is blowing. Adjust it to see the wind at different heights. Yeah, it is beautiful. Calming, too.
posted by Mister Bijou at 6:51 AM on March 12 [1 favorite]


Click the "earth" logotype in the lower left to change to currents.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 7:25 AM on March 12


spitbull: OK, this is just weird and I hope it's bullshit, but there is a report the pilot of MAS370 (at the time a copilot) had allowed (and in fact invited) two attractive young women to ride in the cockpit for the entire duration of an earlier international flight, takeoff to touchdown, and that the pilot and a different copilot had tried to get the women to stay with them for a few days in KL.

You'd think they were piloting an Italian cruise ship.
posted by gman at 7:25 AM on March 12 [4 favorites]


Click the "earth" logotype in the lower left to change to currents.

Whoops! Never noticed that "Ocean" option before. Thanks!
posted by Mister Bijou at 8:01 AM on March 12


The Chinese Martyrs Brigade thing has been dismissed as a hoax.

Part of the trouble with why the Malaysian authorities sound so inconsistent is because of bad reporting - see that whole debacle about the racial identity of the suspects with stolen passports . What sounds like a retraction is often "oi, I never actually confirmed that".
posted by divabat at 9:05 AM on March 12


A briefing session is being conducted now in Malaysia for families of passengers aboard mh370. It is currently midnight in Malaysia
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:06 AM on March 12


This letter, veracity unknown, is supposedly from an eyewitness on an oil rig in Vietnam that saw the plane burn.
posted by divabat at 9:12 AM on March 12


What that letter is describing sounds like a meteor. The object flew in a straight line, appeared to be on fire, and then the fire went out at a high altitude.
posted by vibrotronica at 9:42 AM on March 12


Is there a way to find out which astronomical incidents happened within a particular space and time?
posted by divabat at 9:45 AM on March 12


Hmm, meteor.
posted by spitbull at 9:46 AM on March 12


Let's tie it all together! Could a meteor have hit Flight 370?!?
posted by mazola at 9:51 AM on March 12 [5 favorites]


Further hypothesizing from (MeFi's own) cstross:

Having eliminated the stolen passport holders (illegal immigrants joining their families) and heard new admissions from the Malaysian military about the track of the airliner, I have a hypothesis about the disappearance of MH370 that doesn't require human malice—just a single terrible coincidence (of the kind that causes most major air disasters).

posted by RedOrGreen at 10:26 AM on March 12 [1 favorite]


Ha, Bloomberg nails the zeitgeist. (There's a sentence I never thought I would write.)

Missing Malaysian Jetliner Confuses World That’s Online 24/7
posted by spitbull at 10:57 AM on March 12 [1 favorite]


Apparently, there is a satellite pic showing something that Chinese officials believe could be wreckage of MH370. Reported on 8:24pm GMT. Not sure if it's on land or on water.
posted by travelwithcats at 1:30 PM on March 12


"China's State Administration of Science (SASTIND) reported, they discovered three large objects sized 13x18, 14x19 and 24x22 meters at position N6.7 E105.63 (121nm eastsoutheast of the last known secondary radar position), all three objects within a radius of 20km (11nm) and published the satellite images, taken on Mar 9th 2014 at 11:00 Beijing time (03:00Z), see below. SASTIND stated they are committed to provide further search services to locate flight MH-370."
posted by travelwithcats at 2:01 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


Yeah, a 777 is huge, but nowhere near 24x22 meters.
posted by dominik at 3:52 PM on March 12


No, that is the right size for a 777: the plane is 63.7m long with 60.9m wings.
posted by Thing at 3:57 PM on March 12


Yeah, but it is pretty slender. There's a rather useful diagram up on twitter.
posted by dominik at 4:02 PM on March 12


I, uh, don't think the object in the picture is likely to be a perfect square. The size estimate is just that.
posted by Justinian at 4:03 PM on March 12


(That said, I will be surprised if this is actually the debris.)
posted by Justinian at 4:06 PM on March 12


The Chinese are deploying ships and planes to investigate what they found through their satellites. No doubt they have higher resolution images than what they've released to the public. They are confident (maybe even know for sure) that this debris is wreckage from the plane.
posted by crazy with stars at 4:53 PM on March 12


Apparently on CNN, experts have said the pieces are too big to be the plane.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 4:59 PM on March 12


(I think they should still check)
posted by mazola at 5:00 PM on March 12 [1 favorite]


roomthreeseventeen: "Apparently on CNN, experts have said the pieces are too big to be the plane."

Well, if CNN is reporting that it can't be the plane, then it must be the plane.
posted by Bugbread at 5:01 PM on March 12 [26 favorites]


Graphic map linking the NZ oil rig worker's info with the Chinese satellite debris photo.

From the Guardian: A spokesman for the US seventh fleet has told CNBC news it is not changing their search area after the release of the [Chinese] satellite images.

The Vietnamese have sent a helicopter today to search these areas on land: lower U Minh forest (Ca Mau) and Upper U Minh forest (Kien Giang).
posted by TWinbrook8 at 7:57 PM on March 12


The Chinese now saying the images are not the plane (Google translated page from Bild.de).
posted by oneirodynia at 9:20 PM on March 12


From the WSJ:
U.S. investigators suspect that Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 stayed in the air for about four hours past the time it reached its last confirmed location, according to two people familiar with the details, raising the possibility that the plane could have flown on for hundreds of additional miles under conditions that remain murky.

Aviation investigators and national security officials believe the plane flew for a total of five hours based on data automatically downloaded and sent to the ground from the Boeing Co. 777's engines as part of a routine maintenance and monitoring program...

The engines' onboard monitoring system is provided by their manufacturer, Rolls-Royce PLC, and it periodically sends bursts of data about engine health, operations and aircraft movements to facilities on the ground.

Rolls-Royce couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

As part of its maintenance agreements, Malaysia Airlines transmits its engine data live to Rolls-Royce for analysis. The system compiles data from inside the 777's two Trent 800 engines and transmits snapshots of performance, as well as the altitude and speed of the jet.

Those snippets are compiled and transmitted in 30-minute increments, said one person familiar with the system.
12:50 AM ET Thursday
posted by TWinbrook8 at 10:19 PM on March 12 [6 favorites]


It sure would be nice if the Malaysian authorities could get their act together. Their uncoordinated approach and incompetence is responsible for some of the mystery here.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:39 PM on March 12


How can a large plane fly anywhere for four hours without appearing on a single radar (working transponder or not)?
posted by panaceanot at 10:46 PM on March 12


Four hours @ 800-900 mph. Flight circumference map, please.
posted by artdrectr at 10:54 PM on March 12


Yeah I had wondered about the transmitting-data-to-Boeing thing. I figured that since it hadn't been mentioned, the 777 must not have had that capability. Why are we only hearing about this now? Where were engines broadcasting to? What sort of radio frequencies? Where are the ground-based receivers? What's their range? If an aircraft, lost over the ocean and out of contact with all other forms of communication can send real-time data to Boeing, why isn't sending a bit of GPS data too?
posted by Jimbob at 10:55 PM on March 12 [2 favorites]


artdrectr, circumference map.
posted by Partario at 10:56 PM on March 12


Four hours @ 800-900 mph. Flight circumference map, please.


Evidence, if you need it, that Wolfram Alpha is useless. My request for "3600km radius around South China Sea" returned a resounding "huh wat?". I might have a look manually in a bit.
posted by Jimbob at 10:59 PM on March 12


Oh no matter, thanks Partario. I'll send a search party out to Broome, Western Australia...
posted by Jimbob at 11:01 PM on March 12


Public information re: Australian radar coverage map: Jindalee.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 11:12 PM on March 12


Would my assumption if that is indeed true, the likely direction was SW? I would think anything over populated areas would have been noted.

And wouldn't a series of pings from the engines provide data, even if crude, as to direction and distance? I would assume (always a danger), that where the ping was received and it's strength would be part of the data. Hell, if I was RR, I would have GPS or something similar built in to the data, just for additional data when trying to debug anomalies.
posted by maxwelton at 11:14 PM on March 12


Wow, Northern Australia has some good radar coverage.

Anyway, I remember watching something a while ago about the Boeing telemetry - some documentary? I think it was possibly in regards to the Dreamliners, but the story was "At any time in the flight, Boeing Engineers have full access to engine performance, plane location, altitude and velocity, and a range of other data, and can communicate with the pilot and airline staff to solve problems in real time." I guess maybe the 777 missed out on a lot of that cool shit.
posted by Jimbob at 11:20 PM on March 12


Holy sh...
Thanks Partario.
Jimbob: Please also send parties to Hunan and Guam when you have a minute.
posted by artdrectr at 11:21 PM on March 12


More like 5 to 600 mph I'd imagine. 800 is more than Mach 1.
posted by Rumple at 11:22 PM on March 12


Yeah I assumed those figures were supposed to be in kmh.
posted by Jimbob at 11:22 PM on March 12


This Wall Street Journal article (linked on Guardian liveblog) has more information about the suspected five-hour flight. Interesting statement: At one briefing, according to this person, officials were told investigators are actively pursuing the notion that the plane was diverted "with the intention of using it later for another purpose."
posted by Partario at 11:26 PM on March 12


Yeah, CIA Director John Brennan popped up Tuesday to say terrorism could not be ruled out. This being after the forged passports angle was put to bed and the Chinese Martyrs discredited.

I thought the timing was interesting. Or maybe suspecting terrorism is just SOP with CIA.

The previously voluble Vietnamese have been very quiet since last night.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 11:47 PM on March 12


There's nothing saying that the terrorists were one of the legit passengers, or that there aren't any other agendas.

(That said I am highly skeptical of the terrorism angle and all speculation about it comes off as a little too xenophobic for my comfort.)
posted by divabat at 11:56 PM on March 12


Speculation about the Iranian dudes with the fake passports specifically or terrorism in general? I don't see why speculation about terrorism is inherently xenophobic although it ends up that way in practice far too often.

I wish somebody would confirm with certainty whether the plane was flying for hours after the transponders went offline. Either it was picked up on radar or it wasn't. If it wasn't, we are still stuck with "we have no idea whatsoever what happened". If it was we're really down to two theories. One, some sort of catastrophic failure which resulted in loss of electrical power to the transponders and rapid decompression which rendered the flight crew unconscious... but did not cause the plane to crash rapidly. Or two, some kind of hijacking situation.

It's hard to come up with other plausible scenarios where the transponders go offline but the plane flies around for 4-5 hours anyway.
posted by Justinian at 12:02 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


Yeah, "something going bad with a thing involving brown people" does not equal terrorism without material evidence. And material evidence is kind of the modus operandi of terrorists.
posted by Jimbob at 12:03 AM on March 13


What I mean is that a lot of the "IT MUST BE TERRORISTS!" speculation comes about (from what I've seen anyway) in the form of "Muslims flew the plane / bought fake tickets! MUST BE TERRORISTS! Most terrorists as MUSLIM! So MUSLIM TERRORISTS!". Seriously, stuff as facile as that.
posted by divabat at 12:07 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


(When I called out someone on Twitter about it he was all "There was Muslims on the flight. Most terrorists as Muslim. You connect the dots." And he's far from the only one saying this.)
posted by divabat at 12:08 AM on March 13


Hah. Yeah, that's pretty awful.
posted by Justinian at 12:08 AM on March 13


divabat: "(When I called out someone on Twitter about it he was all "There was Muslims on the flight. Most terrorists as Muslim. You connect the dots." And he's far from the only one saying this.)"

I can't decide which rejoinder I'd go with.
A) "There was men on the flight. Most terrorists is men. You connect the dots."
B) "There was Muslims on the flight. Most Muslims is not terrorists. You connect the dots."
posted by Bugbread at 12:15 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


When I called out someone on Twitter about it he was all "There was Muslims on the flight. Most terrorists as Muslim. You connect the dots." And he's far from the only one saying this.

As a frequent visitor to Malaysia, and passenger on their airlines (mostly Air Asia X) this shit pisses me off.
posted by Jimbob at 12:26 AM on March 13


My response to "ZOMG MUSLIMS!"
posted by divabat at 12:30 AM on March 13 [3 favorites]


"You tweet about Muslim terrorists. Most people who tweet about Muslim terrorists are racist assholes. You connect the dots."
posted by Justinian at 12:30 AM on March 13 [17 favorites]


Jimbob: "Anyway, I remember watching something a while ago about the Boeing telemetry - some documentary? I think it was possibly in regards to the Dreamliners, but the story was "At any time in the flight, Boeing Engineers have full access to engine performance, plane location, altitude and velocity, and a range of other data, and can communicate with the pilot and airline staff to solve problems in real time." I guess maybe the 777 missed out on a lot of that cool shit."

Have full access =/= monitoring anytime a plane is in the air. IE: MH370 could have the ability to communicate with Boeing but not actually be using what is essentially a trouble shooting tool during the mystery period.
posted by Mitheral at 1:25 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


There's no reason to assume that an Iranian travelling on a stolen passport has plans to commit any sort of crime, but I think given that a plane has disappeared, you should probably look at the guys on the plane that weren't supposed to be on the plane.
posted by empath at 2:55 AM on March 13


I think given that a plane has disappeared, you should probably look at the guys on the plane that weren't supposed to be on the plane.

And they did and the guy's now-distressed mother was waiting at an airport in Frankfurt for him.
posted by Jimbob at 3:01 AM on March 13 [4 favorites]


The 5:30 PM press conference is in progress now. Defense Minister/Acting Transport Minister Hussein has said the WSJ report re MH370 flying for another 4 hours is inaccurate. They are denying that RR or Boeing received data after initial contact was lost with the plane at 1:07 AM.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 3:07 AM on March 13


There's no reason to assume that an Iranian travelling on a stolen passport has plans to commit any sort of crime

I disagree; there's plenty of reason to assume an Iranian travelling on a stolen passport has plans to commit a number of crimes. It's just that destroying an airplane isn't one of them. But stuff like visa fraud is a slam dunk.
posted by Justinian at 3:21 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


The 5:30 PM press conference is in progress now. Defense Minister/Acting Transport Minister Hussein has said the WSJ report re MH370 flying for another 4 hours is inaccurate.

Ugh, so we're back to square one; nobody has a clue what happened, when, or where.
posted by Justinian at 3:22 AM on March 13


We're back to square one, and the WSJ is potentially as credible as a reddit comment.

Great.
posted by panaceanot at 3:39 AM on March 13


Also from the WSJ streaming coverage (time-stamped 5 hrs ago):
Indonesia hasn’t received a request from Malaysia for radar records in connection with missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, said Iskandar Sitompul, spokesman for the country’s armed forces.
Sunset, Thursday.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 4:17 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


The Malaysian government is now saying that the release of those Chinese satellite images was a mistake. Seems like there's a lot of that going around.

If it now turns out the WSJ's reporting is correct and the Malaysian denials about the 4 hour thing are incorrect...
posted by Justinian at 4:30 AM on March 13


...large unidentified cylindrical object entering airspace means threat, and deal with terminally? Hush-money for Malay officials?

Don't mind me... I need to go chill on that grassy knoll over there >
posted by panaceanot at 5:08 AM on March 13


New theory: the flight never existed and this is a most curious case of mass hysteria. Fits all known facts, especially why the authorities are both laughably incompetent and change their minds daily.

Seriously though, the investigation would be better served if the countries and authorities involved just stopped, shut up, and reflected for a few days. They're making TEPCO look good.
posted by Thing at 5:40 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


From Irrawaddy.org:
RANGOON — The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has expanded to Burmese airspace, according to Burma’s Department of Civil Aviation (DCA).

Tin Naing Tun, director general of the department, said the DCA granted permission for Malaysian authorities to search over Burmese airspace for seven days, beginning Wednesday [March 12]...
And now Malaysia has asked for radar data from Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 5:50 AM on March 13


As part of its maintenance agreements, Malaysia Airlines transmits its engine data live to Rolls-Royce for analysis. The system compiles data from inside the 777's two Trent 800 engines and transmits snapshots of performance, as well as the altitude and speed of the jet.

A few notes:

- This is primarily a Rolls-Royce thing, the data does not go to Boeing. It's a bunch of engine details, and since Boeing neither manufactures nor supports the engines, they don't have much of a part. The reason RR does this is because they frequently own the engines even when they're hanging on the airliner, and the airline pays RR for "power by the hour". This lets the airline focus on airline-things rather than detailed engine-things, and leaves the engines to the experts. RR tends to do this more than GE or PW.

- The engine data is transmitted via ACARS, which usually goes over VHF radio when possible (over land), but can also go over shortwave (over the ocean). There might be a satcom link too. This is where the first information about AF447 came from, prior to finding the black boxes. The 777 definitely has all this, as do almost all modern airliners. Exactly what sort of transmissions are enabled varies by operator.

- Most importantly: if someone is sitting on ACARS transmissions that were sent hours after the last radar contact, holy shit, that's a huge huge deal and needs to be made public right now.
posted by kiltedtaco at 5:58 AM on March 13 [12 favorites]


Aviation Herald:
On Mar 13th 2014 afternoon Malaysia's Transport Minister said in a televised press conference, that the last ACARS transmission was received from the aircraft at 01:07L (17:07Z), there were no later transmissions via ACARS (editorial note: which effectively states a report by a single US "news" paper of the engines monitoring recording information via ACARS for 4 more hours is untrue), the last transmission received from the aircraft indicated all systems were operating normally. Boeing and NTSB confirmed the last data transmission received from the aircraft was at 01:07L.
posted by kiltedtaco at 6:00 AM on March 13


How often is the engine data transmitted? I've read anything between 3x per flight - at take-off, reaching altitude and landing - to every 30 min.
posted by travelwithcats at 6:03 AM on March 13


Ohfercrissakes.

WSJ streaming:
Malaysian officials said missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 could have kept flying for several hours, but said they had received no data to indicate the flight remained airborne for an extended time.
[my ital]

No, what Acting Minister of Transport Hussein said was:
I would like to refer to news reports suggesting that the aircraft may have been flying for some time after the last contact. Those reports are inaccurate.
It's a war of words now. Neither Boeing nor RR will make a statement regarding the data although Hussein stated: "Since today’s media reports MAS has asked Rolls-Royce and Boeing specifically about the data. As far as Rolls-Royce and Boeing are concerned those reports are inaccurate."

So some possible equivocating there but for the WSJ to spin it like that...
posted by TWinbrook8 at 8:13 AM on March 13


editorial note: which effectively states a report by a single US "news" paper of the engines monitoring recording information via ACARS for 4 more hours is untrue

Great Moments in Scare Quotes.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:13 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


"Great" Moments...
posted by Bugbread at 8:26 AM on March 13 [4 favorites]


I know the ocean is a big place, and this airplane could have reached a quarter of the globe if it kept flying, but wow. This search process is looking more and more like an embarrassing, cringe-inducing, totally un-funny bumbling-detective "comedy".

Why even make statements to the press and then retract and un-retract them? Yes, 24-hour news cycle and all that - just say you're working on it and shut up until you have something solid...
posted by RedOrGreen at 8:32 AM on March 13


US Officials Have 'Indication' Malaysia Airline Crashed into Indian Ocean
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:37 AM on March 13


This search process is looking more and more like an embarrassing, cringe-inducing, totally un-funny bumbling-detective "comedy".

More like the PR for this search process has been an un-funny comedy.
posted by benbenson at 8:38 AM on March 13


I went to infowars for the first time in months.

1.) Their Malaysia airplane story so far is entirely reasonable.

2.) Jones' in-studio guest today is John McAfee! I think I will tune in.
posted by bukvich at 8:43 AM on March 13


Why even make statements to the press and then retract and un-retract them?

with the exception of zahid hamidi, the minister for home affairs, who really needs to learn to stop talking out of his arse, it's been my impression that it's been more of a firefighting exercise by the lead SAR agency in trying to provide correct information in the face of constant speculation, terrible media reporting (misunderstanding public statements, printing and republishing unverified rumours) and unverified/unauthorised sources chiming in (see the honourable minister above).
posted by cendawanita at 8:52 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


*Malaysia to Verify Report on Flight 370 in Indian Ocean w/ U.S. BFW 16:38
*Malaysia Jet Said to Fly West as Probe Refocuses on Air Piracy BN 16:29
*MALAYSIA CIVIL AVIATION CHIEF AZHARUDDIN COMMENTED TO BLOOMB... BN 16:29
*MALAYSIA CIVIL AIR CHIEF SAYS HE HEARD OF U.S. CLAIM VIA REPORT BN 16:28
*MALAYSIA: PROTOCOL IS FOR IT TO BE TOLD OF DEVTS BEFORE MEDIA BN 16:28
*MALAYSIA TO VERIFY ABC REPORT ON FLIGHT 370 WITH U.S. TEAMS BN 16:27
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:43 AM on March 13


[Comment removed - maybe not a great time to make lulzy jokes about an ongoing likely tragedy.]
posted by jessamyn at 10:25 AM on March 13 [8 favorites]


Malaysia Flight: Satellite 'Received Signal'
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:29 AM on March 13


Now people are contacting me telling me HAARP is involved.
posted by divabat at 11:29 AM on March 13 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure how familiar you are with HAARP but this line from the Wikipeida article is worth mentioning
Computer scientist David Naiditch characterizes HAARP as "a magnet for conspiracy theorists", saying that HAARP attracts their attention because "its purpose seems deeply mysterious to the scientifically uninformed".
Quote from this article.
posted by jessamyn at 11:32 AM on March 13 [1 favorite]


I'm trying to find more information - the problem with that eSkeptic article is that it's basically copy&paste from the HAARP website, and the other cite in the Wiki article (Popular Science) only has two lines of "experts say no".

For what it's worth, it's closed.
posted by divabat at 11:36 AM on March 13


Flight MH370 Search from Space: shows satellite imagery footprints on a map.
posted by Nelson at 12:07 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]


Oh, boy. Once the HAARP-ies start dipping their oars in, you know the real nutjobbery is about to commence.
posted by Atom Eyes at 12:32 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


If we're talking about a scenario where everyone on board the plane was incapacitated fairly quickly, but the plane kept flying until it ran out of fuel, that suggests a few possibilities:

1. The slow decompression scenario, where the crew doesn't realize what's happening until it's too late, tries to turn back, and then passes out before they can complete the turn. Plane full of dead people flies for thousands of miles until it crashes into the ocean. This scenario has the advantage of having actually happened before, only not on this scale.

2. Pilots incapacitated, reinforced cockpit door holds despite all attempts by passengers and crew to force it, plane runs out of fuel. What could incapacitate the pilots like that? The passengers and crew would have several hours to work on the door. Could the cockpit door hold up that long? Would there be a way the crew could try to communicate with the outside world that would be accessible from outside the cockpit?

3. Terrorism. Could a shoe bomber, for example, blow a big enough hole in the hull to decompress the cabin and kill the crew before they could communicate? How much nerve gas would it take to kill everyone on board?

4. Theft. Hijackers quickly take over the plane, fly it to an out-of-the-way airstrip, land, then use their new 777 for nefarious purposes. There are many problems with this scenario. You'd have to control the passengers for a long time to get where you needed to go, and then make provision for them once you've landed. Maybe it would be easier to just kill them in the air. Can you do that without killing yourself, too? How do you navigate to the secret airfield undetected? How do you hide an airfield big enough land a 777 from satellites? How do you hide a 777 once it's on the ground? Remember, if this airliner is going to be of use to you in the future, you'll have to take off again. That implies a lot of support equipment, which only makes the stealth problem harder. This is Bond supervillain stuff. It would require months, if not years, of preparation with plenty of opportunities to be discovered along the way as you hew the runway out of the jungle and try to buy and get the support equipment in place. The only point in the favor of this scenario is that there is a lot of potentially usable land within 2,000 miles of the plane's last known location.
posted by vibrotronica at 12:35 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]


This is Bond supervillain stuff. It would require months, if not years, of preparation

Not to mention money. I bet you could buy a failed airline (through an indecipherable string of holding companies) with some 777 leases on the books for lot less money.
posted by maxwelton at 1:25 PM on March 13 [13 favorites]


Slow decompression seems incredibly unlikely. The pilots would notice (and almost certainly be aware of the previous accident involving a 737 to ignore any alarms to that effect, or ignore the automatic deployment of oxygen masks).

WaPo is also reporting the 4 hour thing. No word on where that data came from (so.... most likely some military or intelligence program that nobody wants to talk about in any detail).
posted by schmod at 1:28 PM on March 13


What a fiasco. It would be funny if it weren't about such a tragedy. So much incompetence going on.
posted by Justinian at 2:30 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


From reading the helios 552 investigation it seems the crew have a emergency access code to open the flight deck door:

'From the sounds recorded on the CVR,
however, the Board could ascertain that this cabin attendant entered the cockpit using the
emergency access code to open a locked cockpit door.'
posted by pixie at 2:43 PM on March 13


Frankly, I am getting very suspicious of all the news reports quoting unnamed "officials". There is no way for us to evaluate the reliability of these comments and many times it seems journalists have misunderstood the nature of these comments. If these "officials" want to comment, why not make actual official comments on the record. It's notable that all the official statements by the Malaysians, the party responsible for communication as per ICAO protocol has been fairly straightforward and consistent, but very very sparse due to lack of information to disseminate.
posted by Authorized User at 2:46 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]


Another possibility: Carbon monoxide poisoning. I don't know any possible sources of carbon monoxide on an airplane, but it seems like there should be some. Auxiliary power units, maybe?
posted by vibrotronica at 3:04 PM on March 13


I have pity on the Malaysian authorities at this point. They don't have anything conclusive to say and various folks inside and outside their government are anonymously leaking left and right. Leakers always have an agenda, usually to get some fact out into the public and sometimes just to inflate their own egos. I wish reporters were more skeptical before repeating what they hear.

Rolls Royce is in an awkward position here. They may have data, but I've got to believe they'd wait on Malaysian Airlines' permission to say anything. Not just to save them embarrassment but also because this lost plane will no doubt end up in a zillion lawsuits. The ACARS system is essential to Rolls' jet engine business; the last thing they want to do is get into conflict with paying customers on who they share ACARS data with. Let's hope the search and rescue teams are privy to relevant information, though.

I'm more than a little curious about what the various military radars know. That part of SE Asia is pretty well armed and watches their airspace and borders. Even with all transmitters turned off, strange aircraft should be identifiable. I feel certain if the plane got anywhere near China's ADIZ it would not go unnoticed, less certain of Vietnam. Again, I hope the search teams at least have access to the relevant data.
posted by Nelson at 3:06 PM on March 13 [3 favorites]


US investigators clearly think the Malaysians are out to lunch because they are moving ships to the Indian Ocean.
posted by Justinian at 3:29 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


Ok, I'm so confused. I'm watching ABC's nightly news, and they're reporting that the plane flew for four hours and that it appears that whatever happened was deliberate. They're saying hijacking or pilot suicide. What. The. Fuck.? Is that the way it's being reported elsewhere? Or am I just an idiot for watching US network news?
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 3:37 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


US investigators clearly think the Malaysians are out to lunch because they are moving ships to the Indian Ocean.

US government clearly used HAARP to make plane disappear in order to have an excuse to move their ships to Indian Ocean ready to stage an attack on Christmas Island WAKE UP SHEEPLE
posted by Jimbob at 3:39 PM on March 13 [4 favorites]


Is that the way it's being reported elsewhere? Or am I just an idiot for watching US network news?

All sorts of stuff is being reported all over the place, based on tiny shreds of evidence and huge assumptions. It's not just US network news, but I imagine they're probably one of the worst.
posted by Jimbob at 3:40 PM on March 13


Yeah, the news reporting is highly inconsistent. (And not just the US too, ArbitraryAndCapricious - eponysterial, btw). No wonder people think the authorities are incompetent - there's too many layers of abstraction and the need for breaking news is getting in the way of actual fact-checking and verification.

The sad thing is that Malaysia Airlines has been solidly focusing on the families and keeping info about plane whereabouts to an absolute minimum, yet all of the media mismanagement is reflecting badly on them.
posted by divabat at 3:50 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]


Re: deliberate act:
This ABC report quotes a US source saying the two communication signals were shut off at different times, which the source says indicated a deliberate action rather than a single accidental cause:
Two U.S. officials tell ABC News the U.S. believes that the shutdown of two communication systems happened separately on Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. One source said this indicates the plane did not come out of the sky because of a catastrophic failure. The data reporting system, they believe, was shut down at 1:07 a.m. The transponder -- which transmits location and altitude -- shut down at 1:21 a.m. This indicates it may well have been a deliberate act, ABC News aviation consultant John Nance said. U.S. investigators told ABC News that the two modes of communication were "systematically shut down." That means the U.S. team "is convinced that there was manual intervention," a source said, which means it was likely not an accident or catastrophic malfunction that took the plane out of the sky.
Re: decompression:
In this Guardian article, Boeing says this particular plane did not have the satellite transmitter thing that was being mentioned as a possible cause of decompression:
Boeing did state that an airworthiness directive about possible fuselage cracks issued by US authorities in November regarding 777s, which had been linked in some theories to flight MH370, did not apply as the missing plane did not have the specific antenna installed.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:58 PM on March 13


Mmm. I'm not sure I buy that 14 minutes apart means human intervention, as opposed to a progressive problem. If they were a minute or two apart, sure, but if you are Bad Person who had taken over the plane and is turning off the various beacons, it seems rather odd to turn off data reporting and then wait around for 14 minutes to turn off the transponder. And I'd really expect them to turn off the transponder first, which is the most obvious and most heavily tracked of the beacons.
posted by tavella at 4:07 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


708am in Malaysia so I expect gov officials there will be stating the ABC report is without merit any minute.
posted by mlis at 4:08 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


Agreed about the progressive problem, tavella. It's weird to me that their expert doesn't see it that way.

And re: the Boeing/Rolls Royce data, from this AP report (via Guardian liveblog):
The official said the Boeing 777-200 wasn’t transmitting data to the satellite, but sending out a signal to establish contact. Boeing offers a satellite service that can receive a stream of data during flight on how the aircraft is functioning. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly, said Malaysia Airlines didn’t subscribe to that service, but the system was automatically pinging the satellite anyway. The continuing pings led searchers to believe the plane could have flown more than 1,000 miles beyond its last confirmed sighting on radar, the official said. The plane had enough fuel to fly about four more hours, he said. Messages involving a different data service also were received from the airliner for a short time after the plane's transponder — a device used to identify the plane to radar — went silent, the official said.
So it sounds like, the plane sent the engine-data report twice while it was still in contact. Then ceased to send that data report, but still was pinging the satellite for (several hours?), and that's where the "it was still in the air for several hours afterward" is coming from? And the Malaysians have said they asked Rolls Royce and Boeing, and they said there hadn't been more engine data reports... but maybe RR and B don't have access to the record of the satellite as to who pinged it? Maybe that ping information only became available for whatever reason once the US govt got involved?
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:20 PM on March 13


Is the fact that ACARS stopped transmitting notable at all? I thought that the system only sent periodic transmissions?

The more notable thing would be if the plane disappeared from radar significantly earlier or later than the transponder stopped transmitting.

The seeming inability to establish a timeline is frustrating.
posted by schmod at 4:29 PM on March 13


Here's a new theory.

The idea is that there was slow decompression caused by a non-catastropic crack in the skin of the jet, not noticed by the pilots, who didn't put on oxygen masks and then blacked out from hypoxia.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:32 PM on March 13


That's not a new theory and it's already been mostly debunked since the plane in question was not carrying the satellite equipment in the FAA directive.
posted by Justinian at 4:34 PM on March 13


I mean, I can see why they are thinking human intervention, just because it starts to be hard to figure out a limited sequence of failures that result in first the data reporting system failing, and then the transponder, and the pilots being incapacitated or at least unable to control the plane at all, and yet it is in good enough shape to keep flying for hours. Various subgroups of those, but the whole sequence starts to look weird. But I don't think the 14 minutes is evidence for, and even kinda evidence against.

Though I wonder -- does this pinging system have any location data? And what powers it? I.e., is there any possibility that it was pinging from the wreckage from some standalone power source?
posted by tavella at 5:05 PM on March 13


All I can say is I feel pretty vindicated with regard to my first comment in this thread about the GPS squawker.
posted by Justinian at 5:11 PM on March 13


Also which NSAID should I take for the ache from patting myself on the back so hard?
posted by Justinian at 5:12 PM on March 13 [3 favorites]


Missing Malaysia Flight Left Data Trail
posted by mlis at 5:14 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]


Just from curiosity, does any airplane-knowledgable person know what it takes to manually disable the transponder and the communication system (whatever piece was turned off)? Is it easy or hard?
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:30 PM on March 13


I just looked this up on CNN. Yes it is possible to turn it off; it is a switch in the cockpit and sometimes it is necessary for pilots to briefly turn it off in flight. But not this flight.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 5:40 PM on March 13


I suppose it's possible they turned it off by accident while suffering from hypoxia and working through a decompression checklist they may have been unfamiliar with.
posted by Golden Eternity at 7:33 PM on March 13


Wait, what?
Communication satellites received intermittent data "pings" from a missing Malaysia Airlines jet, giving the plane's location, speed and altitude for at least five hours after it disappeared from civilian radar screens, people briefed on the investigation said Thursday.

WSJ streaming
(on preview) oh sorry mlis
posted by TWinbrook8 at 7:39 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


How long can the search for the aircraft go on with an expectation of actually finding recognizable debris? I imagine debris becomes increasingly difficult to spot, as more wreckage sinks or spreads out, but I don't know that intuition is a useful guide for this sort of thing.
posted by ddbeck at 7:47 PM on March 13


THE POLITICAL MYSTERY OF MALAYSIA FLIGHT 370
posted by mlis at 8:01 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


My pet theory is that the newly-found "pings" were actually detected by the NSA -- after all, one of their main purposes is to monitor radio transmissions. They could have recorded the signal from their own satellites or even highly sensitive ground stations. Then the spooks had to do the "parallel construction" thing and come up with a plausible way that civilians could have gotten the same information. That would explain why everyone denied that ACARS data existed right up until today when everyone started confirming it.
posted by miyabo at 8:17 PM on March 13 [3 favorites]


Also, some more fodder for conspiracy theorists: a $100 SPOT satellite locator beacon could have prevented this entire search, since they transmit every 10 minutes and work almost everywhere in the world. But SPOT has been having technical problems in Southeast Asia for the past few weeks: link
posted by miyabo at 8:26 PM on March 13


My pet theory is that a chain of unlikely events occurred in a big, chaotic, and still largely untamed world.
posted by mazola at 8:30 PM on March 13 [17 favorites]


That's already been debunked.
posted by Golden Eternity at 8:33 PM on March 13 [10 favorites]


Finally, one horrifying possibility: we may never know what happened, since the black box only records the last hour or two before a crash, and there was at least 4 hours between the precipitating event and the crash itself in this case. If there was a struggle in the cockpit, it probably isn't on the cockpit voice recorder anymore; if there was a mechanical failure, the signals leading up to it are probably lost.
posted by miyabo at 8:34 PM on March 13


Also, some more fodder for conspiracy theorists: a $100 SPOT satellite locator beacon could have prevented this entire search

I agree that such devices sound extremely sensible and obvious, others have pointed out at the top of this thread that things that cost $100 for civilian usage end up costing $10,000 once you put them on a plane, due to the strict requirements in regards to electrical systems and radio transmissions.
posted by Jimbob at 8:37 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


One other thing (finally): Apparently international flights have to have an emergency locator transmitter that signals the SARSAT system on 406 MHz. It's supposed to be installed in the airplane tail and activate automatically on contact with water. Does anyone know why it wouldn't have worked in this case? Or why it didn't work on Air France 447?
posted by miyabo at 8:46 PM on March 13


since the black box only records the last hour or two before a crash

Oh hey, I looked that up this morning because that was my impression too but according to the folks at Wikipedia, it has two aspects: a flight data recorder and a cockpit voice recorder. True, the voice recorder could be between 30 minutes to 2 hours but the data recorder can record 17-25 hours on a loop.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 8:56 PM on March 13 [1 favorite]


Good podcast episode about black boxes Stuff you should know - How black boxes work.
posted by panaceanot at 9:01 PM on March 13


Breaking: Investigators now believe that television coverage of a missing plane could continue for weeks with no new data.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 9:19 PM on March 13 [13 favorites]


Two points from the Guardian's liveblog-
-The transponder will only respond if it's (in-effect) queried by a ground station, so if it were out of range of a ground station it wouldn't be surprising that it was silent. (According to their reporter Warren Murray.)

-NBC reports that US infrared-detecting satellites didn't detect anything (heat signature) that would suggest an explosion around the time the plane lost contact "or in the hours immediately afterward". (That also suggests to me that if the plane was shot down, the US would have detected the missile launch/strike, so, a point against that theory.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:55 PM on March 13


There's no way terrorists have the kind of hardware it would require to shoot down a passenger jet hundreds of miles over open ocean and at cruise altitude anyway. That's serious military hardware.
posted by Justinian at 10:12 PM on March 13


No, I thought there had been some (fringe) speculation about whether some regional military had (perhaps accidentally or due to a misunderstanding, eg its communications were dead so it couldn't identify itself) shot it down.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:15 PM on March 13


There's been speculation about everything possible (and impossible) but 90% of the speculation doesn't fit any variation of reality, and the remain 10% is confusing and contradictory.
posted by Jimbob at 11:33 PM on March 13 [2 favorites]


I find it strange that this engine data is just coming out now. The organization in charge of maintaining and operating the system has staff who heard about the disappearance and immediately checked the relevant logs and found this data, out of curiosity if not policy. That's just how the types of people who do these sorts of things for a living think, the native human impulse to do so aside.

It's not so strange only we're just now hearing of it in the media but why is it is just now influencing the search itself? I have no idea what it means, but this situation is weird.
posted by feloniousmonk at 1:11 AM on March 14


Maybe they've been using it as part of their SAR efforts for a while but are only allowed to talk about it publicly today?
posted by divabat at 1:19 AM on March 14


"EXCLUSIVE: Radar data suggests missing Malaysia plane flown deliberately toward Andamans"
posted by travelwithcats at 1:44 AM on March 14


Interesting development, especially the detail regarding the plane flying between navigational waypoints. However, this article suffers from sources "close to the investigation" who refuse to be named...
posted by Jimbob at 2:30 AM on March 14


LINK Press conference now live
posted by travelwithcats at 2:34 AM on March 14


It definitely sounds like the focus of the investigation is moving towards hijacking or other human-centric causes.
posted by Justinian at 2:52 AM on March 14


"Why have you not searched the pilot's home?"

"I'll have to get back to you on that."
posted by TWinbrook8 at 3:03 AM on March 14


Possible flight path plotted according to data from military radars
posted by travelwithcats at 3:48 AM on March 14


8pm in that part of the world now, a full week after the flight went missing.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 4:57 AM on March 14


All I can say is I feel pretty vindicated with regard to my first comment in this thread about the GPS squawker.

Ugh, no. I've been letting this go for now, but since you keep bringing it up, there's a bunch of reasons why this sounds so great now but doesn't actually have any serious relevance. The biggest issue is that you're comparing an idealized perfect "GPS pinging" device to what has been a complete mess of misinformation and confusion both from the relevant authorities and from news services. Of course the idealized position reporter will look better by comparison. But two points 1) why would that actually behave any better than, say, radar, which requires zero hardware on board the aircraft to work, and 2) why would the information from this device not be similarly corrupted by this mess of a process by which the authorities have been releasing and then de-releasing and then leaking and then denying information about the position reports that do exist. Seriously, there is someone who the newspapers are willing to use as a source who claims the plane flew for hours after loss of contact; how is a "GPS pinger" not going to be embroiled in the same clusterfuck? Between primary radar, secondary radar and ACARS there is already plenty of position reporting for this aircraft, why would this hypothetical device be any more reliable?

BTW there's nothing in the aircraft that cannot be turned off—period. Even the CVR and the FDR have circuit breakers; there is zero hardware that you will be able to certify to fly on a plane that is always-on. So if communication was lost intentionally, same result. Catastrophic electrical failure, same result. Breakup of the airframe, same result. We don't have a damn clue which of these scenarios actually happened, so it's awfully premature to feel vindicated that your hypothetical solution would actually solve a problem when we don't know what that problem is yet.

This situation is overall ridiculous and has nothing to do with a lack of hardware on the plane.
posted by kiltedtaco at 5:47 AM on March 14 [11 favorites]


More generally: what the hell is with these reports of transmissions after 01:07L. Boeing, RR, and the NTSB all say there were no transmissions after 01:07. This is completely crazy if some unnamed source has information that the NTSB doesn't, or it's outrageously reprehensible for the news outlets to be reporting this if it's not true. If you're going to directly contradict the NTSB on an event that killed 239 people, you better have a damn good reason.
posted by kiltedtaco at 6:02 AM on March 14 [2 favorites]


kiltedtaco,
the WSJ mixed it up, it was not the engine that sent out data. The WSJ published a correction, it says: "The investigators believe the plane flew for a total of up to five hours, according to these people, based on analysis of signals sent by the Boeing 777's satellite-communication link designed to automatically transmit the status of certain onboard systems to the ground." (emphasis mine)
And further: "[...] the link operated in a kind of standby mode and sought to establish contact with a satellite or satellites. These transmissions did not include data, they said, but the periodic contacts indicate to investigators that the plane was still intact and believed to be flying."
And even further: "An earlier version of this article and an accompanying graphic incorrectly said investigators based their suspicions on signals from monitoring systems embedded in the plane's Rolls-Royce PLC engines and described that process."

There are some pings of data - might be just passive - that were picked up by military radars along the coast. Detailed map of radar pings with corresponding flight path. It's confusing and unclear if this are the transmissions WSJ was talking about or some additional contact.
posted by travelwithcats at 6:22 AM on March 14


They are splitting hairs -- there were no successful ACARS transmissions, but there were connections to the satellite that is used to send ACARS transmissions. So Boeing, Rolls Royce, and the airline never got a normal ACARS message through on their networks, but the satellite operator can see the "pings."

I don't think the press releases are contradictory, just incomplete.

The satellite operator in this case is Inmarsat but we haven't heard anything directly from them.
posted by miyabo at 6:49 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]


Inmarsat has released a statement:
14 March 2014: Inmarsat has issued the following statement regarding Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.

Routine, automated signals were registered on the Inmarsat network from Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 during its flight from Kuala Lumpur.

This information was provided to our partner SITA, which in turn has shared it with Malaysia Airlines.

For further information, please contact Malaysia Airlines.
posted by devinemissk at 7:00 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]


Reuters and Guardian are reporting that India is searching the Andaman Islands using heat-seeking devices on planes and helicopters. They would also search in a new area along the Chennai coast in the Bay of Bengal.
posted by travelwithcats at 7:13 AM on March 14


So theft is back on the table?
posted by vibrotronica at 7:37 AM on March 14


The latest from James Fallows, a reporter who is also a pilot: "explosion now is much less likely; deliberate destruction, by crew or attackers, more so"
posted by exogenous at 7:45 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]


So if communication was lost intentionally, same result. Catastrophic electrical failure, same result. Breakup of the airframe, same result. We don't have a damn clue which of these scenarios actually happened, so it's awfully premature to feel vindicated that your hypothetical solution would actually solve a problem when we don't know what that problem is yet.

Two separate communications systems were turned off at different times, the transponder and the radio. The sat com stayed on a while too. This indicates no catastrophic breakup killing the electrical system all at once.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:47 AM on March 14


I just wanted to thank everybody for their intelligent contributions to this thread because if not for this, I would be going down the rabbit hole of every single crackpot theory rather than just checking this daily. You are truly putting the "Filter" in MetaFilter in the best possible way.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 8:48 AM on March 14 [33 favorites]


This indicates no catastrophic breakup killing the electrical system all at once.

Not really, though. The "event" could have been progressive, and the transponders were not turned off, but failed as the event got worse.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:51 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]


The available data on this is totally contradictory, so I think it's way too early to start ruling out scenarios. The ABC report says that (presumably) ACARS was turned off at 1:07L, and the transponder turned off at 1:21L, but every other report has said that radar contact was lost at 1:07L. There's also an ambiguity with turning ACARS off; did it transmit a signal indicating it was being turned off, or are they just reporting the time of the last transmission, after which it could have remained on and just not transmitting. And as I've said before, there is very little confirmation of the satcom reports and many sources denying that anything was received after 1:07L.
posted by kiltedtaco at 9:00 AM on March 14 [3 favorites]


One other thing (finally): Apparently international flights have to have an emergency locator transmitter that signals the SARSAT system on 406 MHz. It's supposed to be installed in the airplane tail and activate automatically on contact with water. Does anyone know why it wouldn't have worked in this case? Or why it didn't work on Air France 447?

I believe that the Air France flight had something like that but because it crashed in such deep water, it required nuclear submarines and other specialised submersibles to locate the signal.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 9:04 AM on March 14


Thanks kiltedtaco I was starting to get confused as to whether we actually knew they had been turned off or just that the signal was lost at some point.

So essentially, we know absolutely nothing at all except the plane took off.
posted by sio42 at 9:06 AM on March 14 [5 favorites]


It is a very short timeline of known events, yes.
posted by mazola at 9:11 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]


So essentially, we know absolutely nothing at all except the plane took off.

And that contact was lost shortly after singing off with the Malaysian ATC.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:16 AM on March 14


So essentially, we know absolutely nothing at all except the plane took off.

As far as aircraft movement and communications goes. Information verified by the Malaysian-led group in charge of SAR and proto-investigation: We know it took off and that all contact was lost at 1:21. No debris has been found. The Emergency Location Transmitter has not activated. A radar contact was spotted that could be the aircraft.

Since there has been basically no new verified information for a while now, media has turned to anonymous sources who are brazen to flaunt ICAO conventions on crisis communication and has interpreted any statements to well beyond recognition.
posted by Authorized User at 9:17 AM on March 14 [6 favorites]


why would [a GPS pinger] actually behave any better than, say, radar, which requires zero hardware on board the aircraft to work

A GPS pinger would help in a lot of cases, including maybe this one. ATC radar generally relies on an active transponder on the aircraft responding to pings. Radar works without the transponder, but not nearly as well (no altitude, no plane identity, less accurate position). Radar coverage is also limited to line of sight, which works out to about 100 miles from land in most cases. There's lots of radar holes over water, also low in mountainous terrain. Military radar has better coverage, it's designed to find aircraft that are not looking to be seen, but it's not perfect. Finally, radar is a per-country system, a GPS pinger would be a centralized system whose data goes straight to the air carrier or the public.

You're absolutely right that a GPS pinger could be turned off just like the transponder and voice radios apparently were on MH370. I like the idea of an isolated GPS transmitter that can't be disabled, but it seems very unlikely. Aviation assumes you trust the pilot; no one seriously considers systems for doing something with a plane that's being flown by an untrusted pilot. Which is what makes hijacking so dangerous; there's very little anyone outside the plane can do.

I went researching the AF447 ELT, even scanned the final BEA report, but couldn't find a satisfactory discussion. The ELT apparently didn't work on impact. The report does recommend in future emergencies that the ELT be manually activated by the pilots; I don't think that's been adopted, and it's not clear it's even practical. ELTs are not completely reliable of course, and I imagine they work particularly poorly underwater. Whatever the case, all reports indicate MH370's ELT didn't activate. (ELTs can be disabled from the cockpit, at least in little non-commercial aircraft.)

Today's anonymous reports that the plane was flying navigation fixes is interesting. Flying airways requires a GPS receiver or at least a VOR receiver to find them. If the plane was accurately flying airways that'd make complete electrical failure unlikely. (Even if the pilots had a handheld backup in the cockpit, I can't imagine a pilot choosing that route in an emergency for which they are in control.)
posted by Nelson at 9:18 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]


1) Turning off the transponder or any other transmitter is trivial. There are switches to do just that, plus circuit breakers. If the story that the ACARS stopped some minutes after the transponder, that's evidence for human action turning them off.

2) ATC adars work with the transponder. The radar scans, sending a beam of RF energy out. This bounces off the skin of the aircraft and is reflected back to the radar. The radar knows what direction the beam was pointing, and knows how long the beam took to be transmitted, reflected and returned, that gives the radar the distance. This is known as the primary return, and all radars have it.

The transponder* on the plane senses the radar beam and the *transmits* a message. This is picked up by a different antenna on the radar. On the very common ASR-11, the beam energy is picked up by the parabolic antenna, while the transponder's signal is picked up by the flat antenna on top. The primary return, or "skin return" needs the gain and narrow beam width of the parabolic antenna for two reasons. First, because that energy travels twice as far (out and back), it is four times weaker, plus most of the beam energy misses the plane and doesn't come back. Secondly, a wide beam width means the plane is somewhere in that beam, so a narrow beam makes the radar's position report more accurate. The transponder receiver's antenna on the ground has to have a wider beam because it take a tiny fraction of the second for the transponder to actually respond, at long range, the primary beam might not have it in view any longer.

The basic transponder return is a four octal digit code, ranging from 0000 to 7777. Mode C transponders provide the plane pressure altitude, a computer on the ground links the transponder code and pressure reading to a screen, where it then puts the flight number (it knows, say, that AA1186 is on 3471) and the altitude. Mode S transponders provide indicated air speed, plane's rate of altitude change, position, and other details. The ground radar integrates position over time to get ground speed, and altitude over time to see if the plane is climbing or descending, the speed and a climb/descend indication are then added to the standard data block next to the primary return "bilp" on the ATC radar screen. The block looks like this.

AA1886 48
348 ^24
S270N30 H187

This translates to:

HI! I'm American Airlines Flight 1886, and my speed-over-ground is 480 knots
I'm at FL348 (34,800 feet) and I'm climbing at 2400 FPM
I'm set to fly at FLY370, my indicated air speed is 300 knots and I'm flying at 187 degrees.

Turning off the transponder means that the plane's reported altitude and indicated airspeed will disappear. Furthermore, since the transponder's code disappears as well, the ability for the computer to link that blip to that flight number goes away as well. The radar still see the primary skin paint, and can still integrate ground speed. The trace will indicate direction, but altitude information is gone.

All radars have a primary return. You can see airplanes on weather radars, you just can't track them well because the radar turns too slowly. Turning off the transponder doesn't make the skin return go away. Integrating the transponder's info with the primary return is called "secondary surveillance radar," with the secondary data being the transponder's response.

FlightAware and other sites use the Mode S broadcast to get position, altitude, airspeed, heading, etc., but they're not radars -- they're listening for the transponder info and plotting it. They need a radar *somewhere* to scan that plane and trigger the response, but they don't need to be at the radar to hear it, they can then get the position/speed/altitude/heading data from the Mode S data block.

So, when you turn off a transponder, you lose most of the data block on an ATC radar, and anybody tracking via Mode S transponder returns will lose the plane entirely. But the ATC radar still sees the plane.

This is the thing bothering me. When a transponder goes away, an indicator on the blip appears. It's an odd thing to happen. A controller seeing it would be paying attention to that blip. And, if that plane then turned, he would see the plane turn.

Yet, nothing about that came out for days. Another mystery.


* Transponder: Trasmission Responder, which is what it does. It responds when it detects a certain transmission.
posted by eriko at 9:21 AM on March 14 [34 favorites]


If the story that the ACARS stopped some minutes after the transponder, that's evidence for human action turning them off.

How so? Could it not have been a technological problem that just got worse?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:23 AM on March 14


Possible flight path plotted according to data from military radars

That's…odd. It's zig-zagging, and yet, it's hitting waypoints?

If it's a hijacker, it's a hijacker who knows how to fly -- that is, not only keep the plane in the air, but use the nav systems to go to a certain point. The chances of hitting four waypoints in the sky by simply flying random turns is astronomical.
posted by eriko at 9:23 AM on March 14


A GPS pinger would help in a lot of cases, including maybe this one. ATC radar generally relies on an active transponder on the aircraft responding to pings.

The aircraft also had an ADS-B system that broadcasts it's location on open frequencies and was well within range of receivers, I dont' see what kind of functionality a hypothetical GPS pinger would have over that.

Flying airways requires a GPS receiver or at least a VOR receiver to find them.

No, airplanes have inertial navigation systems, but yes if the plane was indeed flying on an air route, that would indicate someone was in control.
posted by Authorized User at 9:24 AM on March 14


If it's a hijacker, it's a hijacker who knows how to fly

Not necessarily. If you put a gun to a pilot's head, he might fly wherever you tell him to fly.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:25 AM on March 14


The latest from James Fallows, a reporter who is also a pilot: "explosion now is much less likely; deliberate destruction, by crew or attackers, more so"

I can't disagree. Transponder off, flying all over the sky to waypoints, and then trying to fly to a destination? If the flight track report is true (IF, KIDS, IF, NEVER FORGET THE IF) then the plane clearly flew far beyond the point that the plane when RF quiet, and apparently with purpose.
posted by eriko at 9:26 AM on March 14


Who would receive the GPS's reports?

The tragedy has been the disappearance of the plane, but since that moment the problem has entirely been one of communication and coordination between authorities. Years from now it might be revealed that Chinese, Vietnam or Malaysian air authorities had been sitting on data without sharing it, or had been receiving signals from the plane but not logging it, or had deleted their logs.

There should already have been multiple signaling systems that would have reported things but haven't. Another device that should have been sending a signal but didn't wouldn't have helped.
posted by ardgedee at 9:27 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]


Slate: How To Steal An Airliner
posted by vibrotronica at 9:30 AM on March 14


WSJ story on a young family on board the flight.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:30 AM on March 14


Apparently, it is also possible to switch off the satellite communication. This did not happen at the time the plane vanished from civilian radars. Now, did it switch off after the 4+ hour flight due to the plane powering down or because it was turned off intentionally?

There are several airports in Andaman and Nicobar Islands, only one (IXZ) is open and operated by the Indian Navy. IXZ has a runway of 3,290 m (10,794 ft).
The other airport, CBD, has a runway of 2,717m (8,914ft). Theoretically, both would be long enough for landing a 777, which needs (at max. landing weight) a runway of 8,000ft. The other two airports have shorter runways.

If the signal the military radars picked up was indeed MH370, it's interesting that all of the other countries involved let an unidentified aircraft pass through.
posted by travelwithcats at 9:31 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]


Flying airways requires a GPS receiver or at least a VOR receiver to find them. GPS, VOR, or Inertial guidance, all of which a B777 flying oceanic would have. Indeed, the whole thing would be integrated into a flight management systems. You could even punch in a series of waypoints and then tell the autopilot to fly the plane between them.

The ability to fly without VOR air routes is called "RNAV*" -- instead of flying between beacons, you flight from waypoint to waypoint. To do so, you need to know where the waypoints are, and you need to know, at all times, where *you* are.

RNAV routes aren't uncommon over land**, and are basically the default over ocean. I suppose a B777 could be delivered that wasn't capable of RNAV, but I doubt it's ever happened. Every modern airliners has RNAV on board.


* Originally "Random Navigation", but now, it's called "Area navigation."

** Many of the northern Transcon routes in the US are RNAV, because of the mountains in the west and the Great Lakes, beacon airways are thin. Being able to scoot across the lakes off the beacons makes it much easier to avoid weather.
posted by eriko at 9:32 AM on March 14 [2 favorites]


travelwithcats: "If the signal the military radars picked up was indeed MH370, it's interesting that all of the other countries involved let an unidentified aircraft pass through."

This is the part that I don't get. Regardless of all the transponders/signal doohickys on the plane itself, it's pretty nerve wracking to think a huge plane can fly for any period of time on/over/or even near a landmass without someone tracking it and asking questions.
posted by Big_B at 9:40 AM on March 14 [2 favorites]


This is the part that I don't get. Regardless of all the transponders/signal doohickys on the plane itself, it's pretty nerve wracking to think a huge plane can fly for any period of time on/over/or even near a landmass without someone tracking it and asking questions.

On the afore-mentioned pilot rumor network, there were some comments about how possible that indeed is in that area of the world. I guess we westerners have gotten used to a much-more controlled airspace as a legacy of the cold war.
posted by Authorized User at 9:52 AM on March 14


Yes, pedants, an inertial navigation system would work for that waypoint navigation in addition to GPS or VOR. INS is an electrical system too. My point is if that plane flew those airways, then the electronic navigation equipment was most likely working. Also goes without saying, that's not a route you voluntarily fly. If that route report is accurate, some sort of hijacking seems much more likely.

BTW, this version of the map (from this blog) is the best I've seen in that it's drawn on top of an aviation map with the intersections marked. Here's a map I plotted of the route on Skyvector's charts; the high airways view shows the intersections. I'm refraining from speculating on these routes because I don't really understand high airways or international routing. One thing I'd love to know is if the plane actually hit those points or just got kind of near them; that makes all the difference.
posted by Nelson at 9:53 AM on March 14 [4 favorites]


WSJ's Andy Pasztor, the guy who broke the story about the plane flying for hours, said yesterday it could have landed. 6:29 radio interview.
posted by travelwithcats at 9:55 AM on March 14


I suspect that since the radar data has not been released to the public and the original news article simply included waypoints with which the radar contact lined up with, those maps are actually made by linking those waypoints on the map and that's why they match, instead of the tracked contact matching the waypoints exactly.
posted by Authorized User at 9:56 AM on March 14 [2 favorites]


Obviously these new updates, if true, raise a lot of questions about possible plane theft/hijacking. Are the previous ideas about electrical failure/depressurization/hypoxia ruled out? Is there any chance that after some sort of mechanical failure (at/after 1.07?), and in a confused state, the pilots tried to revert course back towards Malaysia using autopilot and waypoints, but got the direction somewhat wrong? Or does the new information (if accurate!) really strongly deliberate and conscious flight westwards towards waypoints, and human rather than mechanical means?
posted by ClaireBear at 9:57 AM on March 14


Is there a source for transcripts of the official press conferences? They are somewhat hard to follow and long as is.
posted by Authorized User at 10:07 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]


Well, if you are looking on your radar logs for an airplane, and there is some probability you will interpret a blip from another airplane as the one you want, then most of your false positives are going to be on heavily used routes. These people are under a lot of pressure to find any blips that might be the right plane but they may just be looking at other planes with no transponder data. So I wouldn't necessarily believe the waypoint stuff.
posted by miyabo at 10:08 AM on March 14


The possibility that the plane was flown by waypoints for several hours is interesting given that contact was lost at a waypoint. If true (and it may well just be an artefact of how the information was released) it would be highly suggestive. Were this kind of navigation intended from the start then this would not be a coincidence, and whoever turned off communication and made the change of course must have been somehow in control some deal of time before the waypoint.
posted by Thing at 10:16 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]


Thing, could you elaborate on your last sentence a bit?
posted by ClaireBear at 10:18 AM on March 14


Possible flight path plotted according to data from military radars

That's…odd. It's zig-zagging, and yet, it's hitting waypoints?

If it's a hijacker, it's a hijacker who knows how to fly -- that is, not only keep the plane in the air, but use the nav systems to go to a certain point. The chances of hitting four waypoints in the sky by simply flying random turns is astronomical.


Having sat in the cockpit of an aircraft in flight for several hours, I learned that there are literally roads in the sky and intersections where these airways meet. So you fly to one, then turn up another airway and then fly to another. Its not really zig-zagging, its going from one intersection to the other. Air traffic control usually routes you on which airway, which altitude and which waypoint you are headed for.

This could mean they wanted to appear like a random flight to air defense radars.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:25 AM on March 14 [2 favorites]


Is there any chance that after some sort of mechanical failure (at/after 1.07?), and in a confused state, the pilots tried to revert course back towards Malaysia using autopilot and waypoints, but got the direction somewhat wrong?

It would have been very wrong. It would be obvious what to go for -- WMKN, Sultan Mahmud airport at Kuala Terengganu, which has an 11,400' runway pointing in from the ocean, so you don't even have to worry about minimum safe altitude. If that was too far, the 6800 foot runway at WMKC, Sultan Ismail Petra Airport at Kota Bharu, would be closest that they could confidently land on, but Narathiwat wouldn't be much farther and have 7000' of runway to work with.

It would be very unusual to program waypoints in a diversion situation. You'd punch up an airport and hit "direct." If (again, IF) they flew those waypoints, it's because they didn't want to land in Malaysia or Thailand. And since those aren't VOR intersections, the only way you could fly them is with RNAV.

Well, if you are looking on your radar logs for an airplane, and there is some probability you will interpret a blip from another airplane as the one you want, then most of your false positives are going to be on heavily used routes

Except look at the high altitude chart. That line of waypoints isn't on a route, it's crossing lots of routes. It's only at the end that it looks like it's trying to head at least somewhat in the general direction of the traffic, roughly along the P628 airway.

Indeed, it sort of looks like they were trying (or trying to make) people think that first, they were going for Banda Aceh in Jarkarta, then they turn towards Phuket in Thailand, then towards Port Blair (VOPB).

If that's the case and they were trying to steal the airplane, I would take a look at Car Nicobar AFB (VOCX). If they drop low at IGRX, they might drop off Jarkart/Thailand/Malaysia radar, then a turn to the left and make for Car Nicobar. Issue: It's a military airport, an Indian Air Force base.
posted by eriko at 10:26 AM on March 14


There is an Indian military base located on the Andaman Islands. One of the outposts is located on the Strait of Malacca. Hopefully their radar can provide some insight.
posted by feloniousmonk at 10:31 AM on March 14


Thing, could you elaborate on your last sentence a bit?

Thinking about it a little more, I don't think that it is quite right that whoever made the course change must have been in control for some time before the communications were turned off. The turning off and reaching the waypoint were several minutes apart, not at the exact same time. However, if the person making the course change meant to navigate by waypoints then it is a coincidence that they took over just before the plane was to hit one on its route.
posted by Thing at 10:36 AM on March 14


There's a nice runway on Greater Coco Island.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 10:39 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]


But also, Thing, didn't the turning off of the transponder and the shift westwards occur not only near a waypoint but also between the Malaysian and Vietnamese (?) air traffic control boundaries - right after the pilot had said goodbye to the Malaysian one and before entering the Vietnamese airspace? In other words, it seems that it would be a natural place to disappear if one wanted to disappear and were well-versed in commercial flying? (I might have mangled the details here, and if so, apologies - I'm doing my best to follow the news of this situation intensely, but I know *nothing* about planes!)
posted by ClaireBear at 10:40 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]


Yes, it would mean that if the plane was not hijacked by its pilots then whoever did hijack it had some existing knowledge of flying and technical details of the flight. The timing was not random but coincided with the steps that would need to be taken for the following part of the flight. Unless they "lucked out" the hijackers knew when to make a move.

Of course, this all still assumes some kind of hijacking, which might not be the case.
posted by Thing at 10:49 AM on March 14


Yes, contact was lost between Malaysian & Vietnamese airspace. Info if it was intentionally or not, was not released to the public.
posted by travelwithcats at 10:50 AM on March 14


Satellite Firm Says Its Data From Jet Could Offer Location - NYT

tl;dr: Location triangulation is possible using the Inmarsat ping logs.
posted by mwhybark at 10:51 AM on March 14 [2 favorites]


Doesn't that assume that when it stopped pinging it stopped flying and didn't continue on, pingless?
posted by symbioid at 10:52 AM on March 14


qII, looks like that runway is about 1500 meters. is that long enough? Also, surely someone's checked there. Surely. Surely?
posted by mwhybark at 10:55 AM on March 14


At this point, any hard evidence would help. Even if the plane took off again.
posted by travelwithcats at 10:56 AM on March 14


It sounds like the Inmarsat data could also help reconstruct a more complete flight path, including where the plane went in the several hours it was out of radar range but still pinging the satellite. If nothing else, that would lead to a much smaller search radius based on how much fuel would have been left after the last triangulated location.
posted by stopgap at 10:57 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]


Doesn't that assume that when it stopped pinging it stopped flying and didn't continue on, pingless?

No, because the only data derivable is the location of the a/c at the time of data transmission and receipt. If that coincides with the non-traveling position of the plane, great. But it seems more likely to just provide flight track data rather than final location.
posted by mwhybark at 10:58 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]


Onion: Malaysia Airlines Expands Investigation To Include General Scope Of Space, Time
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 11:05 AM on March 14 [6 favorites]


To begin answering my own question about runway length, it does appear 1500m is long enough at sea level to both land and take off with a 777 under lighter loads. perhaps eriko can more closely parse the data, presented in this Boeing technical document.
posted by mwhybark at 11:07 AM on March 14


Sky News now reporting that automated pings were received by Immarsat satellites for a full five hours after disappearance.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:08 AM on March 14


I would have thought a stolen airliner would be essentially unsaleable, much like a stolen van Gogh--except that a reclusive billionaire couldn't keep it in his basement.

Like I mentioned earlier, I think there are a lot of better ways to get a 777 cheaply than stealing it...especially as you don't really want 240 murder counts on your head(s) if/when they catch you. And if you don't plan on killing the hostages, you don't want to babysit 240 people, either.

There is no stolen scenario which doesn't make more sense to accomplish another way. Even if you don't purchase the rotting remains of a bankrupt airline, you could start a new one (cargo, preferably), lease a 777, send it off for "paint" or whatever, and never make a payment. Big business has shown that you need to invest very little of your own money to make this happen. Hell, make some podunk town your airline's new home base and you can probably get the local council to kick in the money to start it.

You can, in true spy-thriller fashion, then decide that they thieves really wanted a person or persons on-board, or an item the plane was carrying. Again, this is the riskiest way to accomplish that goal, perhaps with the exception of kidnapping a large group of people--maybe someone needed a team of calligraphers? An item so valuable that it was under intense security to the point this was the easiest way to get it would not have been on a flight like this.

Which isn't to say none of this is possible, it's just really unlikely.
posted by maxwelton at 11:13 AM on March 14 [3 favorites]


To begin answering my own question about runway length, it does appear 1500m is long enough at sea level to both land and take off with a 777 under lighter loads

Yes, but that's assuming you land right at the landing end. Any drift down the runway before touchdown and you go long.

Looking at a sat image of that runway, I'd be loathe to try. It's narrow, short, and there's nowhere to really run off the runway. You either stick it or you die. The only reason you'd even try is if the only other option is "or die."
posted by eriko at 11:14 AM on March 14 [2 favorites]


mwhybark I can't locate the link again but I was reading an airline pilot saying he'd take anything over 5000 ft in 777 emergency. 1500 meters is 4921 feet more or less. In the typical manner of this incident, it was reported that Myanmar had leased the island to the Chinese, who were building an airstrip. Both governments have since denied there is an agreement.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 11:17 AM on March 14 [2 favorites]


The Great Coco Island airbase is in Burmese territory, is reportedly 1400m, and has been alleged by Indian sources to be a Chinese military base, but these allegations were withdrawn by India in 2005 (PDF, pg. 9 as paginated, p. 13 as rendered in PDF viewer).
posted by mwhybark at 11:18 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]


A 727 was once apparently stolen.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:27 AM on March 14 [3 favorites]


Why is one obscure airstrip in the Andamans interesting? The plane had fuel to fly to most of India, or Sri Lanka, or Tibet, or China, or Bhutan. No pilot in distress would fly to a 5000' airstrip in the middle of an ocean in an emergency, they'd pick one of many fine airports nearby in Malaysia. Again, if that published route is accurate, the next obvious question is what the Indian radar in the Andamans saw. Maybe we'll find out eventually, no doubt through a leak.

MH370 Mystery Points To Need For Better Aircraft Tracking: industry magazine Aviation Week talks in detail about various in-flight reporting options including future work on satellite tracking. Page 1 is dull, gets detailed on 2 and 3.
posted by Nelson at 11:39 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]


Amateur use of nightsat thermal source detection, posted Thursday 3/13, and currently making the rounds on FB.
posted by mwhybark at 11:46 AM on March 14


Why is one obscure airstrip in the Andamans interesting?

Just cuz quonsar noticed it was there, so I did the legwork.
posted by mwhybark at 11:48 AM on March 14 [3 favorites]


So my question in all of this, as the mystery deepens: How many screenwriters are now pounding out action/adventure thrillers based on the idea of some group stealing a large commercial airplane while it is in flight?
posted by nubs at 11:50 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]


I'm just sorta depressed by the thought of those people being terrified for 4-5 hours before dying, rather than just "what was that noise?" followed by darkness.
posted by aramaic at 11:53 AM on March 14 [30 favorites]


aramaic, I'm musing about screenplays because your line of thought was the first one I had and I didn't want to be on it any longer.
posted by nubs at 11:55 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]


I just keep having thoughts of Lost because I don't really have anything else to relate it. Robinson Crusoe maybe.

Those aren't likely of course. Which makes this all the stranger.

It's as if the plane disintegrated.
posted by sio42 at 11:56 AM on March 14


I agree with maxwelton in that there are many compelling counter-arguments to the theft scenario. And yet, here we are.

Since we're already through the looking glass, here are some more possibilities:

1. The DB Cooper Scenario: The hijackers never had any intention of setting the plane down. They flew over the Andaman Islands at low altitude, bail out, and leave the plane and passengers to fly on to their doom deep in the Indian Ocean and distracting the search parties long enough to make a clean getaway. Why would someone do this? A) Simple terrorism. As we have seen, the vanishing airplane is good publicity, and terrorism is essentially a PR stunt. B) Kidnapping a specific individual. Good luck keeping track of him/her after you push them out the back door over a jungle at 3 AM. C) Stealing high value object. The valuable object would have to be in the cabin and not in the cargo hold, which seems unlikely. All told, chances of success also seem pretty freaking low. You'd have to smuggle one or more parachutes onboard the plane for starters.

2. Mass Kidnapping Scenario: The kidnappers have already contacted the authorities with ransom demands. The authorities are keeping it secret, which might explain some of the confusion and contradictory information we've been hearing. Why would the authorities keep it a secret? What other signs would we look for if this scenario is actually happening?

3. Massive Terrorist Screwup: Other scenarios depend on competent and well-prepared terrorists. Maybe they had something else in mind, lost control of the plane, and it flew off into oblivion.
posted by vibrotronica at 11:57 AM on March 14 [3 favorites]


aramaic, that seems like the least likely scenario to me. Given 4-5 hours of everyone being awake, alive and hijacked, I have to believe that someone's cell phone would have worked, even for a few minutes.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:57 AM on March 14 [3 favorites]


How many screenwriters are now pounding out action/adventure thrillers based on the idea of some group stealing a large commercial airplane while it is in flight?

(I am actually a screenwriter working on a script right now, so I'm in a mode of gaming out possible endings to stories. I apologize to everyone if I'm being overbearing or inappropriate with my rampant speculation. On edit, my script has nothing to do with airline hijacking.)
posted by vibrotronica at 11:59 AM on March 14


Lithium battery theory
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:59 AM on March 14


I'm just sorta depressed by the thought of those people being terrified for 4-5 hours before dying, rather than just "what was that noise?" followed by darkness.


This. Six days ago or so, I couldn't have imagined that "something happened that caused everybody to die onboard immediately" would be the best case scenario as to what happened. But yet that's what I keep coming back to.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:14 PM on March 14 [12 favorites]


Lithium battery theory

So what precisely is that theory?
posted by mazola at 12:17 PM on March 14


For more explanation on the lithium-ion battery issue.
posted by nubs at 12:21 PM on March 14


>> Lithium battery theory
> So what precisely is that theory?


It's a non-starter of a theory. Here it is, in full:

As part of the investigation, officials are looking into concerns that lithium batteries in the cargo hold, which have been blamed in previous crashes, could have played a role in the disappearance, according to U.S. officials briefed on the latest intelligence and law enforcement developments in the investigation. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release details to the media.

They'd be stupid not to "look into concerns", but this isn't actually a theory or anything.
posted by RedOrGreen at 12:22 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]


How many screenwriters are now pounding out action/adventure thrillers based on the idea of some group stealing a large commercial airplane while it is in flight?

What the hell, just reboot Airport '77.
posted by mazola at 1:15 PM on March 14 [3 favorites]


I would have thought a stolen airliner would be essentially unsaleable, much like a stolen van Gogh--except that a reclusive billionaire couldn't keep it in his basement.

Well, as long as we're on the subject of theft: Would someone (maybe a company or country) be interested in stealing the plane to reverse engineer the technology for their own aviation program?
posted by FJT at 1:22 PM on March 14


I have been thinking a lot about John Varley's story, "Air Raid" (novelized and crappily filmed as Millennium). Blaming time travelers from a dystopian future is probably still not likely, though.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:24 PM on March 14 [4 favorites]


What the...? Nobody is going to steal a plane for anything except terrorism purposes. You can just buy one yourself if you're a company or country with an aviation program.
posted by Justinian at 1:26 PM on March 14 [4 favorites]


Or it could be: attempted hijacking; plane heads for intended target; passengers/pilots revolt and bring down plane in god knows where. Ultimately, I don't think there's any way the plane and passengers are still around.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 1:40 PM on March 14 [2 favorites]


(Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates, the United 93 scenario seems like the most likely to me.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:44 PM on March 14 [2 favorites]


My crazy theory of the moment is that Malaysia's central bank was using this flight to make a regular shipment of a few pallets of currency (RMB, Dollars or Euros) to China. Someone found out about the shipments and stole the plane to get the money. I call this the "Cliffhanger theory."
posted by humanfont at 1:46 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]


If it turns out that Kim Jong Un kidnapped a shit ton of people in order to hold them hostage to the world, well, that'd just suck.
posted by symbioid at 1:49 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]


If it turns out that Kim Jong Un kidnapped a shit ton of people in order to hold them hostage to the world, well, that'd just suck.

Why wait a week, or at this point, longer?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:51 PM on March 14 [2 favorites]


You can just buy one yourself if you're a company or country with an aviation program

But, you'd still be reliant on a foreign manufacturer. Not only for parts, but probably for servicing, maintenance, and expertise.

And, if I buy a car, I can take it a part and do whatever I want with it. If someone bought a Boeing, do they have the same ability to take it a part and do whatever with it? Doesn't it come with certain obligations and legal promises not to do that sort of thing?

Also, the large airline industry is basically a duopoly between Boeing and Airbus. They sold $423 billion worth of jets last year. I'm sure there's a lot of non-American and non-European manufacturers that want to compete.

Eh, everyone has a crazy theory. This one's mine.
posted by FJT at 1:54 PM on March 14


It's hard to see what the purpose could have been, though. The only obvious target in that direction with a history of high profile terrorism is India, and why would you hijack a plane in Malaysia for that? For that amount of effort, you could hijack one a lot closer, and thus have a full load of fuel. Planes aren't actually great weapons when mostly empty. If the plane itself was the target, for hostages, terrorists generally would announce that so as to, y'know, provide terror. If someone just wanted to steal a plane you can rent one a lot cheaper, and it's hard to imagine there is any person or item on board sufficiently valuable to justify non-ideological theft.
posted by tavella at 1:57 PM on March 14


Alternate theory #3134 (aka 'Grand Unified Theory'): Plane is hijacked and taken off course to destination/purpose unknown. Unrelated, a lithium battery explodes in cargo rupturing the air frame, causing a slow decompression that incapacitates hijackers before their plan is complete. Plane continues on pilotless until ultimately hit by a meteor. Sharknado.
posted by mazola at 2:07 PM on March 14 [20 favorites]


Sharp Changes in Altitude and Course After Jet Lost Contact
Investigators have also examined data transmitted from the plane’s Rolls-Royce engines that shows it descending 40,000 feet in the space of a minute, according to a senior American official briefed on the investigation. But investigators do not believe the readings are accurate because the aircraft would likely haven taken longer to fall such a distance.

“A lot of stock cannot be put in the altitude data” sent from the engines, one official said. “A lot of this doesn’t make sense.”
posted by stopgap at 2:10 PM on March 14


Doesn't it come with certain obligations and legal promises not to do that sort of thing?

If you're prepared to kidnap & possibly murder a couple hundred people, being sued for IP infringement is a (very) small potato. Especially if you're a nation-state, because then you can pretty much ignore IP infringement entirely.
posted by aramaic at 2:12 PM on March 14


“A lot of this doesn’t make sense.”

Understatement of 2014.
posted by mazola at 2:12 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]


For reference, falling 40,000 feet in under a minute is a minimum speed of about 450 mph, which would be consistent with a pilot suicide intentional dive or a United 93 scenario. It's not like it doesn't make sense because it's faster than a 777 can fly.
posted by stopgap at 2:13 PM on March 14


Yeah, a plane would take much longer than a minute to fall 40,000 feet. The question is how long a deliberate powered dive from 40,000 feet would take. That's just under 700 feet a second. Which is rather a lot but I have no idea if its too much for a powered dive or not.
posted by Justinian at 2:15 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]


According to an article in the International Business Times:

The missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 was equipped with four life rafts, enough to carry up to 290 people, and had sufficient stocks of food that would enable those on board the aircraft to survive for a week, said a representative of the airline.
posted by FJT at 2:21 PM on March 14


Well, that's suitably horrifying. (NYTimes article, not about the provisions)
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:22 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]


And for comparison: "The National Transportation Safety Board reported that [United 93] impacted at 563 mph (906 km/h, 252 m/s, or 489 knots) at a 40-degree nose-down, inverted attitude." At 40 degrees, I'd imagine it would take a lot longer than minute to descend 40,000 feet. I have no idea how a plane would react when pointed straight down.
posted by stopgap at 2:25 PM on March 14


What if the engine just fell off?
posted by empath at 2:30 PM on March 14


Is it even possible to pull out of a dive like that? I don't know if "flying under the radar" is even a thing with modern radar, but if so and if that's a controllable dive (and if the 40k ft dive is accurate) maybe someone was trying to do that.
posted by jason_steakums at 2:32 PM on March 14


Having worked a lot with thermal hotspot data, I don't think it's going to be that reliable for that purpose - although the author of that blog post has made a decent effort to be as thorough as possible. Basically, fires in the jungle are usually just fires in the jungle, due to human wood harvesting activity. You could pick any random night in the year and find hotspots that are sitting under flight paths.
posted by Jimbob at 2:35 PM on March 14


I think a falling engine without any drag or lift from wings would take about 50 seconds to fall 40,000 feet. I doubt the terminal velocity of a tumbling engine would take off too much from that time. I don't know what it would take for an engine to fall off, but didn't one fall off the plane that crashed in Queens in 2001? I would think a powered dive is more likely, but it sounds like investigators have ruled that out based on their data.
posted by stopgap at 2:39 PM on March 14


North Korea and Malaysia actually have pretty friendly bilateral relationships.

I did wonder about lithium ion batteries after having read Mark Dunn's American Decameron where those batteries are a plot point (someone runs with batteries and keys in the same pocket: the friction creates a fire, causing in what looks like spontaneous combustion). If I'd have a pet crazy theory it'd be that one.

Am now fielding questions about Saajid Badat's connection to this.

Authorized User: My collaborator and I are working on getting transcripts of the press conferences - we've just managed to find recordings of them, but they can be cumbersome to transcribe.
posted by divabat at 2:40 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]


I predict that the accident will turn out to be due to pilot error (not following standard procedures or failing to properly notice/respond to the situation) combined with a mechanical or systems failure caused by a manufacturing defect, improper maintenance, or substandard repairs.

I don't see any need to jump straight to OMG TERRORISM or crazy Tom Clancy plots until the black boxes are found and investigators rule out the above based on their data analysis. This effort takes much longer than a news cycle to play out, so we'll just have to be patient.
posted by ceribus peribus at 2:51 PM on March 14 [2 favorites]


[Couple comments deleted; maybe let's hold off on the goofing about aliens?]
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:52 PM on March 14 [4 favorites]


NYT update: "Sharp Changes in Altitude and Course After Jet Lost Contact"

... Because the plane stopped transmitting its position about 40 minutes after takeoff, military radar recorded only an unidentified blip moving through Malaysian airspace. Certain weather conditions, and even flocks of birds, can occasionally cause radar blips that may be mistaken for aircraft, and the Malaysian authorities say they are still studying the signals to determine if they came from Flight 370.

But the person who examined the data said it leaves little doubt that the airliner flew near or through the southern tip of Thailand, then back across Peninsular Malaysia, near the city of Penang, and out over the sea again. That’s in part because the data is based on signals recorded by two radar stations, one at Butterworth air force base on the peninsula’s west coast, near Penang, and the other at Kota Bharu, on the northeast coast. Two radars tracking a contact can significantly increase the reliability of the readings.


(Bolding mine. No one is willing to confirm anything on the record yet.)
posted by RedOrGreen at 3:21 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]


"CNN Exclusive: Analysis shows 2nd possible Indian Ocean path for airliner"
posted by travelwithcats at 4:08 PM on March 14


I have no idea how plausible this is but linking it anyway -- a DC area local news station is reporting that Boeing had previously warned the FAA about the possibility that a 777's computer systems might be vulnerable to attack, and also reporting on the demonstration of an exploit (using an Android phone to take control of some plane electronics) at a hacking conference last year - which we discussed here.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:21 PM on March 14


I don't see any need to jump straight to OMG TERRORISM

I don't have any idea what caused the plane to disappear but at this point I'm not sure it's fair to characterize speculation as jumping straight to OMG TERRORISM. There are lots of weird things that don't add up and which make the most common causes of plane crashes (which is what you predict) less likely.
posted by Justinian at 4:24 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]


For example, accounting for some of the "facts" (and I use that term loosely at this point) we think we know requires slow decompression which renders everyone unconscious. However, in such a case you would expect the plane to keep flying straight. But the latest info is that the plane flew in a pattern between waypoints after the transponders went offline. Which requires a conscious pilot. And rapid decompression or a catastrophic failure at altitude makes a plane flying that sort of pattern even less likely. The plane would crash relatively quickly.

Right now we're looking for an explanation which accounts for:

1) Various sources of information as to the plane's location, speed, altitude, etc going offline or being shut down at significantly different times.
2) No contact from anyone on the plane. Not from the pilots nor from anyone on a cellphone.
3) The plane keeps flying for hours after contact was lost.
4) The plane doesn't fly straight, it flies in a pattern indicative of either a conscious person at the controls or a pre-programmed autopiloted path that does not correspond to either the initial flight plan or a flight plan you would use in case of emergency. The plane should not have been flying in this direction under any circumstances.

Sure any of those 4 points could turn out to be based on erroneous information but as far as I can tell it's the best we have right now.
posted by Justinian at 4:34 PM on March 14


Oh! And the precipitating event takes place in exactly that very short window of time after the pilot has confirmed exiting Malaysian airspace but before the pilot has confirmed entering Vietnamese airspace. Obviously that's not evidence but it is a pretty terrible coincidence if a catastrophic event occurred then since it is the worst possible moment.
posted by Justinian at 4:41 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]


To me, it is 2) which is hardest to explain. The others could be easily explained by hijacking by either the pilots or others.
posted by Thing at 4:47 PM on March 14


Is 2) not relatively easy to rationalise? A fire/technical problems removed the possibility for communications, or someone deliberately ceased communications as part of a hijack/United 93 style event?

4) is the one that makes least sense to me. I haven't heard any sensible arguments for that flight plan.
posted by mnfn at 4:56 PM on March 14


It's straightforward to rationalize almost any of the information taken by itself, it's when it all gets put together that it becomes more difficult.

No contact from anyone on the plane indicates to me that either there was a catastrophic mechanical failure, a slow decompression, or that the plane was hijacked. Are there other explanations?

And it's tough to explain away the flight path of the plane if there was either a mechanical failure or a slow decompression.
posted by Justinian at 5:04 PM on March 14


2) Or panic.
posted by divabat at 5:05 PM on March 14


2) or just they were flying in an area where cellphone communications wouldn't have worked anyway.

(This doesn't explain the pilot or staff, but could explain the passengers.)
posted by divabat at 5:05 PM on March 14


The plane flew back over Malaysia, though. To get over to the Indian side.
posted by Justinian at 5:06 PM on March 14


I don't know what that part of Malaysia is like, I guess. Is it relatively uninhabited? Or would there be cell towers?
posted by Justinian at 5:07 PM on March 14


Is 2) not relatively easy to rationalise? A fire/technical problems removed the possibility for communications, or someone deliberately ceased communications as part of a hijack/United 93 style event?

It would also mean that at no point whatsoever were passengers capable of making even the shortest calls from their mobile phones. Maybe that is the case, but the length and route of the flight after the breakoff of regular communication makes it something needing to be explained.
posted by Thing at 5:08 PM on March 14


It's pretty tiny.
posted by divabat at 5:10 PM on March 14


(That's what she said.)

Sorry. I was around Penang roughly 10 years ago and had reliable phone connection almost everywhere.
posted by dominik at 5:12 PM on March 14


When you're on the ground, sure. In the air is a whole different matter.
posted by divabat at 5:15 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]


Not just calls; text messages. You need only the very smallest sliver of connectivity to text. Significantly less signal than for an actual call.
posted by Justinian at 5:16 PM on March 14


Yeah, if the stuff that's being reported out now about rapid altitude changes and waypoints and the rest is true, I have to eat my own words. It's a very good bet in any given incident that the cause is mechanical failure or pilot error or both, usually with weather.

But no, it sure does seem like there is human intention involved here. Maniacal, but purposive.

Fuck. Those poor souls.
posted by spitbull at 5:18 PM on March 14 [3 favorites]


Not just calls; text messages. You need only the very smallest sliver of connectivity to text. Significantly less signal than for an actual call.

You also need to be holding the phone.
posted by popcassady at 5:19 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]


Yeah. It's true that when you hear hoofbeats you should think horses. But sometimes it really is actually zebras.
posted by Justinian at 5:20 PM on March 14 [2 favorites]


You also need to be holding the phone.

But what scenario lets the pilots fly the plane but makes passengers unable to work their phones?
posted by Thing at 5:21 PM on March 14


You've just been told to put all your phones on Airplane mode or switch them off. Suddenly an emergency happens. By the time you chill from your panic, get your phone out, turn it back on, and wait for the signal to pick up while you're 30,000 feet in the air, you'd probably have passed out or been killed or something.

Even when I've landed (anywhere in the world, including Malaysia) and the plane's taxi'ed into the airport I still have to wait a while before the phone picks up any sort of signal.

I tried looking up information of whether text messages were sent in AF447 and only found references to reports of text messages being denied as a hoax, but the original statement seems to be gone.
posted by divabat at 5:23 PM on March 14


Pilots are trained to be calm in the face of emergencies. Passengers? Not so much.
posted by divabat at 5:23 PM on March 14


People made calls from UA Flight 93. It's not an impossible thing to speculate happening. Presuming someone's state of mind in an almost-impossible-to-imagine situation is likely to not be a fruitful direction. Some people are eerily calm in catastrophes.
posted by jessamyn at 5:28 PM on March 14 [3 favorites]


UA Flight 93 was flying much lower, however. And most of the calls were not from cellphones.
posted by Thing at 5:28 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]


To me, the new stuff reported in the NYT article suggests the Terrorist Screw Up Scenario: Plane takes off and climbs to altitude. Hijackers take over the plane, incapacitate the pilots, and turn off the transponders. Then, thinking they are no longer being tracked, they turn back towards Malaysia. Maybe the plan is to fly back to Kuala Lampur and crash the plane into the Petronas Towers, or maybe the target is in Penang. Either way, something happens en route. Maybe the passengers revolt, kill the hijackers, and realize there's no one left to fly the plane. Maybe they're not as good pilots as the 9/11 terrorists were. Maybe they just get lost flying at night over water. Maybe they depressurize the cabin and climb to 44,000 feet to kill the passengers, as the pilot in the Times article suggests, and accidentally deprive themselves of oxygen, too.
posted by vibrotronica at 5:29 PM on March 14


Also UA Flight 93 was still in the same country. This flight had a lot of international passengers, and who knows how many of them activated roaming capabilities on their phone.
posted by divabat at 5:29 PM on March 14 [2 favorites]


Presuming someone's state of mind in an almost-impossible-to-imagine situation is likely to not be a fruitful direction.

This also applies to assuming people would be calm enough to call during an in-flight emergency.
posted by divabat at 5:30 PM on March 14


Right. People don't know. It's happened before. That's what we know.
posted by jessamyn at 5:31 PM on March 14 [2 favorites]


It's happened before in a very different circumstance. Apples and oranges.
posted by divabat at 5:32 PM on March 14


Trying to find a middle ground, I think that the core of the problem is that the pilots were likely alive for over four hours after the plane lost contact, but there's no trace whatsoever from the passengers from those four hours.
posted by Thing at 5:38 PM on March 14


2) No contact from anyone on the plane. Not from the pilots nor from anyone on a cellphone.

I'm the kind of rebellious first-world anarchist guy who sometimes turns his phone on during the flight, just to see if I can pick up any cell signal. Experimentally. I've never got a sniff. It always surprised me that United 93 passengers were able to - I can only assume it was because they were flying low, over a part of the world with a very dense cellular network.
posted by Jimbob at 5:39 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]


And as far as I know MAS hasn't enabled in-flight wifi or in-flight cellphone service. (They may have in-flight calls where the remote becomes a headset, but that requires a credit card and some pre-registering.)
posted by divabat at 5:40 PM on March 14


Flight 93 callers were not using cell phones. Back in 2001 most domestic airplanes had in seat telephone service provided by Verizon /GTE. It was really expensive and no one used it, except on 9-11. The service was discontinued because of the expense shortly afterwards. Some older planes still have the phones in the seat backs, but they no longer work.
posted by humanfont at 5:48 PM on March 14 [2 favorites]


I just keep having thoughts of Lost because I don't really have anything else to relate it. Robinson Crusoe maybe.

The plot of Lost Horizon may have the eeriest parallels (in the beginning sequence, the pilot is shown to have been replaced with an impostor, who makes a sudden turn west and heads toward the Himalayas.)
posted by Ralston McTodd at 5:49 PM on March 14


Some of the callers from Flight 93 did use cellphones to make calls, but at low altititude.
posted by Thing at 5:50 PM on March 14


Malay language press are saying that MH370 squawked 'Tango', which is a secret code for a hijacking. Not sure if their source is reliable. Is the bit about Tango true?
posted by divabat at 5:53 PM on March 14


Wasn't the flight in the middle of the night? If the plane was commandeered by the pilot or copilot, couldn't the passengers have slept through most of the route changes? You might notice the initial bank when the plane almost turned all the way around, but without anything else, why would a passenger even know to place an emergency call?
posted by stopgap at 6:05 PM on March 14


Lots of people (including me, unfortunately) can't sleep on planes.
posted by amro at 6:12 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]


You might notice the initial bank when the plane almost turned all the way around, but without anything else, why would a passenger even know to place an emergency call?

Anyone know if Malaysian Airlines planes have a route map / plane location on the TV screens?
posted by Jimbob at 6:12 PM on March 14


From what I recall of my most recent flights with them, yeah.
posted by divabat at 6:14 PM on March 14


Though if it's an emergency the in-flight entertainment system may not be functional.
posted by divabat at 6:14 PM on March 14


Presumably it would be possible for the pilot to turn off power to the passengers' TV screens, claiming "technical difficulties"?
posted by ClaireBear at 6:15 PM on March 14


According to (possibly inaccurate) data, some have speculated that the plane had a sudden descent: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/15/world/asia/malaysia-military-radar.html?_r=0

I think it'd be totally noticeable if a plane suddenly dipped 20,000 feet. I doubt that's normal for ordinary turbulence.

However, I gotta say, this doesn't look good at all. Where is all this data coming from? Does anyone have all of the available data? It sounds like everyone's contributing their bit to the media instead of effectively collaborating...

I'm astonished the plane hasn't been found yet. When I first read about this story last weekend, I was so sure the plane had landed in Southern China as first speculated. This story won't last long, I thought. It's turned out to be so fascinating! But all the more hard for the poor relatives. They may not ever know, at this rate.
posted by myntu at 6:16 PM on March 14


Is the bit about Tango true?

I see a New Straits Times article "Some crucial questions on flight MH370" from March 10th that says MAS does use that code word. (but that each airline has its own code word), but I don't know how reliable NST is.
posted by cashman at 6:20 PM on March 14


cashman: NST is usually pretty decent, it's one of the big English dailies. Interestingly that article seems to no longer exist on the NST site but is accessible via Highbeam.
posted by divabat at 6:24 PM on March 14


I've read that a plane with no radio communications can fly in a triangular pattern to signal distress; would that account for all the turns? (though, I think it's not meant for big airliner jets). The Tango thing might be part of a longer message, as Tango is the code/phonetic word for 'T'. If it was hijacked, there seems to be no attempt by the hijackers at making any kind of statement before the plane went down, except maybe these communications. (on preview, I see it's the Malaysian Airline distress signal).

I find this whole episode to be incredibly humbling. First, the ocean is so very large, and we are pretty small - even our massive aircraft carriers and navy vessels are still searching. And, second, while airline travel is routinized and dehumanized to a rather high degree, it's still a rather tenuous thing. All of the training and engineering and physics and nature have to come together for the plane to have a safe flight, but if you fuck up one tiny part of any of these, whether on purpose or not, it's all over. I feel so terrible and irrationally helpless for all the affected families that the world, for all that it's accomplished in science and military prowess, hasn't been able to find this plane yet.
posted by bluefly at 6:43 PM on March 14


The Tango thing might be part of a longer message, as Tango is the code/phonetic word for 'T'.

I'd have to imagine that if their code word for hijacking really is Tango, they used something else for T in their phonetic alphabet, or else that would cause all sorts of false alarms.
posted by jason_steakums at 7:11 PM on March 14


I've read that a plane with no radio communications can fly in a triangular pattern to signal distress

No, a plane on an instrument flight plan (as here and essentially all airliner flights) has specific procedures for lost communications. If it's something more urgent they're not going to putz around flying in triangles; they're going to find a place to put the plane down as safely and expediently as the situation allows.
posted by exogenous at 7:13 PM on March 14


There's a transponder code for hijack: 7500. Emergency is 7700 and lost comms is 7600 (when Ms. exogenous isn't answering her cell phone, I say she's squawking 7600).
posted by exogenous at 7:15 PM on March 14 [3 favorites]


The Wall Street Journal has been all over this story. The latest:

Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 Probe Sharpens Focus on Sabotage

"Officials suspect two different systems were shut off after the plane took off last weekend, one shortly after the other, people familiar with the investigation said. About an hour into the flight, the plane's transponders stopped functioning, making it much more difficult for air-traffic control personnel to track or identify it via radar.

In the ensuing minutes, a second system sent a routine aircraft-monitoring message to a satellite indicating that someone made a manual change in the plane's direction, veering sharply to the west. . .

[A]s details emerge an accident appears increasingly unlikely. The first loss of the jet's transponder, which communicates the jet's position, speed and call sign to air traffic control radar, would require disabling a circuit breaker above and behind an overhead panel. Pilots rarely, if ever, need to access the circuit breakers, which are reserved for maintenance personnel.

A physical disconnection of the satellite communications system would require extremely detailed knowledge of the aircraft, its internal structure and its systems."

posted by mlis at 7:16 PM on March 14 [3 favorites]


That WSJ article has a lot of new stuff in it. I hate that I'm reading all these anonymously sourced rumors, but at this point it's all we've got. I'm as guilty of being entertained by disaster news as everyone. The key quote that stood out to me was: In assembling the chain of events, investigators are trying to determine why the jet didn't travel farther from its takeoff point given the number of hours it apparently was in the air.
posted by Nelson at 7:22 PM on March 14 [3 favorites]


While we're all waiting and passing the time, you can read the single worst science article of all time on the Al Jazeera America site.

There's a lot of interesting math that search teams use to decide where to look, but that article explains absolutely none of it.
posted by miyabo at 7:26 PM on March 14


To be fair, that article is trying to describe Bayes' Theorem, and I've never read anything in my life that's satisfactorily enabled me to understand Bayes' Theorem. I think Bayes was a massive troll.
posted by Jimbob at 7:30 PM on March 14 [2 favorites]


How the Missing Malaysia Airlines Jet Could Have Been Hijacked has some interesting thoughts about mindset
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:32 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]


Does anyone know where we can make a list of press conferences that have taken place about MH370?
posted by divabat at 7:35 PM on March 14


Wiki article on Bayesian search theory. The important thing is that you incorporate both the likelihood of the plane going down at a particular spot, and the probability that you would actually find it if it did so -- for example there is no point in searching in a rainy area if you could search 100x faster in a sunny area. The whole process is automated by well-tested software so it is likely the search teams are using it now.
posted by miyabo at 8:03 PM on March 14 [2 favorites]


So you really do search under the streetlight because the light is better...
posted by Justinian at 8:12 PM on March 14 [2 favorites]


Well, you search under the streetlight until daybreak, then you check the other places.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:24 PM on March 14 [2 favorites]


There are reports in the last few minutes from a Reputable International News Organization that "The plane could have flown 1,000km off the coast of Perth, Western Australia."

Okay, fine, cool, but here is a thing that's going on; media organisations are grabbing unsourced drips of information or vague theories from some "expert" who they talked to and posting it instantly online because, in doing so, they instantly get 800,000 clicks on the article.

This shit is all going around in circles.
posted by Jimbob at 8:52 PM on March 14 [5 favorites]


Malaysian investigators conclude flight hijacked.
posted by xekul at 9:21 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]


That is all over the internet, but it's from your typical, garden-variety "unnamed source". However, the Malaysian Prime Minister is giving a media conference in an hour, and that should be interesting.
posted by Jimbob at 9:36 PM on March 14


CBS: Malaysian investigators conclude flight hijacked

Also I did listen to the Alex Jones show in its entirety. Link here. It was a pretty brutal four hours but it's OK if you only do it a couple times a year.

1. Jones speculates that some earthbound rogue hackers took control of the plane from the ground and steered it where they willed. Claims sources that the airplane's (and all commercial jets') computers are vulnerable to this type of attack from NSA or CIA or Chinese or Russian or Iranian or your own clever teenager's counterparts.

2. the McAfee interview starting at around 2:09:50 is compelling and was almost worth suffering through the first two hours to get to but you all can just skip that crap! McAfee's hair and beard are stunning so you can just take a peek for that much. He is far more lucid than in his other recent interviews. They have video of McAfee shooting a .50 caliber anti-armored gun hand held. He is like a most interesting man in the world character. He has a new smart phone app, cognizant, which purports to show you just what permissions you are giving to facebook, twitter, google, &c on your phone.

(on preview my cbs link is same as xekul's)
posted by bukvich at 9:47 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]


Live stream video and audio.
posted by divabat at 9:58 PM on March 14


On now: http://english.astroawani.com/videos/live

Is the PM on?

On preview: Cheers divabat.
posted by shortfuse at 9:59 PM on March 14


If he's talking about not entertaining speculations - that's the Transport Minister.
posted by divabat at 10:00 PM on March 14


Astro Awani front page says 1:30pm
posted by divabat at 10:02 PM on March 14


What's playing right now is a repeat of yesterday evening's pc
posted by cendawanita at 10:04 PM on March 14


Thanks. Do you think the PM will conduct the press conf in English, as the minister seems to be mostly doing?
posted by shortfuse at 10:06 PM on March 14


Probably a mix of English and Malay, depending on Q&A, but I'd imagine the most important information will be conveyed at least in English.
posted by divabat at 10:08 PM on March 14


yes, it's very likely as that has been the practice so far. all responses in Malay always follows the questions from the local Malay-language reporters, but they always return to English.
posted by cendawanita at 10:08 PM on March 14


Maybe the PM will defer to the US. There's a deal of posturing going on and the ducks are almost in a line. (China is off reporting a deep sea seismic event.)


The last two paragraphs of the above WSJ link -- Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 Probe Sharpens Focus on Sabotage have been edited from:

If a criminal probe is launched, the FBI is likely to send in a phalanx of agents and other personnel. Such a probe is likely to involve many countries but aviation experts believe it would be headed by Malaysia because of the aircraft's nationality.

One U.S. official said Friday that pursuing an international criminal investigation would be "a huge challenge" because so many governments will have an interest in the process and outcome. So far, U.S. officials have not found derogatory information on the pilots or anyone else on the flight manifest, the official said.


to now read:

If a criminal probe is launched, the FBI is likely to send in a phalanx of agents and other personnel. Such a probe is likely to involve many countries, but aviation experts believe it would be headed by Malaysia because of the aircraft's nationality.

"The FBI would have full entrée into the case because of the American citizens on board," said Robert MacIntosh, who previously headed up international relations for the NTSB.

One U.S. official said Friday that pursuing an international criminal investigation would be "a huge challenge" because so many governments will have an interest in the process and outcome. So far, U.S. officials haven't found derogatory information on the pilots or anyone else on the flight manifest, the official said.

Some U.S. aviation experts question how smoothly any complex criminal investigation would proceed. Already, Mr. MacIntosh said, "certainly there has been competition between [Malaysian] civilian and military officials."

As the demand for answers heats up, Mr. Healing asked: "Are they prepared to deal with this kind of massive international investigation?


I feel it in my bones: a phalanx is more than a handful.
posted by de at 10:13 PM on March 14


The reporters at the press conference seem to be fixed on the pilot going berzerk.
posted by bukvich at 10:14 PM on March 14


That's yesterday's press conference, if you're watching from Astro Awani (Hishamuddin, Malay man in songkok, tan shirt, glasses).
posted by divabat at 10:15 PM on March 14


it would actually be genuinely surprising if this authority is handed over officially, not only from Malaysia to the US, but the US even wanting that in the first place, considering previous history of engagement.

(fwiw USA-MY also have a very high cordial relationship at g2g level, not just trade, for eg the FBI Academy does provide regular training to the Malaysian police, and the US Coast Guard as well, as well presence at border territories in partnership with local enforcement agencies.)
posted by cendawanita at 10:16 PM on March 14


Is this news conference started / on / still on? Because I've flicked through the 57 news channels on my TV and there's nothing going on. I guess TV news have moved on. Guess it had to happen some time.
posted by Jimbob at 10:26 PM on March 14


it's not yet started
posted by cendawanita at 10:27 PM on March 14


fwiw USA-MY also have a very high cordial relationship at g2g level

Malaysia seem to maintain a pretty cordial relationship with most countries. North Korea and US? Iran and Britain? Everyone except Israel, it seems, although even then there's an almost-billion dollar trade relationship. Not a bad effort. B+
posted by Jimbob at 10:29 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]


however i want to criticise the general trajectory of the governance (and have!), the govt has always been committed in staying neutral diplomatically and maintaining relations with everyone (even Zimbabwe; though they were at the forefront at the anti-apartheid sanctions against pre-ANC South Africa), although now it's being confounded by all the latent fundamentalism and xenophobia that the domestic politicians are fostering. So even though at the highest levels they've remained pragmatic, the toxicity has pretty much affected the quality of their next gen of govt officials and diplomats.
posted by cendawanita at 10:33 PM on March 14


Another stream, showing the pc about to start: http://www.livestation.com/reuters?source=redirect (Via Reddit)
posted by shortfuse at 10:35 PM on March 14


Now South Korea and France are adding to the SAR efforts.
posted by cendawanita at 10:37 PM on March 14


aiyoh cepatlah sikit
posted by divabat at 10:37 PM on March 14 [2 favorites]


if anyone needs translation for the awani feed, they're basically killing time while waiting for the signal to broadcast from the pc
posted by cendawanita at 10:44 PM on March 14


Lithium batteries plus nuclear materials = a big dirty bomb with good dispersal characteristics?

And while I'm engaged in paranoid thinking... Is Fukishima's stock really all that well-secured? (How would one would exfiltrate it without dying quickly and painfully, though?)

IIRC, Christopher Hitchens claimed back in the day that there was a terrorist group that used a nuke symbol as their flag, and very almost certainly had ex-Soviet warheads.

Idle paranoiac musings all, I hope.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:47 PM on March 14


Paranoid for sure.
posted by futz at 10:48 PM on March 14


I'm expecting the denials from Malaysian government officials to come any minute now. It's been at least an hour since reports were that the focus has moved to hijacking, so we're about due for other officials to deny those reports. Followed by the initial guys to deny those denials.

If the past is any indication at least.
posted by Justinian at 10:56 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]


Press at PC told they won't be able to field questions.
posted by divabat at 10:58 PM on March 14


divabat: "Press at PC told they won't be able to field questions."

That doesn't look good.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 10:59 PM on March 14


Oh, I'm not sure why the talking heads on the TV say that without a claim of responsibility this is unlikely to be terrorism. Hell, the only claims of responsibility for the most spectacular act of terrorism in modern times (9/11) were false and retracted within hours.

Not that there is any evidence of terrorism as of yet. I feel like that always needs to be stressed. But I don't see that the lack of a claim of responsibility is counter-evidence.
posted by Justinian at 10:59 PM on March 14


PM is in the building.
posted by divabat at 11:01 PM on March 14


The Chinese ambassador has been spotted as well as rep from the Russian embassy. As well as the Americans.

well.
posted by cendawanita at 11:01 PM on March 14


Also Ukraine and India.
posted by divabat at 11:02 PM on March 14


Ukraine? wtf?
posted by mwhybark at 11:02 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]


A couple of the passengers were Ukraine nationals.
posted by divabat at 11:03 PM on March 14


Malaysiakini's liveblogging the pc.
posted by cendawanita at 11:04 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]


ah.
posted by mwhybark at 11:05 PM on March 14


Some news agencies are reporting that PM is delayed because he's talking to families first.
posted by divabat at 11:14 PM on March 14


News conference tldr; detection heading NW is legit. Seems deliberate. Serious investigation into passengers.
posted by Jimbob at 11:31 PM on March 14


WHAT?!
posted by divabat at 11:32 PM on March 14


They are basically confirming the plane was either hijacked or one of the pilots commandeered it.
posted by Justinian at 11:34 PM on March 14


Was the PM's press conference I just saw live? I can't tell. So much confusion.
posted by phaedon at 11:34 PM on March 14


I wonder how long it'll take to acquire new sat photos & compare to old photos to identify a new, very long runway in an unexpected location...
posted by five fresh fish at 11:34 PM on March 14


Yes
posted by divabat at 11:34 PM on March 14


KAZAKHSTAN?!
posted by divabat at 11:35 PM on March 14


7 hours from the last contact to last radar ping?? Did I hear that right?
posted by triggerfinger at 11:35 PM on March 14


yes, tht was the PM's conference. jeez, a hijacking. i don't know to feel better or worse that it's not mechanical failure.
posted by cendawanita at 11:35 PM on March 14


One of the pilots commandeering the plane still seems more likely to me than a hijacking.
posted by Justinian at 11:39 PM on March 14


7 hours from the last contact to last radar ping?? Did I hear that right?

Would that not require the ground crew to have overfilled the fuel tanks? Planes don't typically carry more fuel than they'll need for their planned flight.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:42 PM on March 14


1. Transponder manually shut off before the Malaysian east coast border.
2. The plane was turned around.
3. They are searching two corridors - north to Turkmenistan/Kazakhstan and south around Indonesia and the southern Indian Ocean (did I heard that part correctly?).

A deliberate act of this nature feels scarier to me than mechanical failure.
posted by pianissimo at 11:44 PM on March 14 [2 favorites]


@mpoppel New confirmed info means plane was still flying when Malaysia Airlines issued statement saying contact was lost with Flight 370
posted by triggerfinger at 11:44 PM on March 14


Would that not require the ground crew to have overfilled the fuel tanks?

I'm sure I've read somewhere that the plane had at least 7 hours worth of fuel. Last recorded contact was shortly after 1 am, last radar ping was 8:11 am.
posted by triggerfinger at 11:47 PM on March 14


PM's Twitter feed has text of the statement.
posted by divabat at 11:47 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]


from my fb feed:
My rough transcript of the useful part of Najib's update on MH370:

"...[W]e can say with a high degree of certainty that the aircraft communications, addressing and reporting system was disabled just before the aircraft reached the East Coast of Peninsular Msia. Shortly after, near the border of Msia and Vietnam air traffic control the transponder was switched off. Royal Air Force showed an aircraft did indeed turn back, flew in a westerly direction over Pen Msia then turned northwest.

"..These movements are consistent with deliberate action by someone on the plane. Today, based on raw satellite data...we can confirm that the aircraft shown in the primary data is MH370. FAA, NTSB, AAIB, and Malaysian authorities, working separately on the same data, concur. Last communication between plane and satellite at 8.11am on Saturday, 8th March.

"The team is making calculations where the aircraft may have flown after the last point of contact. Due to satellite data, unable to confirm the last location of plane. Based on this new data, the aviation authorities of Msia have determined that the last communication was in either 1) northern corridor stretching from Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan to Thailand; 2) indonesia to southern indian ocean. Turning back to examining crew and passangers. Despite media reports that plane was hijacked we are still investigating all possibilities. Stopping search in South China Sea."
posted by cendawanita at 11:48 PM on March 14 [3 favorites]


A deliberate act of this nature feels scarier to me than mechanical failure.

Feel scarier to me too. But I'm telling myself that's because of the times. 20, 30 years ago hijackings happened all the time. Now they're rare as hen's teeth. But probability says they're never impossible.
posted by Jimbob at 11:49 PM on March 14


Holy shit, if there was satellite ping on the plane at 8:11am that's more than enough time to have headed over the Indian Ocean and crossed India to Pakistan and points northwest. How can a plane do that without being intercepted by the air force?

It's got to have gone down in the ocean? Except then you have to explain what it was doing over the ocean for 7 hours. Circling? Why?

Either it was flying in circles until the fuel ran out or it flew over land and nobody bothered to check it ou. I don't know which is worse.
posted by Justinian at 11:52 PM on March 14


Malaysian Royal Air Force?

...wikipedia...

Bugger me, I just learnt that Malaysia has a King.
posted by Jimbob at 11:52 PM on March 14 [3 favorites]


I'm sure I've read somewhere that the plane had at least 7 hours worth of fuel.

I could swear I'd read that it had 4 hrs left after "last contact" (the inital last contact, which started off the search).
posted by five fresh fish at 11:53 PM on March 14


7 hours of fuel is enough to get to Kazakhstan. 4 hours would get to India but no farther.

But again I can't imagine India wouldn't see a plane of this size over its airspace. It must have turned south and crashed into the ocean after running out of fuel. But that doesn't make any sense.
posted by Justinian at 11:57 PM on March 14


Does the satellite contact at 8:11a necessarily mean that the plane was still flying/operational, or is this something with a battery backup that could keep going after a crash/fuel loss?
posted by Westringia F. at 12:02 AM on March 15


Justinian: "Holy shit, if there was satellite ping on the plane at 8:11am ..."

How are they getting pings if comms and ACARS were switched off earlier? I don't really buy this new direction, and it sounds like an incompetent bunch of government officials are trying to get rid of this hot potato as fast as possible so that someone else can be blamed. "Not our fault it slipped airspace and wasn't picked up by multiple radars -- go ask India or Kazakhstan some difficult questions, instead!"

I just feel bad for the family, hopes being raised and dashed and raised and dashed. And it's almost certainly just a bunch of debris on the bottom of the ocean right now.
posted by barnacles at 12:03 AM on March 15


. And it's almost certainly just a bunch of debris on the bottom of the ocean right now.

Certainly.

Something is twinging at the back of my mind regarding the times though. Are they taking time zones into account? Are we? I can't get my head quite around what 8:11am means in terms of the flying time and fuel.
posted by Jimbob at 12:06 AM on March 15


NYT: The plane, a Boeing 777, was bound for Beijing and had fuel on board to fly at least 2,500 miles.
posted by triggerfinger at 12:07 AM on March 15


triggerfinger: "NYT: The plane, a Boeing 777, was bound for Beijing and had fuel on board to fly at least 2,500 miles."

But that is completely dependent on altitude and weather conditions, isn't it?
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 12:10 AM on March 15


I thought I read somewhere else (don't remember where) that flying at a lower altitude uses more fuel.

Also, this is almost a week old, but:

MAS chief executive officer Datuk Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said the MH370 had enough fuel to fly up until 8.30am

posted by triggerfinger at 12:13 AM on March 15


Jimbob: 8:11am Malaysian time (GMT +8)
posted by divabat at 12:13 AM on March 15 [1 favorite]


I think it has to be one of the pilots. I don't see how this could happen otherwise.
posted by Justinian at 12:15 AM on March 15


So, several hours ago Nelson highlighted this quote from a WSJ story:

"In assembling the chain of events, investigators are trying to determine why the jet didn't travel farther from its takeoff point given the number of hours it apparently was in the air." [my emphasis]

Which I thought might be someone misspeaking -- because at this point, we don't know how far it travelled, do we?

Then I thought, ok, the US unnamed sources have seemed pretty univocal that they have some reason to believe (a) the plane crashed (b) into the Indian Ocean. If the US has some other source of info they are not releasing (some imaging or radar or something from a spy plane or sub or who knows that) that leads them to think firmly that they know broadly where the plane went down, that would make sense of the above quote.

The 7 hours thing fits with that... if they flew for 7 hrs, that means they could have made landfall in more places if they wanted, so maybe it makes less sense to fly over ocean until you just run out of fuel.

But the "we aren't sure which of two tracks it took" stuff is puzzling -- suggests the US info is not so clear on (a) and (b) as it had sounded like.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:18 AM on March 15


It's happened otherwise before. From what I've seen online regarding the pilot, he seems to be a stand-up guy - an obsessive aviator, spending his spare time building cool flight-sim PCs. Of course, that's just an impression, and anyone can broadcast an impression. That's basically what social media is for. I don't know as much about the First Officer. But the tabloid of photos of the two guys chilling with chicks, I would think, would defeat any ideas of Nasty Angry Islamic Jihadists. Suicide, obviously, is always on the table. The Malaysian PM's comment, however, seem to suggest that they are doubling down on this line of enquiry.
posted by Jimbob at 12:19 AM on March 15


I first learned about the flight having gone missing last Friday afternoon (central time - 14 hours behind MYT before last weekend's DST), which would have been pretty close to the initial announcement from MA that they had lost contact with MH370 several hours earlier. It's kind of horrifying to me to think that the plane was potentially still in the air and flying at that time.
posted by triggerfinger at 12:22 AM on March 15 [3 favorites]


Here's a timeline of known events of the flight. It's a few hours old so doesn't include press conference info. I think all times are Malaysian times (i.e. the last communication at 1:07 am was in the same time zone as the last radar ping at 8:11 am).
posted by triggerfinger at 12:32 AM on March 15


Suicide, obviously, is always on the table.

But if it is suicide, then it would have been easier just to crash into the Gulf of Thailand anytime during it's regular flight path. Also, if the pilot or first officer wanted to commit mass murder and suicide, there were a lot of big cities along the coastline to crash into. But, they didn't do that either.

Instead, they flew west. Which makes no sense. What's out there?
posted by FJT at 12:36 AM on March 15 [2 favorites]


Here's a good infographic/timeline/chart on available fuel and ranges.
posted by triggerfinger at 12:45 AM on March 15 [2 favorites]


I just learnt that Malaysia has a King

And a very interesting kind of Kingship: all the state Sultans take turns. Their term on the throne is 5 years, I think and then they hand off to the next in line.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 12:45 AM on March 15 [2 favorites]


Instead, they flew west. Which makes no sense. What's out there?

Deep ocean? Not your day job? The void?
posted by panaceanot at 12:58 AM on March 15 [1 favorite]


Soooo, Uighars?

Someone pointed out in another forum that the airports themselves supply potential weapons that could be used to hijack a plane: duty-free liquor bottles. I mean, if the Sept 11 terrorists used box-cutters, why not a broken bottle? All the time I see the carry-on bag allowance waived if you are holding armfuls of shopping bags from the duty-free shops. I might have disguised my excess baggage inside a duty-free bag on occasion.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 1:20 AM on March 15


TWinbrook8: "Soooo, Uighars?"

Knife attacks at train stations to terrorize the Chinese about taking a train, and now a missing airliner to terrorize the Chinese when flying?

Total speculation, I freely admit. Just a thought I had. I sure hope this gets solved! Poor family members...
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 1:32 AM on March 15


Knife attacks require a knife and an arm.

Hijacking a Boeing 777 requires a bit more than that.
posted by panaceanot at 1:40 AM on March 15


Actually, I've just read a more reasoned response: a Uighar hijacker would probably have kept the airplane on its original heading and crashed into eg, WTC equivalent in Beijing.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 1:47 AM on March 15 [1 favorite]


panaceanot: "Knife attacks require a knife and an arm.

Hijacking a Boeing 777 requires a bit more than that.
"

Can't a group with common goals have separate teams with differing skill sets? e.g. You guys are best equipped for job A, and our team will take care of job B.

Just like their is a difference in skill set between flying airliners into buildings in New York etc than there is to, "OK, I light these fuses in my shoes when?"

I wasn't comparing the two acts as equal, but I'm fairly certain you knew that before you posted.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 1:48 AM on March 15


If it was Uighurs, then it would have been better to stick closer to the original flight route, as it passes close to numerous terror targets: Hong Kong, Chongqing, Beijing, Shanghai. Maybe even the Three Gorges Dam.
posted by FJT at 1:50 AM on March 15


I suggest we avoid derailing this thread by discussing Uighurs further unless evidence comes to light that implicates them?
posted by panaceanot at 2:11 AM on March 15 [6 favorites]


panaceanot: "I suggest we avoid derailing this thread by discussing Uighurs further unless evidence comes to light that implicates them?"

I totally agree, and will not comment on that further.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 2:14 AM on March 15 [1 favorite]


Eh. There's no specific evidence implicating anyone at this point. Suggesting we wait for evidence is crazy talk. crazy talk.
posted by Justinian at 2:15 AM on March 15 [3 favorites]


News conference at 5:30 on Astro Awani and BFM Radio
posted by TWinbrook8 at 2:25 AM on March 15


Well, I couldn't possibly solve this mystery. Can...you?
posted by FJT at 2:33 AM on March 15 [1 favorite]


or not.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 2:38 AM on March 15


Pilot suicide, has to be.
posted by Caskeum at 2:46 AM on March 15


or not.
posted by panaceanot at 2:49 AM on March 15


Commercial Break
posted by panaceanot at 2:54 AM on March 15


This story is weird enough that I sometimes imagine Rod Serling is narrating it to me in my sleep
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 2:57 AM on March 15 [1 favorite]


From WSJ streaming:
Australia is waiting for a request from Malaysia before investigating a report that Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 may have sent a satellite transmission signal from over the southern Indian Ocean...

...a spokesman for Australian Defence Minister David Johnston said. “We have contacted the Malaysians to tell them we are aware of the reports. But it is a Malaysia-led operation and it’s up to them if they think it’s something they want us to look into.”

Australian security and defense experts expressed surprise that a civilian aircraft could have traveled so close to Australian territorial waters without being observed, as the country operates one of the region’s most sophisticated and powerful surveillance radar networks.

The Jindalee Operational Radar Network (JORN) can scan over the horizon across Australia’s north and west... tracking all sea and air movements over a distance of 1,000 to 3,000 kilometers, depending on weather conditions. That would likely have meant the the Boeing 777-200 would have been spotted and tracked, even with its identifying signal devices switched off.
Waiting for a request? What does that mean? Can't Australia looks at its own radar signals?
posted by TWinbrook8 at 3:03 AM on March 15 [6 favorites]


Well, shit. I was very dismissive of the satellite ping claims and primary radar returns earlier because none of that makes much sense. Still doesn't but apparently it still happened. What the fuck happened?
posted by Authorized User at 3:49 AM on March 15


What does that mean? Can't Australia looks at its own radar signals?

As an Australian, let me assure you that our Government, including Defence Minister David Johnston, can barely tie their shoelaces without mummy's help.
posted by Jimbob at 4:01 AM on March 15 [10 favorites]


*Especially* Defense Minister David Johnston. Dude waited 3 weeks to comment on accusations that our navy had crossed into Indonesian waters & claimed it was because he was too angry about the cheek of the accusers to do it any sooner.
posted by harriet vane at 6:17 AM on March 15 [1 favorite]


Unfortunately the suicide scenario makes more sense if they wanted the wreckage to never be found.
posted by kiltedtaco at 6:31 AM on March 15


kiltedtaco: "Unfortunately the suicide scenario makes more sense if they wanted the wreckage to never be found."

That's exactly what I've been thinking. The remaining question is who decided to commit suicide and take 238 other innocents with them?
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 6:37 AM on March 15 [1 favorite]


who decided to ... take 238 other innocents with them?

The kind of person with the twisted mindset that thinks he is doing them a favour by sending them to 'heaven' ...
posted by woodblock100 at 6:44 AM on March 15


Harsh words from the Chinese:
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak revealed a trove of new information that virtually made the massive rummage in South China Sea for the Boeing 777 aircraft and the 239 people on board a huge waste of valuable time and resources....

Given today's technology, the delay smacks of either dereliction of duty or reluctance to share information in a full and timely manner. That would be intolerable.

As the leader of the international search and rescue mission, Malaysia bears inescapable responsibility. Other parties that possess valuable data and information, including plane maker Boeing, engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce and intelligence superpower the United States, should also have done a better job...

it is vital and imperative that the Malaysian side work more thoroughly and efficiently and other major information holders -- not least the Unites States -- be more open and forthcoming.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 6:53 AM on March 15


The kind of person with the twisted mindset that thinks he is doing them a favour by sending them to 'heaven' ...

According to an American official familiar with the investigation, but who asked not to be identified, it's the first manifestation of the Rapture.
posted by Mister Bijou at 6:55 AM on March 15 [1 favorite]


because the chinese have always been known for their forthrightness in crisis communications
posted by cendawanita at 6:59 AM on March 15 [2 favorites]


I have to agree with the Chinese response on this one.

Yeah, China probably has a few cards that they're holding close to their chest, but all their past sins in this regard doesn't excuse Malaysia for wasting so much time, money and effort for a search that they knew to be pointless.

There is a lot of information that should have been shared sooner. Not really sure what the manufacturers should be sharing that they aren't already, but it would be very interesting and useful to know if the US have any information on the possible hijackers. They have a boarding list, after all.
posted by YAMWAK at 7:01 AM on March 15


I'd like to know more about why the pilot(s) would have flown the B777 up to 45k feet shortly after the trouble began. Do you suppose he or they put their oxygen masks on, took the plane up to that altitude (which is beyond Boeing's recommendations for max altitude) so they could asphyxiate the passengers without any trouble? This is some scary stuff! Total speculation, again.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 7:19 AM on March 15 [1 favorite]


There's no indication that anyone was sitting on the satellite data for more than a day or so, which is probably the bare minimum time needed to confirm that it was valid, so the Chinese venting is pretty unfounded. It also sounds like Inmarsat might have discovered this data on their own after the search wasn't turning up anything, and it seems like such an edge case that it might be understandable that the Malaysian investigators didn't know about it.
posted by kiltedtaco at 7:25 AM on March 15 [1 favorite]


I am surprised by the near-lack of news coverage on the missing passengers. I thought maybe I was just following more polite news sources, so I went to the Daily Mail, but all they have is a couple of social media/local news stories patched together with very little to say about a couple of passengers. A week into this and no major family interviews? Every other major catastrophe like this had lots and lots of human interest stories as soon as possible.

It seems to me that either we have gone Twilight Zone and the paparazzi are respecting privacy or that there has already been major handling & investigation of the passengers as potential co-conspirators or bargaining chips.
posted by viggorlijah at 7:31 AM on March 15 [1 favorite]


Interactive map of the last known position of MH370
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:35 AM on March 15


Yeah, China probably has a few cards that they're holding close to their chest, but all their past sins in this regard doesn't excuse Malaysia for wasting so much time, money and effort for a search that they knew to be pointless.

What makes you think that they knew it to be pointless. Both the radar data and the satellite pings were very tentative and even so, they actually widened the search area considerably after the radar data was available. This is the first time that an aircraft has been tracked using satellite data like that.

I'm strongly inclined to think that whoever turned off the communications systems also turned off the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder. Without data from those it will be very hard to know what happened. We might never know.
posted by Authorized User at 7:36 AM on March 15 [1 favorite]


Yeah, at this point the chances of finding the aircraft and of finding anything useful on the FDR/CVR seem low.
posted by kiltedtaco at 7:42 AM on March 15


woodblock100: "who decided to ... take 238 other innocents with them?

The kind of person with the twisted mindset that thinks he is doing them a favour by sending them to 'heaven' ...
"

May I politely ask who you think sent them to heaven? The pilot? the first officer? a highjacker?
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 7:51 AM on March 15


All right, let me apologise and rephrase. I do not believe that this information should have taken this long to come to light. I feel that the Malaysian data exchange could be improved.
posted by YAMWAK at 7:52 AM on March 15


Last known contact was at 8:11am. The satellite handshakes hourly, so there is a possibility the aircraft flew for some time longer than that. The airline should know the exact fuel load, which puts a cap on flight time/distance, provided it was not refueled.
Here is a picture of the satellite position and where the aircraft could have been at the time of last handshake.
In the absence of raw radar data from the other countries, investigators can draw conclusions that a crash could be more likely because the duration of the flight corresponds with fuel load. If non-malaysian military radars picked up on MH370, that changes things. It might already have, according to this tweet by a BBC correspondent.
posted by travelwithcats at 7:56 AM on March 15


Slate is saying the plane MUST have landed in Central Asia. Which no one else is saying. Yay speculation.
posted by miyabo at 7:58 AM on March 15 [1 favorite]


Re: rapid altitude changes. I recall reading there indeed was engine data, where did it say that? All I can find right now is that the Malaysian military radar picked up on the altitude changes. If they have engine data they should be able to establish if the data mirrors engine behavior during a landing and possible at what time that occurred.
posted by travelwithcats at 8:03 AM on March 15


May I politely ask ...

I was speaking in general terms; simply pointing out that such a mindset exists. That's all.
posted by woodblock100 at 8:05 AM on March 15


Hell, if it was flying south off Perth, it's pretty clearly entered Symmes Hole by now. Now, where are my Lost DVDs and my copy of The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym?
posted by Sonny Jim at 8:09 AM on March 15


The last Malaysian military radar ping was at 2:15 - that's a long time until 8:11. If it landed in Kazakhstan or close by, there must be more radar data.
posted by travelwithcats at 8:13 AM on March 15


I'm strongly inclined to think that whoever turned off the communications systems also turned off the cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder.

You can do that?
posted by dirigibleman at 8:13 AM on March 15 [1 favorite]


You can turn off pretty much anything to isolate electrical issues. It's a violation of operating rules but that wouldn't be a deterrent in this case.
posted by cardboard at 8:23 AM on March 15


This story is weird enough that I sometimes imagine Rod Serling is narrating it to me in my sleep


"Unbeknownst to the passengers, the pilot has been replaced and their aircraft hijacked. It eventually runs out of fuel and crashes deep in the Himalayan Mountains, killing their abductor."

Will Frank Capra do?
posted by mwhybark at 8:58 AM on March 15 [1 favorite]


Malaysian gov't graphic showing satellite position and triangulation-derived possible locations for last contact.

the southern route does indeed sweep quite deeply thru the Australian radar coverage area. Someone upthread posted a map showing the coverage.
posted by mwhybark at 9:10 AM on March 15


Even if the black box was turned off, it would still indicate what happened in the cockpit before it was turned off. So that would tell us if it was a traditional hijacking or a rogue pilot or whatever ...
posted by miyabo at 9:11 AM on March 15


mwhybark, I linked the same thing over an hour ago.
posted by travelwithcats at 9:13 AM on March 15


Actually on second thought that is one reason you might fly a plane around for a really long time before crashing it -- in the hope that the voice recorder would have expired any struggle that occurred. So someone determined to leave as little evidence as possible might leave the black box turned on.
posted by miyabo at 9:20 AM on March 15 [1 favorite]


All known 5000 ft runways within the newly expanded range radius. (via RT from @cstross on the twitbox)
posted by mwhybark at 9:26 AM on March 15 [1 favorite]


All known 5000 ft runways within the newly expanded range radius...

... and in countries where there are manned civilian and military radar systems as well as airport workers who might also notice an interloper.
posted by Mister Bijou at 9:33 AM on March 15


Unfortunately, the entire intersection of annuli for predicted flight range and satellite location (linked to by roomthreeseventeen, above) lies outside of the region searched by wnyc for 5000ft runways.
posted by pjenks at 9:57 AM on March 15


Is there a simple map that shows every known fix with a time stamp?

I'm puzzled by the (uncertain) reports of radical altitude changes and the plane not going in a straight line to a destination. If your goal is to hijack a plane and take it somewhere why mess around? OTOH if the plane has some unusual mechanical problem or if the crew is incapacitated, all sorts of weirdness is possible.
posted by Nelson at 10:07 AM on March 15


I was going to comment about maps too , whether a multi-layer Google Map could be made or does one exist already. All reported sightings, contact points, corridors.
posted by divabat at 10:19 AM on March 15


The map pjenks linked to is very interesting but it does make the assumption that the plane was flying in something close to a straight line the entire time -- not circling for a period, doubling back, or (if we're going there) sitting still on the ground. So the map is just another educated guess.
posted by miyabo at 10:19 AM on March 15


True, though at least the last ping received from the plane put it somewhere in the blue-shaded region regardless of its path... which raises the quesiton, if all the satellite pings are of this form - i.e., they just give us a ring-shaped region that it was in - can we build a picture of its prior path and figure out if it had been circling/zig-zagging?

I gather they haven't released the intermediate ping locations, so maybe *we* can't, but I imagine the investigators are doing this.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:23 AM on March 15


Missing aircraft couldn’t have entered our airspace undetected: India
posted by mazola at 10:35 AM on March 15


CBC Interactive: Planes that vanished without a trace.

tl;dc Planes vanished a lot more in the 40s and 50s. Not so much now.
posted by mazola at 10:38 AM on March 15


A week into this and no major family interviews? Every other major catastrophe like this had lots and lots of human interest stories as soon as possible.

I'm not sure if things have changed, but early on the Chinese government supposedly put a leash on the local media about this:
Central Propaganda Department: The media may not independently analyze or comment on the lost Malaysia Airlines flight. Related coverage must strictly accord with authoritative information issued by the Civil Aviation Administration of China and with Xinhua News Agency wire copy. The domestic aviation department can promptly provide related information to passengers’ family members. All media must refrain from interviewing family members without permission, and must not incite any discontented sentiment. All media continue to give increased publicity to the Two Sessions.
For obvious reasons, we're not going to find an official memo about this, so it's difficult to verify it.
posted by FJT at 10:41 AM on March 15


It's been said elsewhere, but the US probably has very good radar coverage of Central Asia thanks to the bases in Afghanistan and nearby warships. That may explain why the US search is moving to the southern area of interest southwest of Australia. (Not that the other countries involved necessarily have bad radar, but they might not share the data with the US.)
posted by miyabo at 10:42 AM on March 15


Senior Afghan official on whether #MH370 flew over Afghanistan: "We do not have a radar. Go and ask the Americans."— Kevin Sieff (@ksieff) March 15, 2014

posted by mazola at 10:52 AM on March 15 [10 favorites]


Senior Afghan official on whether #MH370 flew over Afghanistan: "We do not have a radar. Go and ask the Americans."— Kevin Sieff (@ksieff) March 15, 2014

This is likely the most open and forthright answer in the whole of the investigation so far.
posted by Thing at 11:03 AM on March 15 [21 favorites]


Re: Maps
My understanding is that a satellite does not give an exact position, hence the two corridors. Satellites tend to have more than one antenna, pointed in different directions, and make no distinction between the received information.
What the investigators did was to compare data from different satellites for overlap, they could exclude areas covered by other satellites, thus knew which satellite the last ping(s) had to come from.
The last assumed contact point on military radar was (Pulau Perak) at 2:15. After that the aircraft left Malaysian airspace.

Now, if one could establish which satellite recorded the handshakes from MH370, it would be possible to draw corridors for every ping between 2:15 and 8:11 am, or possibly from 1:22 am on - when the last proper contact was. Then a route could be traced.

But since the aircraft could have flown for a while longer than 8:11 (hourly handshakes), they are probably working on calculations for a probable further route, to refine the search and find the plane.
posted by travelwithcats at 11:10 AM on March 15


If they did land the plane, then why? No demands have been made, at least publicly. Could you even sell a plane like this on the black market? Use it as a missile?
posted by rosswald at 11:14 AM on March 15


Neither of the corridors make any sense. The northern corridor requires the plane to fly over airspace in which is should have been constantly detected by radar. The southern corridor means the pilot was deliberately just flying around until he ran out of fuel and crashed. But in that case why not dive straight into the water much earlier in the flight?
posted by Justinian at 11:18 AM on March 15 [2 favorites]


They say "flying under the radar" for a reason. There are ways to be less noticeable.
posted by travelwithcats at 11:20 AM on March 15 [1 favorite]


But the "we aren't sure which of two tracks it took" stuff is puzzling -- suggests the US info is not so clear on (a) and (b) as it had sounded like.

The only tracking info they have from the satellite is signal round trip time, which gives you distance from the satellite. You plot that circle.

You now erase the part around Malaysia, which was under radar coverage, then you have two "tracks" -- the arc that's north of Malaysia, and the arc that was south. You then plot fuel ranges, and cut out the parts beyond max range. This gives you basically two patches where the plane could have been when that one satellite got that ping.

If they went north, between China, India, and the US in Afghanistan, they were tracked by radar -- both countries have extensive air defense networks, and we have significant presence in Afghanistan. If they went south, they were over the Southern Indian Ocean, near the Kergulan Islands, which don't have an airport. The entire area is basically ocean. If they were over that spot, they crashed into the ocean.

If they flew low to get under the radar, they would have to get much closer to those countries to be seen -- but flying low means you're both burning more fuel *and* your going slower. If they did fly low, they're not nearly as far out as they could have been if they'd flown at high altitude.
posted by eriko at 11:21 AM on March 15 [5 favorites]


Do we know anything about the cargo on board? Could something extremely valuable (like a pallet of cash meant for a bank) been the real target?
posted by clockworkjoe at 11:23 AM on March 15 [1 favorite]


For the northern corridor:
Time zones mean they could have flown in the dark all that time.
posted by travelwithcats at 11:25 AM on March 15


All right, let me apologise and rephrase. I do not believe that this information should have taken this long to come to light. I feel that the Malaysian data exchange could be improved.

Do you have any specific concerns about the protocols used and about how this unprecedented location data came to be known. Or do you have beliefs and feelings based on "hey it was kinda long before they told us this in a press conference".
posted by Authorized User at 11:25 AM on March 15 [1 favorite]


'Water landing is a remote possibility' - DITCHING: Such emergency landing would have been extremely difficult without breaking underbelly of aircraft, says expert
posted by rosswald at 11:30 AM on March 15


I am not sure what to think about the reasons for such an elaborate hijacking. There are many possible targets. Just in 9 days there will be many important people for the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague talking about preventing nuclear terrorism. I hope we'll find the plane and passengers until then.
posted by travelwithcats at 11:33 AM on March 15


Do you have any specific concerns about the protocols used and about how this unprecedented location data came to be known. Or do you have beliefs and feelings based on "hey it was kinda long before they told us this in a press conference".

One specific concern is that searches in the Gulf of Thailand and South China Sea were still being sent out as late as Thursday. They didn't need to tell the public the details of the location data, but they were still willing to waste time and care on something they must have known was pointless.
posted by Thing at 11:33 AM on March 15 [1 favorite]


What the investigators did was to compare data from different satellites for overlap, they could exclude areas covered by other satellites, thus knew which satellite the last ping(s) had to come from.

As far as I understand, data from just one satellite was used. Inmarsat IOR marked in blue here. It is parked in geostationary orbit over the equator at 64 Degrees East and what they did was work out how long the ping took to travel to the satellite. Thus the possible paths lying around a circle centered on that point.

They didn't need to tell the public the details of the location data, but they were still willing to waste time and care on something they must have known was pointless.

What makes you think that they knew it to be pointless. Both the radar data and the satellite pings were very tentative and even so, they actually widened the search area considerably after the radar data was available. This is the first time that an aircraft has been tracked using satellite data like that. copy-pasting myself from 10 comments up
posted by Authorized User at 11:36 AM on March 15 [1 favorite]


The southern corridor means the pilot was deliberately just flying around until he ran out of fuel and crashed. But in that case why not dive straight into the water much earlier in the flight?

I guess the working theory is that they wanted the plane to disappear completely. If it were a suicide it's even possible that they were already dead by deliberate depressurization and the autopilot was left to run the plane through a pre-programmed route. It would have been possible to disable the comms, program the route and initiate depressurization before the passengers were likely to notice anything wrong.

And this is of course complete speculation.
posted by Authorized User at 11:40 AM on March 15 [1 favorite]


RE: Inmarsat IOR marked in blue here.
Yeah, I was thinking about AOR-E (yellow on that map) and POR (pink) - see how they overlap? The field between the yellow line and the pink line is still vast though.

EDIT: overlap with the field marked blue I mean.
posted by travelwithcats at 11:41 AM on March 15


Guardian: What we know for certain – and what's still speculation
posted by travelwithcats at 11:44 AM on March 15


In absence of a map of location fixes, I'll take a simple list. Time, position, altitude. The reporting I've read is conflicted about what we know. Last night's WSJ article says "the plane kept broadcasting its location hourly via a satellite communication system for five more hours". That suggests a fairly regular set of positions for the plane independent of radar. I haven't seen those positions reported anywhere, just the last ring around the satellite.

Another WSJ article suggests most of the Inmarsat fixes include precise data: "the transmissions included detailed information about the plane's location, speed and bearing." IIRC the last position from Inmarsat data is only that vague ring because it's not a complete message. Ie: just detecting some sort of signal, and not the data in the message.

The usefulness of this Inmarsat data makes me once again reiterate my position that satellite uplinks of GPS position would be enormously useful in a case like this. Although if there's a determined attacker in the cockpit shutting off reporting, that GPS pinger could be shut off too. I wonder if the data got to Inmarsat only because some hypothetical attacker didn't know about the engine reporting system? Or it's self-contained and they weren't able to disable it?
posted by Nelson at 11:53 AM on March 15


So there's two possibilities, I guess. One, a strange and elaborate suicide by one of the pilots. It'd almost have to be one of the pilots, given the skill shown. In which case it probably flew off into the South Indian ocean and crashed when it ran out of fuel. But that seems really bizarre; you can certainly believe in the suicidal impulse where a depressed pilot dives his plane into the ocean, and it's even thought there may have been a case of it with Egypt Air 990. But that's a hell of a lot different than flying for *7* hours just to kill yourself, and if they merely wanted never to be found, flying back across Malaysia to ditch in the Indian Ocean would have likely done it.

Second, it's somewhere in the northern arc and was a hijacking. In which case, you have to ask _why the hell Malaysia_? If you wanted to hijack a plane to somewhere in central Asia, there's plenty of places far closer. So it seems like either there was some reason it was an easier target, i.e. they had suborned a crew member, or there was something or someone on that plane that they really wanted. The latter of which sounds truly ridiculous and movie-plot like, but the whole thing is just strange.

Either way, it seems like the passengers must be dead. Even if it landed rather than crashed in the northern arc, it seems near-certain that if the passengers were conscious for any significant amount of time that some text messages wouldn't have been sent, and even if they were later incapacitated they'd be sent if a cell tower came within range. Especially if a plane was flying low to evade radar. And I can't imagine hijackers keeping good enough control of 200+ people that they could collect all the phones and disable them, not post 9/11.
posted by tavella at 11:55 AM on March 15 [3 favorites]


The passengers would have died from hypoxia if the plane really did go up to 45,000 feet. That's another reason I think it was one or both pilots. He/they could have put on their oxygen mask and deliberately flown up really high to kill the passengers.
posted by Justinian at 12:00 PM on March 15 [2 favorites]


But, again, that makes no sense for the southern corridor suicide theory. Why kill the passengers with hypoxia if you're just going to crash into the ocean when you run out of fuel?
posted by Justinian at 12:01 PM on March 15 [2 favorites]


Has there been any mention of anyone taking a look at the pilot's home flight-sim? If we're going to consider that it was the pilot that did it, there's a chance that he was practicing/sandboxing/fantasizing there, right?
posted by jpziller at 12:02 PM on March 15 [4 favorites]


The suicide scenario reminds me in some ways of the Fedex 705 incident. In that case, a Fedex pilot who was not piloting the plane tried to kill the pilots and crash the plane so his family would get his life insurance. Not that that is specifically what happened here, it is just an example of a surprisingly elaborate and premeditated scheme for someone to kill himself using an airplane.
posted by miyabo at 12:02 PM on March 15 [3 favorites]


The passengers would have died from hypoxia if the plane really did go up to 45,000 feet.

No. Only if the cabin lost pressure. The plane's not rated to 45,000' but that probably has more to do with aerodynamic performance than cabin integrity. Of course if an adversary in the cockpit wants to kill the passengers then they could deliberately disable pressurization, but again we're guessing.

It's funny how we keep looking for some rational explanation. Maybe the pilot went crazy. Maybe there's a crazy hijacker. Maybe something failed and a hypoxic pilot started acting irrationally. Maybe there's an unpredictable mechanical failure and the plane itself is behaving crazy. The truth doesn't have to make logical sense.
posted by Nelson at 12:12 PM on March 15 [2 favorites]


Are the rise and fall fast enough that they could be due to a struggle? (I have no idea if that's plausible at all)
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:29 PM on March 15


If not a struggle, it could be a strategy to prevent passengers and flight attendants from trying to batter down the door to the cockpit, maybe?
posted by YAMWAK at 12:32 PM on March 15


Worth mentioning that the 45000 ft estimate came from radar at a point where the plane was 150-200 miles from each of the radars - and at least based on one piece I read, altitude estimates from radar at that distance are quite unreliable*. When the plane was closer to the radars (i.e flying over the peninsular) the altitude was estimated at a more sane 30000 ft. So it's possible the "climb to 45000 ft" is simply a mirage.

(* would be interesting to know what the actual error bars on that estimate are.)
posted by pascal at 12:34 PM on March 15 [2 favorites]


Would it even be possible to deliberately depressurize the cabin at altitude from inside the cockpit?
posted by vibrotronica at 1:04 PM on March 15


Would it even be possible to deliberately depressurize the cabin at altitude from inside the cockpit?

Could someone have opened the window? Or would that be difficult to do?
posted by popcassady at 1:11 PM on March 15


I recall reading somewhere once that it is possible for the pilot/flight deck to lower the cabin pressure; if that is true, then whoever took over could have rendered the passengers unconscious or worse without them even being aware.

Poking around a bit, it does look like the environmental control systems of modern aircraft includes cabin pressurization controls but I know nothing about them, and whether or not they could be used to lower cabin pressure to unsafe levels.
posted by nubs at 1:13 PM on March 15


viggorlijah I am surprised by the near-lack of news coverage on the missing passengers. . .so I went to the Daily Mail. . .

FJT pointed out China may have restricted interviews of Chinese family members.

No need to visit the website of the UK newspaper that must not be named. NPR has a good roundup:

Vanished Malaysian Airliner Carried Artist Whose Name Vanished, Too.

Tales From Malaysia Airlines Flight 370: Life's Small Moments Loom Large

Missing Malaysia plane: The passengers on board MH370

Who were the Indians on board the missing Malaysia Airlines jet? [Warning: auto-play video]

Missing Malaysian flight MH370: Paul Weeks spent his final days in Australia spending time with his family

Heart of middle Australia lost in flight
posted by mlis at 1:14 PM on March 15 [4 favorites]


Does anyone know what kind of (if any) background and/or mental health checks commercial pilots are subject to?
posted by triggerfinger at 1:54 PM on March 15


CNN is now reporting that the transponder was actually shut off just before it crossed from land to water...and the " Good Night " was uttered well after the transponder was turned off
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 3:16 PM on March 15 [1 favorite]


CNN is reporting anything and everything regardless of relevance or veracity.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 3:32 PM on March 15 [6 favorites]


Sad but probably true. I have seen that particular assertion in more than one place, though.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 4:04 PM on March 15 [1 favorite]


Today's NYT update contains a timestamped map like I've been asking for. However it only has the last military fix west of Malaysia after 1:34 of flight, then the satellite arcs for +7.5 hours. None of the reported hourly locations in the intermediate hours.

The sidebar says "A satellite picked up four or five signals from the airliner, about one per hour, after it left the range of military radar", which is in line with the WSJ article describing hourly messages. However the WSJ article says the messages include precise location and velocity data, whereas the NYT article says "The older satellite communications box fitted on the plane has no global positioning system ... But investigators have managed to calculate the distance between the “ping” from the plane and a stationary Inmarsat-3 satellite".

Also according to this article, the position calculation doesn't come from signal strength but rather "the angle from which the plane sent it". You can actually see the angles in the government position image at 40°. (One wonders what the error bar on that measurement is.)

I haven't seen any explanation on why there's such a big gap on the ring centered on Malaysia. it's nearly 25° of latitude or 1700+ miles. Do they exclude that from the possible range because of the satellite geometry? Or are they excluding it based on radar or other satellite location data?
posted by Nelson at 5:02 PM on March 15 [1 favorite]


Apropos of nothing, I thought this was sweet.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:11 PM on March 15 [1 favorite]


I haven't seen any explanation on why there's such a big gap on the ring centered on Malaysia. it's nearly 25° of latitude or 1700+ miles. Do they exclude that from the possible range because of the satellite geometry? Or are they excluding it based on radar or other satellite location data?

Somebody said upthread that it was excluded due to having radar for the area which shows no airplane. The middle of the arc would be roughly (though not quite) right for Butterworth airbase which both naturally has radar and was earlier tracking the flight. However, that is only what was put forward above and which I'm repeating.
posted by Thing at 5:22 PM on March 15 [1 favorite]


Re: big gap / two corridors
We've talked a bit about it further upthread actually. If you look again at the coverage of the satellites (linked here before) you can see that Malaysia is covered by two satellites, the data of IOR (blue) and POR (pink) overlaps. The last ping must have been picked up only by IOR, not by POR or AOR-E (yellow, over the Atlantic). So bits of a theoretical perfect circle can not be valid.
They also exclude bits of the circle due to fuel load. Possibly to radars and the SAR mission in that region. Hence we end up with two corridors.
posted by travelwithcats at 5:29 PM on March 15 [3 favorites]


Excellent. Thanks for the clarification.
posted by Thing at 5:32 PM on March 15


US investigators are reported to believe the initial off-course left turn which precipitated this entire chain of events was likely pre-programmed into the plane's autopilot. That would basically require the pilot to be involved.
posted by Justinian at 6:06 PM on March 15 [1 favorite]


We're never going to find out what happened, are we?
posted by orrnyereg at 6:15 PM on March 15 [5 favorites]


Not with that attitude! ;)
posted by cavalier at 6:22 PM on March 15 [3 favorites]


When I ponder the search area and eight days for debris to sink and disperse it seems really unlikely that anything substantial will be found.
posted by humanfont at 6:25 PM on March 15


I'm sure the lack of evidence will not stop all sorts of crazy conspiracy theories. Quite the opposite.
posted by Justinian at 6:26 PM on March 15



We're never going to find out what happened, are we?

Not with that attitude! ;)


This loss has troubled me all week. All those people lost and likely dead, all those families who hurt and yet don't have any answers.

The end limit of sophisticated technology is pain. We don't know and can't control what we're capable of.
posted by vers at 6:33 PM on March 15 [11 favorites]


From the Jakarta Post:
In a development that could make the mystery surrounding the missing Malaysia Airlines plane more puzzling, the Indonesian Air Force has revealed that its radar in Sumatra, which is closest to Penang on the Malaysian Peninsula, did not detect any aircraft in the Malacca Strait area under its coverage, around the time Flight 370 was lost early last Saturday.
This was from Friday.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 6:56 PM on March 15


I just started my very first episode of Fringe. That opening scene...
posted by shortfuse at 7:09 PM on March 15 [3 favorites]


Some papers in England are openly writing that the pilot of the airplane was a political extremist and downed the plane himself. Given, however, the utterly miserable quality of papers in that country it's hard to know if the story has anything more going for it than potential sales figures.
posted by Thing at 7:12 PM on March 15


Metafilter: The end limit of sophisticated technology is pain.
posted by localroger at 7:47 PM on March 15 [4 favorites]


The harassment of Anwar is despicable and does not reflect well on the Malaysian government and the captain was apparently (I haven't read his Facebook page) quite vocal about it. IMHO, that's not extremism, just common humanity.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 7:49 PM on March 15 [2 favorites]


TWinbrook8, who is Anwar?
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 7:53 PM on March 15 [1 favorite]


I know that the likely best outcome we can expect from this is finding the wreckage and being able to give some sense of closure for the families and friends.

But this past week has just been *so* weird and unprecedented that I can't help thinking how awesome it would be if the flight was hijacked, and the passengers are all safely released, after the Uighur hijackers get their ransom demand paid via Bitcoin, with the destination wallet and transactions being filtered by an underground crime ring in Crimea, who it turns out Edward Snowden has been freelancing for (when not breaching credit card numbers at Target), and that the Bitcoins are eventually used to buy flights on Virgin Galactic - which is then itself hijacked repeating the cycle. Watching CNN trying to find an expert to explain all that would be worth the price of admission. Plus the passengers would be home and safe. Huzzah!
posted by inflatablekiwi at 8:08 PM on March 15 [4 favorites]


This explains briefly about Anwar but the best part is the explain-to-me-like-a-5-year-old graphics for the airliner situation.
posted by maggieb at 8:11 PM on March 15 [1 favorite]


Sorry, here is a Forbes account of the trial history.

Basically, he was a charismatic politician who seriously challenged the long-serving PM at the time, was arrested on sodomy charges to discredit him within the Muslim community and who has been in detention, under arrest, on trial, convicted, in solitary confinement, on appeal, re-arrested and re-tried since 1999.

I was there at the time of the original trial and I've forgotten the details but the whole thing stank to high heaven. Here's the wiki.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 8:12 PM on March 15 [1 favorite]


http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/f582e940-ab90-11e3-90af-00144feab7de.html#axzz2w5kGMTAx
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 8:12 PM on March 15


This keeps getting worse and worse. I'm still hoping they'll find the wreckage soon. Those poor families.
posted by daybeforetheday at 8:14 PM on March 15


That being a supporter of Anwar marks you as a "political extremist" is a really sad reflection on the state of Malaysian politics - where just being vaguely "anti-Government" is enough to be considered "political extremism".
posted by divabat at 8:20 PM on March 15 [2 favorites]


Reuters India: 8:38 AM IST

India on Sunday put on hold its search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, at the request of the government in Kuala Lumpur...

"The search operation is not over, we are on standby and are awaiting instructions from the Malaysians," said a senior military official in Port Blair, capital of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, an archipelago west of the Malay Peninsula.

posted by TWinbrook8 at 8:26 PM on March 15


Andaman Chronicle, because every obscure island has its own online newspaper. The content is not particularly noteworthy. Discovered via the Fear of Landing writeup of MH 370, a reasonable summary by someone who's made a hobby of reading and explaining aircraft accident reports.
posted by Nelson at 8:40 PM on March 15 [3 favorites]


Timeline.
posted by mazola at 8:57 PM on March 15 [1 favorite]


if anyone would like to wade through at least the last 200 comments in this fb post, feel free.

9M-MRO. Praying for a miracle, however unlikely.
The Captain goes back 34 years with me. The CoPilot is too young for me to remember. The InFlight Supervisor I know well as we used to fly together since my B737 days. The aircraft is just 11 years old.
What a nightmare.

DISCLAIMER :

I do not have privileged information. I have no access to inside information. Everything I write is based on my personal analysis, ( Best Educated Guess + logical thinking ) with print and electronic media as reference similar to most people. My input on the B777 is based on my memory after flying the aircraft for more than a decade.
I do not claim to be an expert in the Field of Air Crash Investigation.
I am not qualified nor trained in the Field of Air Crash Investigation.

THANK YOU

Capt Nik Huzlan
Ex Chief Pilot Regional Operations Malaysia Airlines.
Ex Vice President Haj & Charter Operations, Malaysia Airlines.
Ex Boeing 777-200IGW Pilot, Malaysia Airlines.

posted by cendawanita at 9:35 PM on March 15 [1 favorite]


The Malaysia Chronicle link isn't loading for me, but here's the BBC on the same thing, article from the day before the plane disappeared: Malaysia jails [opposition leader] Anwar Ibrahim on sodomy charges [conveniently removing him from contention in an election later this month].
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:53 PM on March 15


MH370: life on hold for brother of missing Malaysia Airlines passenger
"I don't think I can get anything done," he said. His thoughts wander and at times he feels sick.

"This long wait is taking its toll on everyone. I don't really want to think about it too much; every time I think of it, it's hard to think through everything."

Wang's (not his real name, because he wishes to protect the privacy of other family members in China) sister is several years older than him and throughout their childhood she was his protector. She was just 16 when circumstances forced their family apart, and for several years she effectively raised him. "It was just the two of us," he said.

Even when he grew up, she would go out of her way to help him with anything he needed. Although he moved abroad some years ago, his daughter recently spent six months living with her aunt.

His sister had grown up into a lively, outgoing woman, "always busy doing things; always going places." Her son has told him she had been in Malaysia for business.

At first, no one dared to break the news to their elderly mother. But when she tried to call Wang's sister, and could not reach her phone, relatives were forced to explain that she was missing.
posted by cashman at 9:56 PM on March 15


Missing Plane: Grief And Anger Among Families [YouTube 2:58]
Amongst them the mother of student Lin Annan. She did not want to give me her name but with tears streaming down her face she said: "There's something I really want to say to my son. I love you. All of us love you."

The 27-year-old was returning home from studying.

"Most of all I'm hoping for a miracle to bring everybody back safely. All of them," his mother added.

---- ----

Wang Le's mother was on the plane. The well-educated 27-year-old's is engaged to a journalist. Now they find themselves at the heart of a story she would normally be reporting on.

He showed me the last message his mother, Zhang Chi, sent him before take-off. "Can we meet up when I get back to Beijing?" she wrote.

"She is a good mother," he said. "We have good relationship, like friends, we talk about everything."

Instead of planning his marriage, he's now comforting his father.

"Every evening I have dinner with my father. Now it's only us in our house. He talks about my mother, and sometimes he cries. He tells stories I've not heard before. He talks about my mum everyday".
posted by cashman at 10:00 PM on March 15


Tan Hang Kong is still hoping that three of his family members onboard the missing MH370 are alive and safe.
The 84-year-old father of Tan Ah Ming, 46, said since March 8, he had been praying and hoping for the safe return of his son, daughter-in-law Chuang Hsui Leng, 48, and grandson Tan Wei Chen, 19.
posted by cashman at 10:06 PM on March 15


I haven't seen any explanation on why there's such a big gap on the ring centered on Malaysia. it's nearly 25° of latitude or 1700+ miles. Do they exclude that from the possible range because of the satellite geometry? Or are they excluding it based on radar or other satellite location data?

Well, you would have two points if two satellites received information about MH370 at the same time. The two points in the globe would be the two places where both bits of satellite information are true. I realize that image shown only marks the location of one satellite, but perhaps there is a reason the other was left off...
posted by oneirodynia at 10:23 PM on March 15


Oh boo, I forgot that I left this page open a long time ago, and the satellite thing has long been covered up above. Sorry.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:27 PM on March 15


Are there any theories beyond

(a) pilot went nuts and ditched in the bottomless deep sea; and

(b) incredibly sophisticated hijacking, prelude to terrorism?

They both seem so far-fetched. A 7 hour suicide? That doesn't seem likely. Hijackers that know all about the transponders, multiple nation's radar facilities, hand-off zone, can literally disappear the aircraft? That doesn't seem likely.

Surreality.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:39 PM on March 15 [4 favorites]


Well, you mentioned Fukishima in a previous comment so, yes, there are plenty of theories.
posted by futz at 10:55 PM on March 15


Are there any theories beyond...

At this point, humanfont's idea that there was a large currency shipment on the plane (or something similarly valuable), isn't really any more farfetched than the other options.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 11:01 PM on March 15


This flight having anything to do with Fukushima is beyond farfetched.
posted by futz at 11:10 PM on March 15


Boy, that really got your goat, didn't it? And that despite the very clear disclaimer that it was absurdly paranoid. I'm kind of surprised it has you so enthralled.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:16 PM on March 15


They both seem so far-fetched. A 7 hour suicide? That doesn't seem likely. Hijackers that know all about the transponders, multiple nation's radar facilities, hand-off zone, can literally disappear the aircraft? That doesn't seem likely.

Yeah, irrational/deliberate crew activity is a deeply unsatisfactory explanation because it could be used to explain just about any kind of incident. And there is no evidence whatsoever of hijacking and it would have to have been very very lucky or very very sophisticated hijacking for there to be none.
posted by Authorized User at 11:29 PM on March 15 [1 favorite]


MH370's original heading off the NE coast of Malaysia, waypoint IGARI, is an intersection of national airspace boundaries. Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam all meet there. If you want to cause maximum confusion, that seems to be the place.

If you look at the timing, the plane took off and reached cruising altitude over the middle of the country at the 20 minute mark, so seatbelt signs would be on until then. 20 minutes later, the Air Traffic Control reported its last contact just off the coast. Before that, while it was still over land, the ACARS went off. After the last ATC report, the transponder went off. Then the indication on radar that the plane was changing course.

That's a lot of activity in a short amount of time if we're talking about an unauthorized intrusion into the cockpit at a time when the flight attendants are getting ready/serving the evening meal and at least some passengers could still be expected to be awake.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 12:05 AM on March 16


What do you think happened, TWinbrook8? What's your best guess at this point?
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 12:08 AM on March 16


Oh man, I hate to say it but based on the timing and the piloting skill, either the captain or the first officer continued flying the plane/Occam's razor/motive is still a question however.

Grabbing at straws, is it possible that either one had a friend deadheading in the jump seat? Haven't heard that possibility mentioned in my reading.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 12:25 AM on March 16


Some papers in England are openly writing that the pilot of the airplane was a political extremist

Beeline to the mail (I'm USian) and yes, yes they are. However it is hard to believe that even the most extreme politicist would figure out that hiding a loaded 777 would be the most attention-getting ploy of all.
posted by telstar at 1:53 AM on March 16


Surreal it is, sure. But remember how we all felt when the news of 9/11 broke? I thought it must be a joke, an awful piloting error...and then we found out that this was a well thought out plan.

According to the New Straits Time the investigators re-enacted the suspected flight path to compare the radar and satellite data with data from the missing aircraft. From the article: "The official said the new findings generated data identical to that which is believed to show the missing airliner [...]."
And: "That is why we can conclusively say which two possible directions the plane flew [...]." (Emphasis mine)
posted by travelwithcats at 2:02 AM on March 16 [1 favorite]


Today's press conference will be at 5:30 pm, that's in 22 minutes.
Here's the link to the livestream.
posted by travelwithcats at 2:08 AM on March 16


Many interesting questions raised by the press. The authorities actually confirmed a few things that were already reported.

Families of both pilots have been questioned. It was confirmed that the pilots did not specifically ask to be scheduled for this flight together.
The police has the captain's flight simulator and is checking it out.
They refocus on the backgrounds of crew and passengers but said at least twice that they are treating everybody the same, alluding to no specific suspects. But not all countries got back to them with background info yet. They also said that intelligence agencies didn't reveal any suspicious details about the passengers. He refused to name which agencies.

It was confirmed that one of the tracking systems was switched off before the last official communication happened.

The suspected flight path has been re-enected with a flight simulator. The data gained suggests that it was MH370's signal that was picked up by radars and the satellite, although he used the word "could" and made no definitive statements, unlike the NST article.

They are pretty certain about the corridors and said the data was analyzed independently by experts from the UK and the US and later compared. It turned out that both parties came to the same results. They also said they made calculations how far the aircraft could have flown based on different speeds. It was confirmed that the aircraft had the regular, expected fuel load.

They said the cargo load did not contain anything hazardous. That was a bit of a round about answer I thought. The reporter asked a more general question, if they knew what was loaded and about the cargo manifest IIRC.

They thanked all the countries involved for their help so far, but asked "other countries to come forward" with data. So there might be some tension on that front, as the defense systems of the region seem not exactly the state of the art. They hope more data will narrow down the search area, but don't prioritize either corridor so far, it seems.
posted by travelwithcats at 4:01 AM on March 16 [14 favorites]


Thanks for the update, travelwithcats.
posted by taz at 4:08 AM on March 16 [1 favorite]


Many thanks from me, as well, travelwithcats. This is becoming more heart wrenching each day. I can't imagine what the families are experiencing.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 4:16 AM on March 16


I didn't quite understand what the Inspector General of the Police meant. At first he said that all the passengers and crew were checked out and then he seemed to go back on that by saying they didn't have all the background info yet.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 4:42 AM on March 16


Thanks taz and InsertNiftyNameHere.

There are now 25 countries involved in the search. Massive.

This is the press statement, via the minister's Facebook page:

"MH370 PRESS STATEMENT
BY MINISTRY OF TRANSPORT, MALAYSIA
SUNDAY, 16 MARCH 2014

1. Search and rescue operational update
a. The search and rescue operation continues to be a multi-national effort, led by Malaysia.

b. Malaysian officials are contacting countries along the northern and southern corridors about MH370. These countries include: Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, China, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Australia and France. Officials are requesting assistance from these countries.

c. Malaysian officials are currently discussing with all partners how best to deploy assets along the two corridors.

d. Malaysian officials are also asking countries to provide further assistance in the search for the aircraft, including: satellite data and analysis; ground-search capabilities; radar data; and maritime and air assets.

e. Both the northern and southern corridors are being treated with equal importance.

2. Update on the police investigation into MH370’s crew and passengers

a. As per normal procedure, the Royal Malaysia Police are investigating all crew and passengers on board MH370, as well as engineers who may have had contact with the aircraft before take-off.

b. Police searched the home of the pilot on Saturday 15 March. Officers spoke to family members of the pilot and experts are examining the pilot’s flight simulator. On 15 March, the police also searched the home of the co-pilot.

c. We appeal to the public not to jump to conclusions regarding the police investigation."
posted by travelwithcats at 5:02 AM on March 16


I can't help but think that it would greatly help if the US could dispatch a few 688 fast attack subs to the search areas to listen for the pings from the black boxes. I realize the search areas are enormous and the 688s are probably busy tracking other subs, and I'm guessing the US doesn't have any "spare" subs, but nothing can hear in the depths like an attack sub.

I'll be the first to admit that, at this point, things look really grim, but I sure wish they could find those recorders.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 5:27 AM on March 16


Malaysian authorities may be looking at the pilot's simulator, but if this report in the New Straights Times is correct they have also run a simulation of the flight: MISSING MH370: Re-enactment shows plane veered off course
posted by Mister Bijou at 6:01 AM on March 16


Ahem, Mister Bijou, if you cared to read 6 posts up, you would know that they talked about the simulation at today's press conference. If you look up 8 posts, you'll even find that very NST article.
posted by travelwithcats at 6:47 AM on March 16 [1 favorite]


Useful contribution: [Why and] How the Missing Malaysia Airlines Jet Could Have Been Hijacked
posted by Mister Bijou at 6:50 AM on March 16


Ahem, I read your post six up: "The suspected flight path has been re-enected [sic] with a flight simulator." News to me that simulator = re-enactment, you know, running some computer software is same as taking a plane up in the sky.
posted by Mister Bijou at 6:55 AM on March 16


Anyway, I apologise for skipping and skipping the last few posts. Including yours, which have been very helpful. Thanks.
posted by Mister Bijou at 6:59 AM on March 16


Mister Bijou @ 9:50, your link is broken.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 7:01 AM on March 16


Whoops. Not my night.

travelwithcats, about a dozen posts up, already posted link
posted by Mister Bijou at 7:06 AM on March 16


They said the cargo load did not contain anything hazardous.

I thought there was a 20000lb load of lithium batteries. Those things are hand grenades when they go sideways.

On second thought, that shouldn't have passed the sniff test. Those would be transported by cargo plane, not a passenger jet.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:07 AM on March 16


WSJ: What Satellite Data Reveal About Flight 370's Location, an update with little new info. They correct one previous puzzling thing they reported: "However, the 12-year-old Boeing jetliner wasn't configured to broadcast those definitive points of data, people being briefed on the investigation say, as they first believed." That puts them in agreement with the recent NYT story that the satellite data does not include GPS fixes after all.

Still doesn't say anything about the locations of the 5 hourly pings. I'm very curious to see them because they should let you estimate the plane's speed and whether it flew a direct course, even if it's just more angles to the geostationary satellite. Maybe the data is so confusing or incomplete they don't want to publish it.

I have a nagging feeling that part of why information is so slow to come out is that it is embarrassing to the air defense networks. I'm sure it's painful for Malaysia to admit they don't have radar sufficient to track a target like this.
posted by Nelson at 7:11 AM on March 16


If MH370 crashed in southern Indian Ocean it wouldn't be seen or heard.
posted by Mister Bijou at 7:19 AM on March 16


No need to apologize, Mister Bijou, really. I wrote about the press conference from memory. The reporter asked about a recreation/reenactment and Malaysian Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya replied they run a simulation, clarifying no real-life B777 was used.
Sorry if my wording was confusing. They put the video online now. You can watch the press conference here, that question starts at 27:31.
He said: "Not another 777. We reenact[ed] the flight in the 777 simulator. So we did that. [...] It confirmed basically, that could possibly be the triple 7."

P.S.: TWinbrook8 referred to the link for "How the Missing Malaysia Airlines Jet Could Have Been Hijacked" I believe, that link is broken.
posted by travelwithcats at 7:40 AM on March 16


Gawd... really not my night.

Let's try this: [Why and] How the Missing Malaysia Airlines Jet Could Have Been Hijacked
posted by Mister Bijou at 8:05 AM on March 16


Where did the lithium batteries thing come from?
posted by divabat at 8:07 AM on March 16


A couple of interesting reference sites: SkyVector shows the flight routes, waypoints, airport radars, and national airspace boundaries. Live Ships shows all container ships and tankers equipped with transponders in eg, the Straits of Malacca but the map also extends over land and covers the arc area up to Kazakhstan.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 8:09 AM on March 16 [3 favorites]


Really not your night:

Not Found

The page you are looking for could not be found.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 8:11 AM on March 16 [1 favorite]


this link?
posted by jepler at 8:13 AM on March 16


I have a nagging feeling that part of why information is so slow to come out is that it is embarrassing to the air defense networks. I'm sure it's painful for Malaysia to admit they don't have radar sufficient to track a target like this.

Although I'm not so sure it relates to the flow of information we are receiving in this incident, it does seem apparent that many military radar networks are not all they're cracked up to be. This is true in the US too; why was it so difficult to determine the locations of the planes on 9/11 after they turned off their transponders? The report plays up the confusion amongst the various FAA centers, but never seemed to ask the question "Why did NORAD not pick up on four airliners flying around the country with their transponders off?" It's clear that countries are very sensitive about revealing any details of their air surveillance networks, but the bits and pieces we do get tend not to inspire great confidence.
posted by kiltedtaco at 8:14 AM on March 16 [7 favorites]


From the end of this article on the Guardian:
The satellite "pings" that were last read at 8.11am on Saturday – some six hours after Malaysian military radar last detected the aircraft over the Malacca Strait at 2.15am – could still have been transmitting data from the ground, if the plane were to have landed, said Malaysia's civil aviation chief, Abdul Rahman.

"The plane can still transmit pings from the ground as long as there is electrical power," he said.
I haven't heard this mentioned before in this thread. I suppose its not surprising that they can ping on the ground, however unlikely in this scenario.
posted by Thing at 8:16 AM on March 16


via twitter:

JoeSentMe.com ‏@joesentme 6m
MH370 simplified: We can't establish motive, don't know the means, are sketchy on opportunity and, by the way, we can't find the crime scene
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:26 AM on March 16 [4 favorites]


TWinbrook8 mentioned Australia's JORN (Jindalee Operational Radar Network) upthread and although it can detect "planes as small as a Cessna 172" and "has an official range of 3,000 km" (both from the wiki), this JORN fact sheet [PDF] states on page 3: "JORN does not operate on a 24 hour basis except during military contingencies. ".

So even the existence of sophisticated radar technology might not prove helpful.
posted by travelwithcats at 8:32 AM on March 16 [1 favorite]


I'm beginning to think I might not solve this one...
posted by mazola at 8:50 AM on March 16 [4 favorites]


So if the pilot was following waypoints, what are the potential flight paths that take the plane to the northern corridor?
posted by mazola at 8:58 AM on March 16


This is a nice map showing which parts of the ocean on the southern corridor are actually covered. It shows the Inmarsat satellites, point of last satellite contact and Australian radars. Source: Mark Reynolds, PhD. Professor of Computer Science and Software Engineering at The University of Western Australia.

Explanation of the pic:
The red line marks last contact of IOR with MH370 at 8:11am. The aircraft could have been at one point on that line at 8:11. The blue line marks how far the aircraft could have flown by 8:11.
The pink line marks where coverage of POR stops. The plane could not have been east of that line, if it had been POR would have picked up on it at 8:11 as well.
The white circle around Australia is an estimation of JORN's reach.
There also is a green line far to the west, where the plane can not have been, or it would have been detected by AOR-E.
posted by travelwithcats at 9:22 AM on March 16 [2 favorites]


Re: potential flight paths
Check out SkyVector, TWinbrook8 linked. If you zoom out, you'll see there are many, many, many waypoints.
posted by travelwithcats at 9:28 AM on March 16 [1 favorite]


Nice Washington Post graphic.
posted by mazola at 9:39 AM on March 16 [5 favorites]


I almost wonder if it did cross over land, was identified on radar by another country, and then because there was no communication from the plane it was shot down and whoever did it is trying to keep it quiet.
posted by jason_steakums at 9:45 AM on March 16 [1 favorite]


jason_steakums, unless it was shot down in a VERY remote part of the world without social media (which I guess is possible), that doesn't seem like a likely scenario to me.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:48 AM on March 16 [2 favorites]


Right, would whoever is piloting stick to the flight corridors? because IGREX on route P628 leads directly over Port Blair and the Indians have already said they didn't see it. IGREX is also the border between Malaysian and Indian airspace so if the pilot wanted to skirt the boundaries, flying from that point north via waypoints follows the perimeter of Indian and Burmese airspace and maybe the limits to their radar if anyone was watching in the middle of the night. I really have no idea, I'm just looking at the chart.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 9:52 AM on March 16


the plane it was shot down and whoever did it is trying to keep it quiet.

I'm pretty confident that US Satellites would ID any kind of mid-air explosion, anywhere in the world, but particularly in the former Soviet Republics, being so near both Afghanistan and Iran, not to mention the Ukraine.
posted by anastasiav at 9:52 AM on March 16


Someone did see the plane actually take off, didn't they?
posted by maxwelton at 9:53 AM on March 16 [2 favorites]


Possible over land ('northern corridor') scenarios:
  1. plane evades radar
  2. radar is not functioning (turned off; apparently that happens)
  3. data is missed; plane is tracked but not identified
  4. plane is given safe harbour/final destination by a country that colludes in the plan (conspiracy)
Anything else?
posted by mazola at 9:54 AM on March 16


Someone did see the plane actually take off, didn't they?

Malaysian ATC certainly did, and they know based on radar where it flew for approximately 7 hours.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:54 AM on March 16


(Another caper movie would involve stealing the plane in plain sight--ushering it to a hanger at the airport while a smaller, more nimble plane which could mimic the speed of the 777 is used to fly its route and eventually make it seem like something catastrophic had happened...)
posted by maxwelton at 9:56 AM on March 16 [2 favorites]


roomthreeseventeen:"Malaysian ATC certainly did, and they know based on radar where it flew for approximately 7 hours."

Huh?
posted by travelwithcats at 9:59 AM on March 16 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty confident that US Satellites would ID any kind of mid-air explosion, anywhere in the world, but particularly in the former Soviet Republics, being so near both Afghanistan and Iran, not to mention the Ukraine.

That's another thing I'm wondering about, what are the odds that US spy satellites were able to confirm what happened to the plane but aren't releasing the info so as not to tip their hand on their surveillance capabilities? I wouldn't be surprised if there were spy satellite eyes on that part of the world.
posted by jason_steakums at 10:00 AM on March 16 [2 favorites]


I've seen people also speculate about shadowing another (in-the-know) aircraft, mazola.
posted by travelwithcats at 10:02 AM on March 16 [1 favorite]


jason_steakums - Surely there's ways for them to communicate that intelligence to searchers without taking credit for it?
posted by jpziller at 10:03 AM on March 16


Huh

Not sure what your question is. We know the plane took off, and we know it was in the air.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:04 AM on March 16


I'm not sure why anyone would be confident in the ability of satellites to detect an explosion. Such a capability severely depends on how bright the explosion is and where it occurs in the atmosphere. These satellites are fine tuned to detect specific types of events, usually rockets or nuclear explosions, so it's super non-obvious that they would be able to detect the in-flight breakup of an aircraft. I know of no such events that have been detected by satellites.

Again, the military is not magic.
posted by kiltedtaco at 10:08 AM on March 16


I believe the "Huh" was regarding "they know ... where it flew for approximately 7 hours".
posted by pjenks at 10:08 AM on March 16


"they know based on radar where it flew for approximately 7 hours."

Do you really think they know where it flew? It reportedly left Malaysian airspace (= areas covered by Malaysian radars). Did you mean satellites? The data from the satellites does not necessarily give a flight route if it was incomplete, and more importantly it was not shared with the public except the last handshake at 8:11am.
posted by travelwithcats at 10:10 AM on March 16


Oh, right, sorry.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:12 AM on March 16


About satellites detecting explosion, see my comment here; the US said earlier in the week they have infrared detecting satellites and they didn't see an explosion -- at least in the immediate area, now, who knows if they checked far away places like Kazakhstan. But I imagine they could go back and check now?
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:13 AM on March 16 [1 favorite]


Ok, if Richelson claims they have detected aircraft explosions in the past I'm willing to give some credence to it, but slightly grudgingly since he is often working with non-public sources. I guess that's just how it goes when it comes to stuff like this.

The statement alone that the satellites didn't detect anything is not particularly useful on it's own, since it doesn't tell you whether the satellites would have been able to detect the hypothesized explosion.
posted by kiltedtaco at 10:20 AM on March 16


down in a VERY remote part of the world without social media

Sounds like northern Burma and it's within the northern arc. Could have crashed. I just don't see how it could've gone into China. I bet their radar is always manned.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 10:24 AM on March 16


Series of Errors by Malaysia Mounts, Complicating the Task of Finding Flight 370

The radar blip that was Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 did a wide U-turn over the Gulf of Thailand and then began moving inexorably past at least three military radar arrays as it traversed northern Malaysia, even flying high over one of the country’s biggest cities before heading out over the Strait of Malacca. . .

Senior Malaysian military officers became aware within hours of the radar data once word spread that a civilian airliner had vanished.

The Malaysian government nonetheless organized and oversaw an expensive and complex international search effort in the Gulf of Thailand that lasted for a full week.

Only on Saturday morning did Prime Minister Najib Razak finally shut it down after admitting what had already been widely reported in the news media: Satellite data showed that the engines on the missing plane had continued to run for nearly six more hours after it left Malaysian airspace.

posted by mlis at 10:34 AM on March 16 [2 favorites]


This business is beginning to remind me of the painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Landscape with the Fall of Icarus.

Edit: correct link.
posted by Mister Bijou at 10:51 AM on March 16 [1 favorite]


If you were to work backwards from the premise that the Malaysian government has been trying to "cover up" something since this began--not in a conspiracy sense, but that something colossally stupid or revealing was part of the original incident, where does that get you?
posted by maxwelton at 11:03 AM on March 16 [2 favorites]


Anybody remember when geedubya made his surprise turkey run to eye-rack with air force one pretending to be a lear jet? For some reason I'm reminded of that now.
posted by localroger at 11:08 AM on March 16


Grief, anger and despair: inside the Beijing hotel where relatives of missing MH370 passengers are staying.
On Friday, security guards tussled with several male relatives of the missing passengers who wanted to allow journalists into the hall to witness the poor treatment that they were receiving.

“It’s all bull****,” a man named Wang said of the conferences. “All they do is stall.”

Some family members said they were told not to speak with journalists, while others say they don’t want to give their names or appear on TV because they are shielding older and younger relatives from the news that someone they love was on the plane.
posted by cashman at 11:11 AM on March 16


I'm intrigued by the idea that no one wants to confess that their radar couldn't have tracked them over land. So they are letting everyone assume the plane must have gone down in the ocean and all is lost. Of course that leads me to they could be marooned in some inhospitable remote location desperate for help which is agonizing also. I feel so bad for the families. The unknowing must be unbearable because the imagination can conjure such horrible scenarios.
posted by double bubble at 11:37 AM on March 16


Senior Malaysian military officers became aware within hours of the radar data once word spread that a civilian airliner had vanished.

Unidentified radar data that showed an uncertain contact. The more accurate radar paths have only been reconstructed afterwards from data from multiple radars. Meanwhile there was a complete loss of communications to the aircraft which very strongly indicated that it had suffered a catastrophic event. Thus the SAR effort was split into two areas.

Aviation experts said that a trained pilot would be the most obvious person to have carried out a complicated scheme involving the plane. Yet for a week after the plane’s disappearance, Malaysian law enforcement authorities said that their investigation did not include searching the home of the pilot, Zaharie Ahmad Shah.

Hindsight much? These aviation experts are only saying this because of the unprecedented use of satellite pings to verify that the plane had not suffered a catastrophic event.

Only on Saturday morning did Prime Minister Najib Razak finally shut it down after admitting what had already been widely reported in the news media

It had been widely reported in the news media because the data was being used to assist in the search effort and had been widely disseminated to US officials.

Most of the media reaction seems to reveal an attitude where information that is not disseminated to the public means that it is either not known to the investigators or that it is being suppressed somehow.

It's interesting to note that this kind of public confusion and media storm happens almost every-time a plane crashes and that the parties with the most experience about this kind of stuff, namely NTSB, FAA, Boeing and Rolls-Royce have not criticized the Malaysian effort at all. Not that I would expect them to at this point unless the effort was utterly and completely mishandled
posted by Authorized User at 11:49 AM on March 16 [5 favorites]


Just looking at the map and the northern corridor. The investigators might assume MH370 could not have been in Chinese airspace at 8:11am, assuming strong aerospace defense. So a big chunk of the arc would not be valid. Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan and Kazakhstan would be left towards the west and Myanmar towards the east. Getting into Myanmar would be a fairly straight flight, yet it would be too short for ~7 hrs. There is another possibility, as Thing reminded us, the satellite can register pings even from an aircraft on the ground if it remains powered up. So....land it somewhere closer, yet on the northern arc, and let it run out of fuel. Does that even work with planes?

Now how to get to the western territory on the northern corridor from the last suspected point of contact at 2:15am? India was quick to posit no aircraft could have entered its airspace without detection. Which is probably not exactly true, as it was reported that the Indian islands are not monitored at night for example. Were the plane to fly around India and through Pakistan instead, it is certainly possible to make calculations about speed and fuel that could narrow down where a plane flying such a route could be at 8:11. That would be a long flight, probably longer than 7 hrs, so unlikely to reach any point on the northern arc by 8:11.

Another route could be through Bangladesh, Nepal and the Himalayas. The mountains lead towards the western territory mentioned before. It looks like a difficult terrain but the flight duration could be about right.

If all the pointers we have turn out to be true, this was a skilled person/group/agency/organization with solid knowledge of aviation including aerospace defense. If s/he/they know so much about how to do it in Malaysia, why not have the knowledge regarding other countries and their airspace/defense as well?
posted by travelwithcats at 11:54 AM on March 16


I too, feel for the families. Many have put their lives on hold, rushed to KL just to sit in this hotel and feel helpless. This long uncertainty must be very painful and imagination can run wild in the absence of information and facts. I hope closure comes soon.
posted by travelwithcats at 12:03 PM on March 16 [3 favorites]


It's interesting to note that this kind of public confusion and media storm happens almost every-time a plane crashes and that the parties with the most experience about this kind of stuff, namely NTSB, FAA, Boeing and Rolls-Royce have not criticized the Malaysian effort at all.

If all the pointers we have turn out to be true, this was a skilled person/group/agency/organization with solid knowledge of aviation including aerospace defense. If s/he/they know so much about how to do it in Malaysia, why not have the knowledge regarding other countries and their airspace/defense as well?


if this wasn't actually a real world situation (ie: a fiction), I'd say I loved where it was all heading. Instead, it's more of a Shrodinger's Cat sort of situation. Somewhere, some place, there's a plane full of passengers (or the remnants thereof) -- with uncertainty the only real certainty.

We live in strange times.
posted by philip-random at 12:07 PM on March 16 [3 favorites]


The white circle around Australia is an estimation of JORN's reach.

JORN doesn't see a full circle. The radar station watching that direction (JOR2) see about 180 degrees, centered north, so anything south of 23.6° S is going to be invisible to JOR2. So add a bit to that RED arc.

It also seems that whoever was flying was aware of JORN -- flying across Malaysia kept the plane well out of reach.

Not that I would expect them to at this point unless the effort was utterly and completely mishandled

Maybe not even then -- what they try to do is, in the background, explain why the matter was handled poorly, what could be done in the future, and if you need our help, please do ask. The NTSB has gotten vastly more cooperation over time with this approach. Part of this is that the NTSB and the UK's AAIB have a very strong and carefully defended reputation of completely honesty in their reports, including saying "we don't know" when they simply cannot find out what happened.

Which is probably not exactly true, as it was reported that the Indian islands are not monitored at night for example.

The outpost radar stations may not be monitored at night, but India has more than enough air traffic that the mainland ATC radars are being monitored 24x7x365.

Basically, to get to the "'Stans', that plane head three choices. Fly over large part of India, fly over large parts of China, or fly basically the China/India border and be seen by both of them.

The only way I see them going north and not being seen is if they go very low and land/crash in something like northern Myanmar or Bangladesh -- and even then, that's dicey. I'm not saying it's impossible, but it's dicey, and if they dropped low to get away from radar, the fuel burn went way up *and* the ground speed dropped to at least 350kts, probably lower, depending on how low they went. At that speed and fuel burn, they probably don't even make Bangladesh.

Finally, Malaysia's AD radars are one thing, China's are another -- they are known to have several OTH radars (and, like the old Russian Woodpecker, occasionally cause problems for HF radio users.)
posted by eriko at 12:07 PM on March 16 [4 favorites]


It's interesting to note that this kind of public confusion and media storm happens almost every-time a plane crashes and that the parties with the most experience about this kind of stuff, namely NTSB, FAA, Boeing and Rolls-Royce have not criticized the Malaysian effort at all. Not that I would expect them to at this point unless the effort was utterly and completely mishandled

I second that. There's no evidence of mishandling of the search and rescue or subsequent investigation. We don't know enough about the behind the scenes to really make a judgement. My gut says give them the benefit of the doubt.

However, It does look like the Malaysian officials saddled with the communication aspects aren't accustomed to the onslaught of the international press at this intensity. And possibly some people (in Malaysia and out) don't know how to keep their mouths shut or their opinions to themselves. (I guess that last part isn't much of a revelation.)
posted by double bubble at 12:09 PM on March 16


And possibly some people (in Malaysia and out) don't know how to keep their mouths shut

The New Straits Times has been running this ad (right-hand column, scroll down halfway) which is a little strange. The headline says "The Cloud of Mystery May Clear Soon" and in smaller type below "Until then, be mindful about what you share."

Is this a reference to MH307?
posted by TWinbrook8 at 12:19 PM on March 16 [3 favorites]


Well. That's just creepy. When did it start running? Please tell me it was months ago. Surely it's just someone's idea of clever marketing?
posted by double bubble at 12:22 PM on March 16 [1 favorite]


I'm confused about one thing (well many thing, but...), CNN says ACARS was turned off. But that it was still pinging?
posted by double bubble at 12:25 PM on March 16


double bubble, my understanding is that ACARS usually transmits a rich data stream with lots of info about the engines etc, and *that* stream was turned off. Whoever turned it off didn't realize (and it sounds like even the officials may not have realized until the satellite company came to them?) that the unit was still pinging, i.e., just sending out what they're calling a "handshake" signal that didn't include any further data.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:44 PM on March 16 [1 favorite]


I think I read somewhere (sorry, will try to find link) that the satellite ping was not from the ACARS system but was instead something called Swift64, which is a communications system that uses the Inmarsat satellites. (I believe ACARS uses satellites from Iridium.)
posted by devinemissk at 12:49 PM on March 16


I don't know anything about Malaysian culture. Do they typically promote the concept of family pride and family shame? If someone were to commit suicide, would that be seen to reflect badly on their family?

It's pretty outlandish, I realise, but could either the pilot or co-pilot decide that flying an aeroplane that just disappears into nowhere be a way of saving face for everyone involved? Their disappearance left a mystery?

If they placed no value on the lives of others (suicidal people are often not thinking clearly), they could do exactly what we've seen here. Take the plane off radar, disable all contact with the rest of the world that they were aware of, make a rapid course adjustment to confuse authorities and then fly into the middle of nowhere, ditching into the sea when the fuel ran out. They'd leave behind a mystery. They might even convince themselves that the hope that their loved-one was still alive would be better than knowing that they were dead.
posted by YAMWAK at 12:56 PM on March 16 [2 favorites]


Here's a good description of the ACARS/Swift64/Inmarsat relationship (which I got slightly wrong above).
posted by devinemissk at 12:59 PM on March 16 [11 favorites]


That was very insightful.
posted by double bubble at 1:14 PM on March 16


Psychic Uri Geller called in to help find Malaysia Airlines plane by "significant figure"
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:29 PM on March 16


Stop it.
posted by double bubble at 1:33 PM on March 16


That actually makes it seem pretty impressive that anyone connected the dots and realized that even though the airline never paid for Inmarsat services, an Inmarsat terminal was installed on the plane and powered up. I hope whoever figured that out gets a medal or something.
posted by miyabo at 1:36 PM on March 16 [1 favorite]


And earlier today Google News was showing me an article that said confidently that the plane had fallen into the Bermuda Triangle (which somehow had migrated rather far from Bermuda), so I'll take any bit of marginally insightful analysis I can get.
posted by miyabo at 1:37 PM on March 16


YAMWAK: This is based on my own personal experiences as someone with mental health issues, who has been suicidal, and who has been diagnosed and treated in Malaysia (and elsewhere). The caveat is that this information is at least 10 years old, and I don't know if anything's changed since then.

Awareness of mental health is sorely lacking. Your personal self-care is not seen as a priority. My school's policy was always "unless you're bed-ridden or severely contagious, show up". My anxiety and depression was derided as "it's all in your head, you're making it up" - while tons of people in my school were having bouts of "hysteria" from just being so stressed. It doesn't matter if you're stressed, or sick, or sad - achieve anyway. Get good grades. Don't slack off.

One of my classmates also had mental health issues (incidentally we shared a psychiatrist, though we were never friends) and ended up dropping out of school (I think she moved somewhere else). My teacher made a quip about how he hoped she wouldn't take the SPM(O-Levels) at our school else we lose our 100% pass rate.

I was suicidal at 11. Tried to cut my throat at school. The only other person who saw me was another student who said "you will go to hell for that". Even when I was open about my own struggle and how I needed help, it wasn't until I was approaching 17 and getting nightly panic attacks that I got my diagnosis - and even then I was stigmatized for it.

People don't talk about suicide or mental health issues. At all. My psychiatrist was a pretty great guy, but I was also shuttled around multiple doctors (my parents wanted a definite diagnosis) and every doctor diagnosed me with something else: schizophrenia, Tourette's syndrome, neurological disorders, whatever. It wasn't until I got checked out at John Hopkins and got the same diagnosis as my first psych that my parents were satisfied.

(And now, 10 years later, there seems to be more with my mental/hormonal health than we know about. I have a letter from my Australian psychiatrist telling me I'm a "diagnostic dilemma".)

I am really wary about the possibility that this was pilot suicide. Not because I don't think that's the case (I'm trying not to have any personal theories about it), but because I have no confidence in the ability of the Malaysian authorities or public to be able to figure out any signs of suicidality or depression. The international media as it is has been abysmal in their coverage (and blaming the Malaysian authorities for it) and they're not always the greatest with mental health cases either, but at least in places like Australia or the US there are stronger support and advocacy networks for mental health. Malaysia? Not so much.

Sometimes people are suicidal and you have no idea. Sometimes people express suicidality but aren't actually keen on following it. Sometimes you are in situations like much of Malaysia where you don't have space to talk about your mental health issues, your main focus is on the job, your personal problems stay out of it.
posted by divabat at 2:35 PM on March 16 [21 favorites]


Take a look at post four on this thread.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:44 PM on March 16 [1 favorite]


Thank you for sharing that, divabat. I am sorry to hear of the difficulties that you and others in Malaysia have had in getting the help and support that you need.

I hate to say it, but if this does turn out to be a suicide, there might be some slight portion of good to come out of it, as it would raise the profile of this problem in an unavoidable way.
posted by YAMWAK at 2:50 PM on March 16 [1 favorite]


If they placed no value on the lives of others (suicidal people are often not thinking clearly), they could do exactly what we've seen here.

It fits, but I think the problem with this is that we're assigning motives as a result of the conclusions we know now. If this was a suicide, then at the time it was being thought of, the person who piloted the plane would have been able to anticipate the response of not only the local government and media, but also the response of a number of international governments and media. They would have be certain that the plane would never be located, and that there would be great confusion, instead of being seen as a mechanical failure, suicide/mass murder, terrorist incident, or something else entirely.

Of course, this doesn't discount the possibility of suicide, but I don't think it's any more or less likely than it was before.
posted by FJT at 2:55 PM on March 16 [1 favorite]


From roomthreeseventeen's link:

Way-point Tracks
• The use of way-points to the navigate are conjecture. They happen to line up with the direction indicated by the primary radar returns and Inmarsat data to the north.
• While many believe the aircraft was under control - we cannot conclude if these way-point were used, or just along the path.


That's rather interesting, as the use of waypoints suggested a knowledgeable person still flying the plane several hours after it stopped communicating.
posted by Thing at 3:10 PM on March 16 [1 favorite]


Re: "use of waypoints suggested a knowledgeable person still flying the plane several hours"

IGREX is named as the last waypoint, the time was 2:15am. That's roughly one hour after last comms with ATC at 1:21am (on regular flight path's waypoint IGARI over to the other side of the peninsula).
posted by travelwithcats at 3:34 PM on March 16


There's a couple of nice maps in the thread roomthreeseventeen linked. I can't figure out how to link directly to the comment, but it's reply 45, by user socalgeo. He explains his calculations more fully, but:

Here he figures the maximum flight time radius from the point of last contact, and offers this map -- which shows the max straight line distance the plane could have gone, plus the two arcs where the last ping could have come from, all this superimposed on radar coverage. It shows what we've talked about -- that to get to the northern arc, you'd have to fly through dense radar coverage, with the least-covered area being Myanmar.

Here he figures the max flight distance if the plane turned south from its last known point... on such a path it would not have to cross any radar, and it would put it nicely at the southern arc.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:48 PM on March 16 [4 favorites]


Suicide would require either the pilot or co pilot (depending on who was committing suicide) to subdue the other person or otherwise render them unable to control the airplane. Is this plausible? I've never really heard of anything like this outside of murder suicides which I've always thought of being more about the murder than the suicide.
posted by Mitheral at 3:49 PM on March 16


Re-reading, I think I've mis-stated the exact method that yields the last map - he says the second map is "a scenario where the plane continues to the IGREX waypoint and then turns south, skirting the Indonesian radars at Aceh, and then when clear taking a straight shot to the arc. The blue line is the flight path....it lines up right with where they have said they are searching." (But interested people will do well to just find his full comment.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:55 PM on March 16


I wonder where on the timeline the climb to 41K and then "irregular" dropping was. Because people have been assuming that depressurization would automatically knock out the passengers... but the oxygen would deploy. So if you wanted to disable everyone else on the plane, depressurizing and then tumbling the plane around is a pretty good way to do it, especially to keep crew members from getting to the portable oxygen before they pass out. So if it occurred before the turn back across Malaysia, it may have had the goal of silencing the passengers and explain no text messages.

I can mostly make the suicide thing work in my head, if I assume the person doing it had the highest goal of never being found. Disable the passengers and crew, maneuver through the inhabited areas and radars, and then put an autopilot course for Antarctica and take off your mask. Or maybe make an error with your own oxygen and pass out before you can take the dive into the sea.

But *damn*, that's a lot of anger. Not just depression, but really intense focused anger. You'd probably have to kill the other pilot personally, and then probably deliberately kill the passengers or at least terrorize them, all over a period of hours, and there are a lot of ways to kill yourself with minimum chance of detection with less effort. Depression can turn outward into violence, but the targets are usually people who the person thinks have wronged him.

People brought up the Fedex attack, and that's a good example -- you had a guy who was about to be fired, and not only did he want to kill himself he wanted to destroy Fedex for firing him, which explained the target and violence of the attack. So far we don't have any such thing for either pilot, no known job difficulties. Maybe something will come out that will give a sufficiently powerful motive. Being pissed about Anwar hardly explains it -- that it's vile behavior on the part of the Malaysia government is pretty much the opinion of any decent person, not a sign of extremism.
posted by tavella at 4:01 PM on March 16 [4 favorites]


The autopilot ("flight management computer") navigates using waypoints. So it could imply the pilot was flying the plane, or the pilot could have entered in the waypoints before becoming unconscious, or a hijacker could have had a list of waypoints in his pocket to type in.

One other thing -- the default behavior if you reach the last waypoint is for the airplane to circle the waypoint and wait for further instructions. So if the pilot is unconscious it would be plausible that the plane reached the end of its program and just circled in place for hours before running out of fuel. In that case the searchers are looking in the wrong place because they seem to be assuming the plane was flying in basically a straight line in some direction, not circling.
posted by miyabo at 4:02 PM on March 16 [2 favorites]


I can mostly make the suicide thing work in my head, if I assume the person doing it had the highest goal of never being found.

Or the goal could have been to embarrass the Malaysian government. The pilot or copilot kills the other, programs waypoints into the autopilot, and depressurizes the plane. Everyone dies quickly, and the plane flies to the south Indian Ocean where where the pilot assumes it will never be found (not expecting the satellite data that has complicated the search). The plan would have been to make it look like it crashed shortly after the last radio contact, and the Malaysian government would come off very poorly after being unable to find the plane where it "obviously" must have crashed.
posted by stopgap at 4:15 PM on March 16 [7 favorites]


It's also been mentioned elsewhere that the person in control of the plane might have changed his mind at some point after turning the plane around, ie he had second thoughts about whatever he'd planned to do with the airplane/passengers/cargo and having committed a despicable and monumental crime, the only way out would be to ditch the airplane in deep water where his actions would remain a mystery. For someone who absolutely loved flying, changing the heading to fly over the vast Indian Ocean (southern arc), setting the autopilot and flying on until the fuel ran out might be a peaceful ending. I'm not explaining this very well but I can't find the original post

But the authorities have paid scant attention to the southern arc, not even contacting Australia to search with Jindalee so I've also discovered there is a runway that can accommodate a 777 in northern Burma and that would explain the last ping although nobody on any side up there would want to piss off the Chinese.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 5:55 PM on March 16 [1 favorite]


Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 dropped to altitudes as low as 1524 metres (5000 feet) using a dangerous flying technique called “terrain masking” to avoid radar in at least three countries, investigators believe.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:10 PM on March 16 [5 favorites]


No info regarding the earlier pings was released. And it was stressed how both corridors are being treated with the same importance. The pings must have been analyzed by now, most likely at the same time they analyzed the 8:11am ping. If the data for the time 1:20-8:11 was received, it could be that it leads to an inconclusive analysis. That might explain why the SAR efforts slowed down a bit and we haven't seen much movement towards search sites in the Indian Ocean. The last two or more pings being on the same circle, would suggest a landing on land. But not necessarily.
posted by travelwithcats at 6:11 PM on March 16 [1 favorite]


This is all nuts. Why spend so much effort to avoid radar if you're going to let yourself run out of fuel in the middle of nowhere west of Australia? The only thing that makes sense is the northern corridor. Maybe we're giving too much credit to the air defense networks of India and China and a 777 really could fly low over their airspace without detection...
posted by Justinian at 6:17 PM on March 16 [1 favorite]


SAR efforts in that southern corridor would be pro forma anyway. There is too much ocean and too much time has passed. Finding the wreckage would be a fluke unless they have information they aren't sharing about where in that corridor the plane would have been.
posted by Justinian at 6:18 PM on March 16


One other thing -- the default behavior if you reach the last waypoint is for the airplane to circle the waypoint and wait for further instructions. So if the pilot is unconscious it would be plausible that the plane reached the end of its program and just circled in place for hours before running out of fuel. In that case the searchers are looking in the wrong place because they seem to be assuming the plane was flying in basically a straight line in some direction, not circling.

Is this really possible? It seems so straight forward.
posted by double bubble at 6:31 PM on March 16


A 777 at 5000 feet is going to be pretty loud. Heck, the MD-80's that pass over my house at 10k are already noisy enough, even in the dark I think a 777 would be notable. Unfortunately that article gives no indication of why unnamed investigators might think the plane was flying low.

The intermediate satellite data would be useful to see how far into the open ocean it flew. If it stays at the same range then those arcs are probable tracks, and either it crashed at the most distant ends of those arcs (or it landed and continued transmitting closer). If it flew into the ocean and then back away from the satellite, the focus would be on the closer end of the last-position arcs.
posted by kiltedtaco at 6:51 PM on March 16


Re: "If it stays at the same range then those arcs are probable tracks, and either it crashed at the most distant ends of those arcs (or it landed and continued transmitting closer)."

If it circled around the same spot for a significant amount of time, several pings could indicate the same distance.
posted by travelwithcats at 6:55 PM on March 16


The corridors we're seeing are just a mental aid. The plane was in only one spot along those arcs at 8:11am.
posted by travelwithcats at 6:56 PM on March 16 [2 favorites]


Yes I understand that. But between 1:27 and 8:11 it can either 1) Fly roughly along the arc or 2) Fly off the arc, towards the ocean and then back out to the arc, so those seem like worthwhile scenarios to consider (I guess I'm also going on the assumption that the plane was flying at fixed mach number and not intentionally slowed down). Landing early or circling are clearly possible but seem hard to justify, but to be fair none of this is easy to justify.
posted by kiltedtaco at 7:05 PM on March 16 [1 favorite]


Agreed, knowing the earlier pings (and therefore the inferred arcs/estimated positions of the aircraft at time of ping) would be helpful to make assumptions about the flight path of MH370. We could establish average speed from that and possibly even exclude an unlikely corridor. But like I said a few comments upthread, there are reasons why that info is not made public.
posted by travelwithcats at 7:13 PM on March 16 [1 favorite]


This story keeps getting more and more crazy by the minute. I really should ignore it, but I can't.
posted by humanfont at 8:44 PM on March 16 [5 favorites]


Oh now the Australians are searching the lower arc.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 8:46 PM on March 16


Is it possible that the "dropping below 5000 feet" claim is so that countries can say that their radar systems WOULD have picked it up no problem had the plane been at normal altitude, to avoid losing face by admitting they can't monitor whats happening in their airspace?
posted by Admira at 8:52 PM on March 16 [5 favorites]


Weirdest story I've seen about this:

Malaysian plane disappearance inspired by Tintin story.

I wonder how people who read that paper don't die from sheer ignorance.
posted by Thing at 9:35 PM on March 16


Have we reached Peak Dumb yet?
posted by mazola at 9:49 PM on March 16


I dunno, has someone suggested it's an elaborate kickoff for a new Lost series yet?
posted by maxwelton at 10:08 PM on March 16


One of the first jokes on Twitter. And third comment on this thread before it got deleted.
posted by divabat at 10:13 PM on March 16


If they actually were trying to fly low over the terrain to avoid radar, a mistake and subsequent crash seems like a plausible explanation for why no demands were made or credit taken or anything like that.
posted by feloniousmonk at 10:18 PM on March 16 [5 favorites]


From the Guardians live update site:

I’ve just spoken to Sidney Dekker, a professor at the Safety Science Innovation Lab at Griffith University and expert on aviation safety.

He dismissed the idea that flying at 5,000 feet would put extensive strain on the airframe, as some have suggested: “The only really relevant effect is a dramatic increase in fuel use - its range would be very much shortened by that; probably halved, at a very rough guess.

“Other than that, it would be perfectly capable of flying - if you go into Heathrow you are circling at 5,000 feet before they let you land,” he said.

He added that it is difficult to overstress a fly-by-wire (rather than mechanical) plane such as the 777, though he did add one caveat: if a plane was in an extremely fast dive and abruptly pulled out of the dive at its bottom, that could cause problems.

But perhaps more pertinently, he pointed out that altitude readings taken from radar recordings should be treated with extreme caution: “Particularly over oceanic areas, radar coverage is extremely unreliable and partial,” he warned.

Finally, he added one note of caution regarding the focus on the airline crew, based on his years of examining aviation disasters.

“In the absence of knowledge, it is so easy to blame it on the little guy - particularly if he isn’t there to answer back. It is so easy to say ‘the crew must have done something wacky,’” he said.

posted by Admira at 10:49 PM on March 16 [7 favorites]


Let me tease futz* a little more by expanding on my Fukishima comment: we're surely all aware of Tepco's incompetence and the controversies about unethical things its done in the past. And I've read that the clean-up effort was shopped out to the Yakuza. They, of course, are even more unethical, hiring the homeless to do the work and not bothering to adequately protect them, for instance. And the Yakuza aren't much different from the Sicilian Mafia, who are known to dump toxic and radioactive wastes willy-nilly along Africa's coast, violating all sorts of laws. Nor so different from the Russian Mafia, who sold nuclear warheads during the Soviet breakup to the highest bidders.

So here we have a metric shitton of highly radioactive waste and spent fuel rods, a corporate owner that is at best negligent and at worst will do anything to make or save a buck, and a criminal gang with direct access to really bad shit, an urge to make dirty money, and no scruples whatsoever.

Plus a very large and powerful aircraft that may be hauling several tons of lithium batteries**, which can be made to go off like a bomb.

Plus incredibly sophisticated hijackers who have potentially routed the craft to terrorism central.

Put it all together and what do we have? Paranoid thinking? Sure.

On the other hand, everything that has been confirmed as true so far is no less crazy.

Scary. I hope my fevered imagination*** is an order of magnitude more wacko than what has already happened.

*Note to futz: don't take this post seriously.

**I've read this claim several times in Reddit threads, with apparent news media support.

***Literally. I've been laid out by a cold virus this past few days. FMwheezyhackingphlegmyL.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:05 AM on March 17


I... what?
posted by Justinian at 12:49 AM on March 17 [2 favorites]


[Talk about conspiracy theories related to the flight if you feel it's relevant, but framing it as teasing or poking at someone else participating here is personal and unnecessary, so please drop that approach from here out, FFF.]
posted by taz at 1:25 AM on March 17 [12 favorites]


If they were flying below 5000 ft, and using up a ton of fuel, then the circumference that is being ascribed just got a lot smaller, like northern Burma.

But I like Admira's point. Face saving.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 1:41 AM on March 17


Remember, we know nothing for certain.
Unless we are sure, speculation is useless or worse.
Perhaps we will never know the answer.
Everybody will always wonder.
Realistically, we are in new territory.
Tomorrow's world is upon us...

Maybe the imaginary has become real...
Under our societies, someone is pulling the secret levers of control.
Revelling in their untramelled power.
Dreaming of fantastical evil-genius anti-hero status.
Or hoping to influence the course of wider history.
Could such a person exist?
How could we ever know?
posted by Clathrate Bomber at 1:46 AM on March 17


I've been trying to be fairminded and sympathetic throughout this event, but inevitably my government forgets itself (and let me just say, this kind of low-grade incompetent menace is more credible in my experience than any outright conspiracy that's been put forth so far).

It seems that the Acting Transport Minister is preparing a briefing for MPs, but not Opposition ones.

The letter translated, reads: "the Right Hon member is to be informed that the Ministry [of Transportation - that's their letterhead] will hold a briefing regarding the incident of the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 to be tentatively held at the following:

Date: 18 March 2014 (Tuesday)
Time: 8.30pm
Place: Aloft KL Sentral

2. Your kind attendance to the event is greatly appreciated and I am thanking you in advance."

It's signed off by the minister.
posted by cendawanita at 2:02 AM on March 17


Yes, taz. Sorry, taz. You too, futz.

J, the leading theory is that the airplane was jacked, right? So then the next concern is "what do they intend to do with it"? Well, one of the bigger terrorist threats has been that of dirty nuking a city. Fortunately, matériel, delivery, and effective dispersal have been their challenge. If this was a successful hijacking, two of those problems might now be solved. Corruption at a nuclear disaster site provides the missing piece.

It'd work for a Clancy novel or Hollywood movie.

Anyway, enough of that. It's wild speculation. Granted, that's all we've got for any explanation right now, but this one is particularly grim. I'm done with it.
posted by five fresh fish at 2:02 AM on March 17


fff woudn't there be a lot of ways to get a plane capable of serving as a dirty nuke delivery device that would be easier than hijacking a B777?
posted by benbenson at 2:08 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]


One of the horrfying things about the WTC attack was that normal planes with no special weaponry, full of everyday people, were turned into weapons that took down buildings. That aspect of the attack was as important as bringing down the buildings themselves, from a terror point-of-view. And it worked: Witness the vast awfulness that is the TSA, and the sad police state that has arisen from the ashes of the USA.

Had the 9/11 perpetrators used planes they had, say, stolen from a "banana republic" airline, loaded with explosives, and flown into buildings, the towers falling would have been just as horrible, but the state response would have been quite a bit different.

The goal of a "nuclear incident via plane" is to make the nuclear part happen, that's the real terror bit. And if that's the case, hijacking is about the worst way you could go about procuring a plane. Getting the plane is the least of your worries.

If a 777 goes missing with 240 people aboard and there is even a 1% chance that it might have been successfully stolen (ie, it could be flown again), if I'm Government/Boeing/Rolls Royce, I'd be doing what I could to really grill any 777 flying into my airspace for the next few years (at least) to make sure it's what it says it is. So, in addition to the very risky and prone-to-failure part of getting the plane in the first place, you now also have a shaky platform for delivering your nuclear threat.

I think all scenarios involving theft of the plane, either for re-use or re-sale, suffer from these two weaknesses.
posted by maxwelton at 2:39 AM on March 17 [8 favorites]


Oh _now_ the Australians are searching the lower arc.

Make sure you chuck us your mobile number, mate. We'll need an expert to tell us when the sun has set.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:39 AM on March 17


Weirdest story I've seen about this: Malaysian plane disappearance inspired by Tintin story.

I wonder how people who read that paper don't die from sheer ignorance


It's pretty indisputable that there are terrorist masterminds right now poring over Tintin books looking for inspiration for future terror plots.

However, Flight 714 is a pretty obvious red herring; a piece of deliberate misinformation, perhaps. The real key to the mystery lies in Tintin in Tibet. Presumably a secret rescue operation is now underway in the Himalayas to recover the sole survivor, and with him, irrefutable proof of the existence of yetis.
posted by Sonny Jim at 4:32 AM on March 17 [4 favorites]


From the most recent press conference:

1) Co-pilot was the one who said "Alright, Good night" at 1.19am (plane's transponder is switched off at 1.22am)
2) ACARS last transmission at 1.07am but it was NOT switched off at that time. No exact time is known, just that it was due to transmit again in 30 mins and didn't do so.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 4:33 AM on March 17 [3 favorites]


Mata hari sudah terbenam, mate.

Aduh.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 4:35 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]


"Alright, good night" comes around about half an hour after take off, shortly after the plane reaches cruising altitude and on the point where they have just handed off from Malaysian airspace and are yet to check in with Vietnam. Sounds like pilot/co-pilot pee-break time.
posted by rongorongo at 6:13 AM on March 17


Could any of the more knowledgable folks comment on whether this idea of a 'cyber hijack' is total hooey or not? If this is possible, is there a way to hijack a military device instead? (Understanding that the idea outlined in the article talks about using the entertainment system to access the flight controls. Shouldn't be an issue with an F-18 or a drone...)

Would someone nefarious go through the trouble of a proof of concept test? (Why waste your one shot at total surprise if you don't have a plan to use your new device, right?)
posted by jindc at 6:29 AM on March 17


Somebody looked into nearby flights that would mask 370. It would have flown over India at night though and I find it difficult to believe no one would have noticed the lights of two planes flying in close formation because that is so unusual. Unless the lights were turned off, I guess?

I do not know how the families have not been completely driven mad with all of the theories floating around as they try to cope with this terrible tragedy.
posted by saucysault at 6:32 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]


Could any of the more knowledgable folks comment on whether this idea of a 'cyber hijack' is total hooey or not?

At the bottom of your own link -
"The described technique cannot engage or control the aircraft's autopilot system using the FMS or prevent a pilot from overriding the autopilot," the FAA said in a statement following Teso’s demonstration. "Therefore, a hacker cannot obtain 'full control of an aircraft' as the technology consultant has claimed."
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 6:39 AM on March 17


"Alright, good night" comes around about half an hour after take off, shortly after the plane reaches cruising altitude and on the point where they have just handed off from Malaysian airspace and are yet to check in with Vietnam.

That's incredibly common on handoffs. No sense not being polite, right? Plus, it acts as an acknowledgment of "I understand you are no longer then controlling ATC and that I have been directed to another."

So, you get things like this all the time.

Dramatis Persona:
ZAU: The Chicago Area Traffic Control Center
ZKC: The Kansas City Area Traffic Control Center
AA1186: A plane flying from Chicago to St. Louis

Scene: FL280, heading southeast, near Vandalia, IL.


ZAU: "AA1186, continue as directed, contact Kansas City on 127.1"
AA1186: "Roger 1186, Kansas City 127.1. Good night."
ZAU: "Good night."
AA1186: (switches to 127.125MHz) "Good evening, Kansas City, AA1186 entering."
ZKC: "AA1186, good evening, squawk 3252 and ident"
AA1186: "3252 and ident, 1186"
ZKC: "AA1186, radar contact, continue as filed."
AA1186: "Roger, 1186."

And, AA1186 has been handed off from the Chicago Area Traffic Control to the Kansas City ATC.

So, ending with "good night" is very typical. Up until that point, nobody would think anything is out of the ordinary. The Vietnam area controller, however, may well have started making phone calls when they didn't get MH370 checking in as expected, the question is how long would they have waited before contacting Malaysia's ATC and asking "Hey, we have MH370 filed through here, they haven't checked in, can you reach them?"

That's common because sometimes people forget to change frequencies on a handoff. Normally, you have two radios, and you leave one on your last frequency and change the other to the new one. That way, if you screw up that change, you can be contacted on your last known frequency.
posted by eriko at 6:40 AM on March 17 [13 favorites]


Daughter returns to Malaysia to await news of her father.
MELBOURNE - The daughter of the pilot who flew the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 was living in Australia when the plane mysteriously vanished from radar screens.

Ms Aishah Zaharie, who lives in Melbourne, has returned to her family in Malaysia as she awaits news of her father, Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, Australian news website news.com.au reported.

Ms Aishah, 27, graduated from Deakin University in Geelong in 2010 where she studied architecture. Her boyfriend Hazwan Anuar, also from her hometown of Shah Alam in Malaysia, graduated from Deakin University in 2011 with a masters in the same field, reported the website.

Ms Aishah and her boyfriend both studied at the International Islamic University of Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur before moving to Victoria, said the report.

A friend of Ms Aishah, who did not want to be named, was quoted as saying that speculation about Capt Zaharie was "killing the family".

"On what the international media wrote about Captain Zaharie is not true (and) ridiculous. He's a nice man and loving father to his children," she said.

"What has been reported in the news by the international media ...very frustrating.

"They (are) waiting to blame the pilot. Speculation like this is killing the family," she added.

--

"Captain Zaharie is our friend's daddy. (our Melbourne's buddy).Our heart sank upon hearing the appalling news abt #MH370 .Thoughts n prayers goes out to the passengers on board also to their families," he tweeted,

The athlete's wife Tya Boo (@tyailyana) tweeted: "Pray for MH370 ...indeed so sad the pilot is my friend's daddy. Hope Aishah and family bersabar and banyak (patience and a lot of)."

As the search for MH370 entered its tenth day, Capt Zaharie's relatives posted a moving YouTube tribute to the man they love.

The three-minute video features a series of family photographs of Capt Zaharie and call it a "tribute to a man well-loved by many. The guy we all call Ari, Uncle Ari and Tok Manu Ari."

The video clip describes the pilot as "loving, reflective, generous, cool, sporting, intelligent, supportive, the list goes on and on …"
Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, a tribute.
posted by cashman at 6:46 AM on March 17 [4 favorites]


Pogo_Fuzzybutt,

The FAA was only denying the one technique, correct? And Boeing was trying to fix the entertainment system vulnerability. Are there other ways to take control of the flight system?
posted by jindc at 6:50 AM on March 17


Did Malaysian Airlines 370 disappear using SIA68 (another 777)?
posted by Hlewagast at 6:51 AM on March 17 [5 favorites]


Well, one of the bigger terrorist threats has been that of dirty nuking a city. Fortunately, matériel, delivery, and effective dispersal have been their challenge.

Most of the stuff I've read/seen suggests that it's not just a challenge, but that actually building a dirty bomb that would kill significantly more people than a normal bomb is basically impossible -- if you disperse the radioactive material widely, then your large bomb that would kill 1000 people without radioactives kills 1000 plus a few more people than would otherwise be expected die from cancer later, and the threat to humans basically disappears the next time it rains. If you don't, then hazmat crews pick up the chunks of crud, and your bomb that would kill 500 people without radioactives still kills 500 people and maybe a couple of unlucky saps who actually get hit with radioactive shrapnel.

From the stuff I've read/seen, the only realistic additional threat from a dirty bomb compared to the equivalent normal bomb is media-induced panic.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:00 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]


Did Malaysian Airlines 370 disappear using SIA68 (another 777)?

Interesting theory. If MH370 got close enough, its primary return would merge with SQ86* and it would be, for all intents, invisible to radar as long as they stayed close. If they flew a little behind and below, SQ86 would not notice them.

Issue -- SQ86 would have been at cruise. Airliners at altitude cruise at very near the fastest speed they can go. For the 777, typical cruise is Mach .84. The max they could go is Mach .89, a difference of 22 knots at FL350. Could MH370 have caught SQ86 in time to not be seen by Indian radar, that being the first they would have encountered? Would he have been in range of China's OTH radars (which would show a merging contact if so.)

Note: on that flightradar.com screenshot, you see the speed listed as 400kts. This isn't airspeed, that's ground speed. Traveling basically to the west, both planes would probably be encountering headwinds, which generally flow west to east on the Earth. This is why ORD-LHR is usually well under 8 hours, and occasionally under 7, and LHR-ORD is over 8 hours, and occasionally over 9.

But, unlike many theories, it fits all the facts we know so far. MH370 was there, as was SQ86. Nobody is reporting an unidentified primary return entering India. There was a ping from MH370, possibly in the northern arc, which SQ86 travelled near.

Question 1: At the time of that last ping, was SQ86 on that arc identified by the satellite ping? If so, this becomes a stronger theory, and I'm tempted to say *much* stronger. If it was a hundred-plus miles away, this becomes much weaker.

Question 2: Did either of the pilots of MH370 do any formation flying in their careers, esp. in large aircraft (example, air-to-air refueling.) If so, that demonstrates the skill needed.

Question 3: Did the captain practice this on the simulators he had?

* Let's all use either the three letter abbreviations (MAS370/SIA68) or the two letters ones (MH370/SQ86).
posted by eriko at 7:12 AM on March 17 [12 favorites]


Cashman - that video by Captain Shah's family is heartbreaking ... and a poignant reminder not to allow fear and the media to dictate false realities.
posted by cdalight at 7:21 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]


Yes, thank you for posting that video. I think we sometimes forget that the words we use online can be read by everyone, even the families of MH370.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:27 AM on March 17


Did Malaysian Airlines 370 disappear using SIA68 (another 777)?
I really didn't expect that to be the best explanation I've seen for the data we have. It does not offer a "why" - but it does offer a "how" that meshes with the immediate prior known behaviour of MH370. If I were a script writer I would be happy with my plot twist.
posted by rongorongo at 7:36 AM on March 17


It think this is the SIA68 path
posted by saucysault at 7:37 AM on March 17


Cashman - that video by Captain Shah's family is heartbreaking .
We could also muse as to whether somebody who would upload a 5 minute video explaining how to repair a Whirlpool icemaker could be guilty of the sort of actions we are talking about.
posted by rongorongo at 8:23 AM on March 17 [6 favorites]


This is a strange theory. Would one have been able at all to plan it this way? Unlikely: what if SIA68 was delayed?
Or do we have to think that MAS370 simply lurked around until a plane came by?
Or is it that they were kind of astonished that they had made it so far without being detected, and then, "hey, look, another jet, let's hitch-hike"…?
posted by Namlit at 8:24 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]


If you click through saucysault's FlightAware link you get to the track log table for SIA68 which makes it much easier to pick off points. (For comparison, here's Flightaware's tracklog of the missing plane MAS370). I started getting all Hardy Boys on the track logs. But there's still no public information about the missing plane's location for the six hours between the last radar fix at 13:17 and the last satellite ping at ~19:13. FWIW, at 19:13 SIA 68 was estimated to be at 33.3997, 58.8358; that's 10 degrees south of the candidate MAS 370 positions. But that doesn't really disqualify the theory, perhaps MAS 370 had long since gone its own way after penetrating Indian airspace.

Truthfully, I think the "shadowing the other plane" theory is some Tom Clancy nonsense. So is the dirty bomb theory. Occam's Razor is usually right. A suicidal pilot, a mechanical failure, a hijacking gone wrong can explain all the things we know.
posted by Nelson at 8:27 AM on March 17 [2 favorites]


As long as investigators are still very intent on the northwest over-land route as a possibility I like the theory that they shadowed another plane, because they've really been focusing on that despite ample radar coverage making it seem like the route would be very unlikely without some other factor.
posted by jason_steakums at 8:37 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]


Question 1: At the time of that last ping, was SQ86 on that arc identified by the satellite ping?

So, no. To, reiterate Nelson's explanation, SIA68 was in Iran at the time of the last ping, 1000mi SW of the westermost edge of the "ping arc".

If the shadowing did take place, MAS370 would have to have broken off in India to reach the "ping arc" by 0011 UTC. Thus, it should have been picked up by radar within India and on China's southern border.
posted by pjenks at 8:49 AM on March 17


And it is improbably they would have found another northbound aircraft to mask with after leaving SIA68 as there were too many variables to ensure they would meet a scheduled aircraft at a planned time, although I guess they could try. It feel like I am looking for any shred of hope that the crew and passengers are safe somewhere.
posted by saucysault at 9:06 AM on March 17


March 16: "Daddy, Liverpool is winning the game. Come home, so you can watch the game! You never miss watching the game. It's your very first time. :')"

-Maira Nari, daughter of MH370's chief steward, Andrew Nari.

Earlier today she tweeted: "Sometimes you'll never know the true value of a moment, not until it becomes a memory."
posted by cashman at 9:48 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]


A man attempts to call his son, a passenger of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, after speaking to the media outside a rest area for relatives at Lido Hotel in Beijing, March 17, 2014.
posted by cashman at 9:56 AM on March 17


And it is improbably they would have found another northbound aircraft to mask with after leaving SIA68 as there were too many variables to ensure they would meet a scheduled aircraft at a planned time

Although, given that other A/C would have lights on, they could have jumped on an opportunity and followed a northbound that happened to pass close by.

And, yes, this is farfetched. Pretty much every, err…, nearfetched theory of what happened to MH370 has gone by the board. All that we have is farfetched, and that means either they went south and fell into the ocean after flying for some hours in a planned fashion, or they somehow went north.

Neither posit has much in the way of rationality in its favor. If you were just going to kill yourself and the plane, why bother flying all that way south? If you reject that, you need to figure out a way they go north, or you have to posit something where there wasn't human agency involved, or you invoke conspiracy, aliens, magic, or a combination.

The answer is going to be crazy, whatever it proves to be.
posted by eriko at 10:32 AM on March 17


According to Flightaware, SIA68 was nineteen minutes delayed on departure (they were supposed to leave SIN at 12.40, they left at 12.59, MAS370 was supposed to leave at 12.35 and was delayed to 12.43). This would account for the forwards and backwards tracks across the Malacca Straight that intersected the planned route (red line) and delayed route (blue line) on the first image if MAS370 was specifically looking for SIA68. Still doesn't answer what happened after, though. The last image illustrates Nelson's point, albeit with some mapping/projection problems. (Not my images, btw, via reddit)
posted by saucysault at 10:40 AM on March 17


The flying south part makes more sense if you consider that it might have been on autopilot. If the goal of the evasive flying was to make sure the plane was never found, there was never evidence from the black boxes, and therefore insurance paid out to the family (a la the Fedex attack.) It's possible that the pilot deliberately or accidentally succumbed to hypoxia and the plane flew on as a ghost plane. There aren't many waypoints in the South Indian/Antarctic ocean. It'd be interesting to see if any of the existing ones result in a position on the arc if plotted from the last likely known waypoints.

We haven't heard a shred of motive that would suggest a reason for any of the crew to do that, though. A depressive fit, you could see coming on without much external cause and leading to the impulse to dive it into the water, but everything about this has suggested considerable forethought and planning.
posted by tavella at 11:02 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]


I have zero idea what happened here, but I'm always fascinated by the Seconds from Disaster episodes where one little thing (slightly improper install of widget) lead to this and then to that and pilot error compounds the problem and on and on until Disaster.

Since the disappearance of MH370 is almost definitely purposeful, you have to wonder what small events led up to that decision. Why was someone so angry or distraught? A fluke of brain chemistry? Not enough attention as a child? Boyfriend/girlfriend broke up with them? Is it possible that if we could have changed one single thing, it would have averted this entire tragedy?

On a flight of 200+ people, there are surely at least one or two who Weren't Supposed to Be There Today (missed a previous flight, had to leave KL early due to family emergency, whatever). There were dozens of stories of people who were supposed to be in the Twin Towers when they fell, but had missed a bus or overslept or had their appointment cancelled.

I don't know whether the fact that each event in life is necessarily caused by another event makes life seem more or less random, if we can never know the causes.

This comment is intended to be more philosophical than actual speculation. My wishes are with the passengers, the crew, their families, and the SAR folks.
posted by desjardins at 11:09 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]


WSJ: Malaysia Airlines Gives New Timeline for Flight 370's Final Communication
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:21 AM on March 17


From roomthreeseventeen's link:

"But Malaysian Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said, "We don't know when the ACARS was switched off," adding it could have been disabled at "any time" between when the ACARS said all was all right with the plane's health and the next half hour when it should have, but didn't, transmit again.

The transport minister, standing next to Mr. Ahmad on Monday, didn't respond to the CEO's new timeline. The transport minister's office earlier said it stood by his portrayal of the sequence of events.

The discrepancy didn't change the overall assessment that someone in the cockpit either intentionally, or under coercion, switched off the transponders, and possibly even the ACARS."
posted by cashman at 11:31 AM on March 17


Israel tightens aviation security as hijacking suspected in Malaysia flight disappearance: Foreign airlines approaching Israeli airspace required to identify earlier; other security measures classified.
posted by rosswald at 11:49 AM on March 17 [2 favorites]


rongorongo: Or whether someone who is being accused of doing these things would have liked the videos "Seth Macfarlane on atheists and gay rights" and "Atheist Michael Newdow Demolishes Arrogant Moron on Fox News," as well as subscribing to Richard Dawkins' video feed.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 1:06 PM on March 17


As the list of "what if" and "maybe this" theories gets longer and more outlandish (and seemingly more impossible) the only thing that makes sense to me is that one of the countries saying they didn't see it on their radar is lying. I don't know who or why they would, but if someone were lying about their radar data, that would simplify this whole confusing mystery.
posted by Orb at 1:19 PM on March 17 [6 favorites]


As the list of "what if" and "maybe this" theories gets longer and more outlandish (and seemingly more impossible) the only thing that makes sense to me is that one of the countries saying they didn't see it on their radar is lying. I don't know who or why they would, but if someone were lying about their radar data, that would simplify this whole confusing mystery.

Or lying about their capability to have seen it if it was there.
posted by jason_steakums at 1:24 PM on March 17 [8 favorites]


I've got to believe the US knows whether the plane went north or south. I don't have much of a basis for that, only my perhaps erroneous belief that the world makes more sense than this story has made so far. Under this scenario the authorities are not making that information public because until they have eyes on wreckage they must operate as if there is still a possibility that someone (either passengers or perpetrators) are alive and so certain information has to be held close to the chest.

If it really is the case that nobody has the first clue whether a 777 with hundreds on board flew for thousands of miles either north or south after flying directly over Malaysia, well, stop the ride because I want to get off.
posted by Justinian at 1:26 PM on March 17


Another theory from Chris Goodfellow: electrical fire, pilots make immediate turn towards a best-bet runway (Palau Langkawi, a 13,000 foot strip with an approach over water at night with no obstacles), overwhelmed by smoke, plane drifts on autopilot in the Indian ocean.

(Not familiar with this guy, not sure if this is compatible with the later INMARSAT pings.)
posted by RedOrGreen at 1:56 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]


INFOGRAPHIC: Chronology of last known minutes of flight MH370
posted by travelwithcats at 2:07 PM on March 17


Courtney Love is pretty sure she has found the plane.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 2:07 PM on March 17 [2 favorites]


The theory from Goodfellow is from 4 days ago, before a lot of the new information came to light. Definitely outdated at this point.
posted by Justinian at 2:14 PM on March 17


If MH370 got close enough, its primary return would merge with SQ86 and it would be, for all intents, invisible to radar as long as they stayed close. If they flew a little behind and below, SQ86 would not notice them.

A Bird-of-Prey canna fire when she's cloaked!
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:19 PM on March 17 [2 favorites]


The theory from Goodfellow is from 4 days ago,
But he does provide some further analysis, in his comments section, which considers the new data (search for comment starting "Diego and all who have commented") - in summary: fire disables ACARS unknown to crew, all is felt normal at final radio transmission, fire disables further comms systems, pilot takes action by turning SW towards runway at Langkawi, attempts to climb to 45,000 feet might have been a last ditch to oxygen starve fire, crew overcome by smoke, plane continues on autopilot heading south until fuel exhaustion.
posted by rongorongo at 3:05 PM on March 17 [3 favorites]


I see the comment now, thanks! It's definitely a retcon but it's a good one. It requires an awful lot of stuff going just so but at this point any explanation will require that.
posted by Justinian at 3:12 PM on March 17


I think that Goodfellow theory doesn't explain the later course changes shown on the Malaysian military radar: hitting the various checkpoints and then leaving Malaysia flying toward the northwest.
posted by stopgap at 3:19 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure we can trust that track. I'm not sure we can trust anything at this point.
posted by Justinian at 3:24 PM on March 17 [2 favorites]


Courtney Love is pretty sure she has found the plane.

Seems as legit as anything else we've learned so far.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 3:39 PM on March 17 [2 favorites]


[Still not really the time for jokes, folks.]
posted by jessamyn at 3:56 PM on March 17 [4 favorites]


The problem is that the fire has to let the plane continue to fly for six hours after disabling everything/everyone.

Fire would have been my guess if it had actually crashed near the loss-of-contact point.
posted by kiltedtaco at 4:55 PM on March 17


Further speculation on fire as a root cause from Air Traffic Management (Aimee Turner)
posted by rongorongo at 4:56 PM on March 17


The information at roomthreeseventeen's link seems to mitigate the captain/first officer's involvement. At least the "all right, goodnight" or whatever the sign-off was, might not have been a cold-blooded deception. But whatever happened happened between the sign-off at 1:17AM and the transponder ceasing at 1:21AM with the plane changing course shortly thereafter.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 4:58 PM on March 17


I still don't understand what could have happened so fast other than spontaneous incineration that absolutely no one on board used their cell phone.

If it did catch fire, you'd think there would be warnings from the crew about trying to make a crash landing or something.

But I've never been in anything worse than minor car accidents so i don't know how things go down in this sort of situation.
posted by sio42 at 5:09 PM on March 17


Questions Over Absence of Cellphone Calls From Missing Passengers does a good job explaining why there may be no passenger cell phone calls. Long story short: too high, or maybe passengers disabled.
posted by Nelson at 5:14 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]


sio42: "I still don't understand what could have happened so fast other than spontaneous incineration that absolutely no one on board used their cell phone."

It's been pointed out a couple of times that cell phones don't work at high altitudes and far at sea. The calls from Flight 93, if that's what you were thinking of, were from those phones built into the seats, that you swipe your credit card for, and if that system was disabled, intentionally or accidentally, or if it were not offered on this flight, then there would be no way for anyone to make any calls.
posted by Bugbread at 5:18 PM on March 17


Whoops, shoulda previewed.
posted by Bugbread at 5:22 PM on March 17


The calls from Flight 93, if that's what you were thinking of, were from those phones built into the seats

That's not accurate. It's entirely possible that MH370 was too far from towers or too high for cell phones to function, but passengers from Flight 93 could and did use cell phones.
posted by jessamyn at 5:24 PM on March 17 [2 favorites]


IIRC cell towers have really crappy vertical range, though, and if the plane really was flying at 45,000 feet at one point cell reception would be unlikely. Who knows, maybe that's the reason for flying so high (if it really was).
posted by jason_steakums at 5:27 PM on March 17


Nelson's article is an excellent read.
posted by mochapickle at 5:28 PM on March 17


Yeah, ignore what I said, and go read Nelson's article.
posted by Bugbread at 5:31 PM on March 17


Re Cell Phones: The above linked Air Traffic Management article cites this final report of a UPS Boeing 747 freighter which crashed in 2010 after a (lithium battery) fire in its cargo hold. In that case the fire took about two minutes to start to disable flight systems and fill the cockpit with smoke to the point where the crew could not see the controls. After a couple of more it seems to have affected the Captains's oxygen supply so that he lost unconscious. Given the potential speed at which a really nasty cargo hold fire could spread it is possible that MH370 passengers never had the opportunity to see whether they could make a call or not.
posted by rongorongo at 5:43 PM on March 17


Ah right. I totally forgot that was mentioned early on. For not having a lot of news, there's been a lot of commentary crowding my brain about this.
posted by sio42 at 5:43 PM on March 17


rongorongo: that's insane a fire could take over something so big so quickly. Thanks for the link.
posted by sio42 at 5:45 PM on March 17


That wasn't Courtney Love, that was the discovery of this guy on Twitter.
posted by divabat at 5:45 PM on March 17


That wasn't Courtney Love, that was the discovery of this guy on Twitter.

That she (or the page admin?) then MS Paint'ed "CL" onto. Nice.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 5:47 PM on March 17


Deliberate or accidental decompression could have killed the fire, and also explain the altitude changes. The turn back towards Malaysia would be a logical reaction for a plane in distress, and the transponder going out and the ACARS going off could have been the pilots pulling circuit breakers to fight a fire, and possibly some error in the cockpit emergency oxygen could lead to a decompressed plane flying onwards. If it wasn't for the multiple direction changes in the Malacca Strait, I absolutely would think it would be the leading theory. But those direction changes... there's no reason for a pilot fighting a fire to have put in those headings. They say pretty clearly there was active human intervention.
posted by tavella at 5:50 PM on March 17


The hard part about any fire theory is the plane flew one for at least an hour, closer to six hours if you believe the satellite pings.

So, you want to posit fire? Fine, but you need to explain why a fire let that plane keep flying that long, when historically, unchecked fire brings down planes fast.
posted by eriko at 5:55 PM on March 17 [2 favorites]


The argument would be, I think, that the high altitude excursion put out the fire. Doesn't seem all that plausible to me but nothing about this whole ordeal is plausible.
posted by Justinian at 5:58 PM on March 17


1) A lithium battery fire does not require an oxygen supply to burn.
2) A pilot who climbed the plane to put out a fire instead of descending immediately to land is totally 100% crazy. I'm more willing to believe the absurd "radar shadowing" thing than an intentional climb due to fire.

But I understand the point that nothing about this incident makes much sense.
posted by kiltedtaco at 6:07 PM on March 17 [3 favorites]


Yeah, taking a decompressed plane to high altitude to put out a fire seems like it could easily kill the passengers. How would you know in that chaos that the oxygen masks were working? Do you even deploy oxygen masks in a fire on a plane, or is that dangerous?
posted by jason_steakums at 6:14 PM on March 17


It's not my theory! One of the pilots going rogue is still the most likely as far as I'm concerned.
posted by Justinian at 6:16 PM on March 17


kiltedtaco: "A lithium battery fire does not require an oxygen supply to burn."

I'm not challenging your statement, I'm just looking for some science schooling: how can you have a fire without oxygen? Isn't the fire triangle "Fuel - Heat - Oxygen"?
posted by Bugbread at 6:20 PM on March 17


Check out the 4th bullet point in the Thermal Runaway section here on lithium batteries, they produce oxygen when going into thermal runaway. It's not like an endless supply though, after a bit it's just a regular fire.
posted by jason_steakums at 6:24 PM on March 17


And everything around a lithium battery would still need oxygen to catch fire.
posted by jason_steakums at 6:25 PM on March 17


Justinian: " One of the pilots going rogue is still the most likely as far as I'm concerned."

And if it was a rogue pilot or other inside entity it would be a simple matter to use a cellphone jammer to keep calls from going through.
posted by Mitheral at 6:28 PM on March 17


Landing soonest: The airport at Kota Bharu was closed at night. The airport at Kuala Terengganu (on the flight path) was probably also closed but its runway ends at the beach so potentially better.

Flying over the Malay peninsula after fire is put out at high altitude (although people have been saying that radar is very unreliable in determining altitude) to land at airport with best emergency equipment... KL. Doesn't explain the zig-zag, loathe to attribute it to pilot disorientation.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 6:29 PM on March 17


I was talking about a regular fire here, not a lithium-ion battery one -- there's plenty of ways fires can get started on planes without lithium. And the point about decompression was that a normal fire could have started and then gone out, in theory, without fatally compromising the air frame. Though it's a fair point about the altitude changes -- a pilot would be more likely to try to ditch in the water than do that.

However, as I said, all theorizing about fires (or simply decompression on its own) hits the wall of the course changes. If it had merely turned once and disappeared off into the southern Indian Ocean, people would be thinking Helios 522. In fact, that would have been a more effective way of covering up a suicide -- if that's what it really was, the author of the incident may have overthought themselves.
posted by tavella at 6:30 PM on March 17


and what prevents us thinking Helios 522 + pilots regaining consciousness partially and pressing buttons randomly that change the course equally randomly?
posted by carmina at 6:37 PM on March 17


So this is the latest thing from 5 minutes ago - whoever changed the course of the plane did so by keying in the waypoint, not by manual control - but I don't think that tells us anything more than the fact that the plane was flying towards the waypoint anyway. I think it's a circular argument.
posted by Jimbob at 6:37 PM on March 17 [2 favorites]


From that article:

Whoever changed the plane’s course would have had to be familiar with Boeing aircraft, though not necessarily the 777 — the type of plane that disappeared. American officials and aviation experts said it was far-fetched to believe that a passenger could have reprogrammed the Flight Management System.

It really doesn't seem that far-fetched, all someone needs is a list of commands to punch in and the knowledge of how to punch them in, which they could get any number of ways. Maybe it was someone who only knew the bare minimum of how to do that and they punched in the wrong numbers? That could explain the zigzagging.
posted by jason_steakums at 6:43 PM on March 17


How do they know the turn was initiated by autopilot? I'm assuming it's the mechanics of the turn, but what was tracking it at that time?
posted by mazola at 6:55 PM on March 17


> One of the pilots going rogue is still the most likely as far as I'm concerned.


It was certainly looking bad for one or both of the pilots but the shadow of doubt over their guilt came yesterday:

^ "Alright, good night" comes around about half an hour after take off, shortly after the plane reaches cruising altitude [...] Sounds like pilot/co-pilot pee-break time.

^ ACARS last transmission at 1.07am but it was NOT switched off at that time.


It's now entirely possible a rogue passenger (or 5) gained early control of the cockpit.
posted by de at 7:03 PM on March 17


apropos of nothing, but sort of related
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 7:14 PM on March 17


This guy has a long write up with an analysis of why he thinks it's an in-flight firem, which accounts for the turning off of electronics as well as the turning of the airline. Mind you, I'm of the mind that it was an in-flight problem and not a hijacking/crazed pilot/otherwise. Nothing the Malysian government, airline, or officials has done has left me thinking they have any idea what they're doing, and they keep changing their story on a daily basis.

I don't blame people for still focusing on the pilot or looking for evidence of hijacking. I think we humans are prone to wanting there to be a reason and someone to blame in a situation like this. If you can point the finger at an individual who screwed up it's almost a sort of comfort, whereas the alternative involving a uncaring random universe doesn't offer the comfort of assigning blame or being tractable.
posted by barnacles at 7:15 PM on March 17


barnacles, read the comments, that was posted a few hours ago.
posted by mlis at 7:34 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]


Maslow, my understanding is that ARCARs (the mechanism that is supposed to report every thirty minutes and did so at 1.07 but not 1.37 as scheduled) reports everything currently entered in the Flight management system (the autopilot, basically). The five digit code for the waypoint (and there is NO way five random letters were entered that just happened to be two waypoints nearby) were entered into FMS before the 1.07 ARCARS transmission.
If there was some sort of crisis/fire there would be no reason to enter waypoint so far off the scheduled flight path at least fifteen minutes before they were to take effect while the pilot continued to fly normally. The co-pilot also would have not said a calm "good night" in the face of a crisis. The suddenly turn westward over the peninsula was planned at least fifteen minutes before it happened according to the information released today.
posted by saucysault at 7:35 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]


from today's Times article:

The fact that the turn away from Beijing was programmed into the computer has reinforced the belief of investigators — first voiced by Malaysian officials — that the plane was deliberately diverted and that foul play was involved. It has also increased their focus on the plane’s captain and first officer.

on preview, what saucysault said too. fire / emergency landing scenarios feel increasingly untenable to me in light of this.
posted by Muffpub at 7:39 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]


Attempting the northwest route still makes the most sense to me, and I can't shake the thought that maybe one or more countries are lying about their radar capabilities, either technically or in terms of round-the-clock staffing, so as not to advertise gaps in their defenses.
posted by jason_steakums at 7:53 PM on March 17


I spent way too long reading about the interface to the FMS over the last couple of days. Suffice to say that the waypoint could have been entered in immediately before the turn began (not 15 minutes before) and the system is easy enough for a trained non-pilot to use.

The FMS does normally broadcast the flight plan via ACARS but like everything else this can easily be disabled. Today's info that the FMS was used for the very first turn could easily be derived from radar info since the FMS makes extremely precise, steady turns.
posted by miyabo at 7:58 PM on March 17 [2 favorites]


The FMS does normally broadcast the flight plan via ACARS but like everything else this can easily be disabled.

So either ACARS was disabled from broadcasting the FMS (which would not be normal procedure) at least fifteen minutes before the turn, or the ACARS broadcasted the FMS including the sharp turn fifteen minutes later. Either way, it sounds deliberately planned rather than a reaction to something like a fire.

From the article: Flight 370’s Flight Management System reported its status to the Acars, which in turn transmitted information back to a maintenance base, according to an American official. This shows that the reprogramming happened before Acars stopped working. Unnamed sources, but clearly stating the change in the FMS was transmitted via ARCARS at the 1.07 transmission. Why this wasn't immediately released ten days ago is another mystery.
posted by saucysault at 9:09 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]


I have no idea what the article is actually saying, honestly. If they have a flight plan from the FMS, does it actually match up to the data from radar and satellite? Or are they just saying a waypoint was added to the flight plan before ACARS shutoff but it's not on the path that the flight later took. Really a lot of the data we have is so vague that it is impossible to interpret.
posted by miyabo at 9:21 PM on March 17


From the gusrdisns live up date site

A search operation has exposed a “deep-seated reluctance to share military information” experts have told the Wall Street Journal.

While small aircraft could fly low enough to avoid radar, it would be almost impossible for a Boeing 777-200 to dodge an air-defense system operating effectively, according to Keith Hayward, head of research at the U.K.’s Royal Aeronautical Society.

“You’d have to fly well below 100 meters, and the 777 is not designed to fly that low,” Mr. Hayward said. “You would exceed the aircraft’s stress levels.”

Ground-based military radar typically has a range of up to 250 miles, its extent being limited by the Earth’s curvature, Mr. Hayward said. That should have put Flight 370 within the range of Thai military radar, and possibly also Indonesian and Indian radar, as it flew west of Malaysia. However, all three of those countries have said they saw no sign of the missing plane.

Malaysia’s neighbors “would be as helpful as they could be without giving away anything about their own weaknesses,” [Tim] Huxley [executive director of the International Institute of Strategic Studies-Asia] said.

Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said last week that Malaysia was divulging unprecedented national security information and invited other nations to overcome their reluctance and help find the plane.

India and China, which Flight 370 would have crossed if it moved along the northern corridor plotted by investigators, have more capable air-defense networks than Malaysia and its neighbors.

However, Indian officials gave conflicting comments Monday about whether radar systems on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands were operational at the time that Flight 370 may have passed.

China has advanced monitoring capabilities, including the Ganbala radar station in Tibet. At an altitude of about three miles above sea level, the station is the highest manually controlled radar station in the world.

Malaysia has asked Beijing for radar data, but it wasn’t clear whether China had complied with the request. Hong Lei, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, said Malaysia had made certain requests for information but he didn’t elaborate.
posted by Admira at 3:45 AM on March 18


What do we think about this theory on Wired?
posted by dominik at 4:18 AM on March 18


That Wired article is by Chris Goodfellow, making the same argument as his Google Plus post discussed earlier in this thread.
posted by stopgap at 4:34 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


India and China, which Flight 370 would have crossed if it moved along the northern corridor plotted by investigators,

A lot of reporters have had trouble understanding that the "corridors" are not flight paths, but that the plane was likely at a single point somewhere along the corridors at the time of the satellite transmission.
posted by stopgap at 4:37 AM on March 18 [8 favorites]


stopgap - I've noticed that too. I really like the graphics that show the 'corridors', but I can't help but wonder if there's a better way to communicate the concept, given how much trouble people are having with it. Whatever method used to communicate that would also translate quite well to teaching 'curves' in highschool math too, i imagine.
posted by jpziller at 4:49 AM on March 18


An article examines the emotional strain on the waiting families.
Coping with the trauma of missing flight MH370:
"But it is the nature of an ambiguous loss such as this, the feelings of not knowing what happened and holding hope, that can keep families frozen in time, unable to move forward and grieve."
posted by travelwithcats at 5:34 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


Waiting family members have been photographed holding up signs that read "hunger strike".

Asked about it at the press conference, MAS CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said:
"We are doing all that we can to ensure that we are giving sufficient assistance, information and care to all the family members in Beijing. It is something that I will definitely look into but I am in regular contacts with the team in Beijing."
posted by travelwithcats at 5:41 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


I'm not clear on what the hunger strikes are for -- I mean, I know it's to pressure the authorities, but I keep seeing references to "tell us the truth" and I'm not sure what "truth" they're referring to.

...is there some kind of theory they're espousing that they want to see vindicated? Or is it just a generalized "quit being so disorganized you idiots" type of thing? I feel like I've missed some coverage somewhere along the line.
posted by aramaic at 6:26 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


Another conspiracy theory (highly speculative) is that if the plane *did* land somewhere, Diego Garcia (the US/UK military base in the Indian Ocean) is one of the more plausible destinations due being purely military and capable of keeping the event (radar blips and landing itself) under wraps. Why the plane would have diverted to the military atoll on the other hand, who knows? Was it carrying cargo of interest? Were the 20 Freescale Semiconductor employees part of the reason? Was there intent on giving China more reason to increase their presence in and around Malaysia? Or was the plane instead intended to be used as a weapon against the atoll, was shot down, and has now become a diplomacy nightmare as the U.S. scrambles to plant its debris far away from the actual crash site?

Like most conspiracy theories, they're likely far off from the reality and better suited for a Tom Clancy novel. But if all indicators point towards the plane trying to land somewhere else...it seems like a plausible destination if the right reasons are at play.
posted by samsara at 6:44 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


I have to say, each day that passes, I'm thinking more and more that this was some sort of fire or Helios-like accident. It's just becoming impossible to be anything else.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:48 AM on March 18 [3 favorites]


I have to say, each day that passes, I'm thinking more and more that this was some sort of fire or Helios-like accident. It's just becoming impossible to be anything else.

Yes, my feelings exactly.

For a while I was actually hoping it was a well-organized hijacking, and that those unfortunate passengers on board would eventually re-emerge from some hidey-hole in [*]stan.

Then it was incompetent hijackers, who were competent enough to vanish without a trace but not competent enough to read their fuel gauge correctly? Or pilots in a joint suicide pact with an Agatha Christie twist? Or ...?

But I'm coming back around to my initial feeling, that it was just a catastrophic fire / decompression / whatever, with the autopilots carrying out the last scrambled commands to the best of their abilities as the airplane flew deep into the open ocean before running out of gas.
posted by RedOrGreen at 6:58 AM on March 18


What we know: the plane is somewhere and nowhere.
posted by Mister Bijou at 7:04 AM on March 18


Has there ever been a hijacking without any demands made? Or without some group claiming responsibility?
posted by desjardins at 7:05 AM on March 18


Maybe it's a hijacking by someone who has no demands. Someone who snapped and decided on self-annihilation. You know, someone who went "postal".
posted by Mister Bijou at 7:07 AM on March 18


Re this Goodfellow article, isn't there an emergency code that opens the cockpit? Of course that wouldn't matter if no one else on board knew how to fly a plane esp with communications knocked out.

But it doesn't explain GIVAL to IGREX.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 7:19 AM on March 18


[I know it's a long thread, we can't reasonably expect everyone to read every single comment I don't think -- but reading back just a little bit and/or doing a page search to check if something's already been posted helps a lot, thanks.]
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 7:23 AM on March 18 [10 favorites]


Metafilter: it doesn't explain GIVAL to IGREX
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 7:23 AM on March 18 [5 favorites]


Thank you goodnewsfortheinsane.
posted by travelwithcats at 7:25 AM on March 18


Apropos asking people: could people please stop making jokes about it?! There are 239 people + their families & friends involved. Thx.
posted by travelwithcats at 7:28 AM on March 18 [5 favorites]


"It really doesn't seem that far-fetched, all someone needs is a list of commands to punch in and the knowledge of how to punch them in, which they could get any number of ways."

Including looking at the flight manuals or just spinning the dial marked "heading." ;) People act as if these flight management systems are so incredibly complex that no layperson could possibly operate them. They're really not that complicated at their most basic level. They, like airplanes in general, are actually incredibly simple at the highest level. (Note: I am not in any way saying I would like to attempt to land a 777, thanks, just that anybody here is capable of giving a 777's flight director an altitude, heading, and speed with no training whatsoever if it is already engaged.

At one point I had theories, but I'm having fewer and fewer as days go by. The crazy Diego Garcia theory that has been going around is obviously completely shot to hell by the arcs, but those are themselves a bit..unreliable at best.
posted by wierdo at 7:30 AM on March 18


It could be an incompetent hijacking where the hijackers' organization is too embarrassed to claim responsibility. Like the hijackers were basically untrained and only knew how to put numbers in the autopilot and then point the plane at a target once the autopilot took them there, but were either given the wrong autopilot codes or punched them in wrong and then basically had no idea how to correct their course and the plane just flew around until it was out of fuel.

Or perhaps hijackers threatened to blow up the plane if the pilots didn't acquiesce and the pilots decided to take it out over open ocean where nobody on the ground below would be hurt if the hijackers did that.
posted by jason_steakums at 7:30 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


Including looking at the flight manuals or just spinning the dial marked "heading." ;)

Yep, or a flight sim, or finding instructions online, or being given a walkthrough by someone else with the knowledge, or just given a picture of what the flight system interface looks like and a list of numbers and buttons to punch.
posted by jason_steakums at 7:34 AM on March 18


an incompetent hijacking where the hijackers' organization is too embarrassed to claim responsibility

The smart move would be to claim they intended a suicide mission all along.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 7:42 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


The Freescale angle has led to some seriously silly conspiracy theories, including actively anti-Semitic ones. It's a dead end. It is unsurprising that a large company would have a group of members on one flight. It is unclear how massive, mysterious, plane-disappearance caper with global attention would be the best way to resolve what dispute would have occurred. If this was a business dispute, then we're talking about a company with less than half the revenue of, say, Nikon. If this was a national security dispute, then why wouldn't the Powers That Be have done this kind of thing to Snowden, Manning, et al.? Life is not Snakes On A Plane - not even mean and nasty people resolve disputes through the most bizarre, showiest means possible.
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:45 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


Maldives island residents report sighting of 'low flying jet'
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:54 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


If the Maldives witnesses were not mistaken, if that was the same plane... it was flying north to southeast in the fucking Maldives? That just makes things even more confusing.
posted by jason_steakums at 8:01 AM on March 18


Wow. Not sure how reliable this is, given that attention-seekers have had over a week to study up on what to say. Assuming it is correct, is it compatible with the ACARS pings? Doesn't look like it - now I really want to know how large the error bars are on those "ping arcs".
posted by RedOrGreen at 8:03 AM on March 18


Not sure if the Maldives article's mention of 6:15 a.m. means 6:15 a.m. in the official timeline, or local Maldives time (if that's even different) or what. It sure seems like there's a long way to go from there for the plane to reach the satellite arc in two hours.
posted by jason_steakums at 8:05 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


I want to see an overlapped map of:
  1. the northern corridor;
  2. 'good' runways within reach of corridor;
  3. possible flight paths using established flightways/waypoints that would get to those runways given last known waypoint location supported by fuel burn rate
  4. altitudes of said runways.
And I want to run around like Tommy Lee Jones while I bark all that out.
posted by mazola at 8:15 AM on March 18 [4 favorites]


RE: the Maldives - Diego Garcia runway found in Captain Zaharie's flight simulator
posted by JoeXIII007 at 8:21 AM on March 18


I want to see an overlapped map of:

the northern corridor;
'good' runways within reach of corridor;
possible flight paths using established flightways/waypoints that would get to those runways given last known waypoint location supported by fuel burn rate
altitudes of said runways.



This. Does anyone know of any sources for KML or other GIS files that folks can use in this case?
posted by malaprohibita at 8:30 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


That Goodfellow article saying it's a simple electrical fire sure is making the rounds today. It mostly proves one point: you can always spot the pilot in a discussion because he's the one telling you he's a pilot. (Source: I'm a pilot.)

As noted above, his theory completely fails to explain the airway maneuvers west of Malaysia, "GIVAL to IGREX". If there was an emergency and they pilot was messing around with the flight plan, he'd be punching in "direct to airport". There's even a special button just for that purpose, at least on the small navigation computers I'm familiar with. It also doesn't satisfactorily explain the satellite-derived location six hours later.

I've been racking my brains for days trying to come up with some other explanation for that routing. Maybe a stressed pilot just punched in some airway whose name he remembered and it ended up generating that route? Very unlikely, but not impossible. Then again the public doesn't really even know if those waypoints were truly on the route; the information that's been leaked to us is unreliable. And some sort of fire is definitely possible. And once you posit that, all sorts of random aircraft paths become plausible. Planes with no control fly in weird ways.
posted by Nelson at 8:38 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


Even if the arcs from the satellite pings are off, I don't think they'd be that far off. Additionally, they describe the low flying jet as being very noisy, indicating it was likely under climbing power. If they had been flying at low altitude for much time at all, they'd be out of gas by the time of that sighting. There are daily 777s to many destinations from the Maldives, including to points south(ish), so it seems highly unlikely this sighting is in any way related.
posted by wierdo at 8:40 AM on March 18


As noted above, his theory completely fails to explain the airway maneuvers west of Malaysia, "GIVAL to IGREX"

Maybe it's possible the maneuvers didn't happen, and our speculation about that is wrong.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:41 AM on March 18 [2 favorites]


Diego Garcia runway found in Captain Zaharie's flight simulator

This feels iffy to me, because why wouldn't he practice Diego Garcia and all sorts of other runways around there if he flies that part of the world all the time for his job and has an interest in home flight sims? I wish there were more detail about why Diego Garcia and the other runways of interest from the simulator were particularly notable.
posted by jason_steakums at 8:49 AM on March 18 [3 favorites]


Does anyone know if it's plausible that a fire could partially disable the aircraft yet allow it to keep flying for seven more hours?

And in case of a fire, would it be plausible to program in coordinates like (someone) did, rather than take manual control?
posted by Muffpub at 8:55 AM on March 18 [2 favorites]


My brother's a commercial pilot and we had a long conversation about this last night. This causes him pain. He can't see any way this makes sense without a deliberate act by the pilot (he's pretty sure it's not the co-pilot). He's of course obsessed with the details and finds in all quite maddening, especially the idle conjecture that gets picked up by media as facts.

His scenario is very dark. I didn't sleep well last night.
posted by readery at 8:58 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


Readery, would you be willing to share what your brother's hypothesis/hypotheses is/are? It seems like many of the hypotheses floating around out there are not technically possible according to pilots.
posted by ClaireBear at 9:04 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


Diego Garcia is about the *last* runway you would land at if you were planning a hijacking. I assume this is people implying that it's all an American plot.
posted by tavella at 9:05 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


Diego Garcia is also the sort of runway a really dedicated pilot who spends much of their time flying across the Indian Ocean might practice for an emergency landing.
posted by tavella at 9:06 AM on March 18 [4 favorites]


I want to see an overlapped map...

I made this map showing pretty accurate "ping arcs" and the closest of the wnyc identified runways to the northern arc. There are only a few close ones so you could look up the altitudes. Along the southern arc there is literally nothing (except possibly Ile Amsterdam and neighbor, way off at the end)
posted by pjenks at 9:23 AM on March 18 [2 favorites]


Just in case someone wonders, I asked the mods to delete my two comments regarding the time difference between Malaysia and the Maldives, as it was incorrect. Miyabo's follow-up was also deleted, please post again, your comment was correct and helpful. Thx & sorry.
posted by travelwithcats at 9:24 AM on March 18 [3 favorites]


I wish there were more detail about why Diego Garcia and the other runways of interest from the simulator were particularly notable.

From the Maldives link

Satellite data suggests that the last "ping" was received from the flight somewhere close to the Maldives and the US naval base on Diego Garcia.
posted by drezdn at 9:32 AM on March 18


With all due respect to the passengers and crew and their families who are obviously suffering, this is just fractally weird. Seriously, just look at any one part of this whole situation, and it just becomes weirder.

I wonder how much of the apparent weirdness is coming from a Fukishima-style approach to news coverage, people somewhere saving face (which, given the albeit tenuous Diego Garcia thing, could very well be US officials saving face, I don't mean to make stereotypical obvservations about Asian cultures), or both.

It seems to me, some of it based on actual evidence of how the Malaysian government has been responding to this, that someone somewhere knows a lot more than they're telling. I'd bet on that someone being the US government, frankly. I'm not saying conspiracy theory, I'm saying "Well we know exactly where it is but if we said so we'd be exposing all sorts of intelligence assets."

Not a good reason when the lives of nearly 300 people are at stake, obviously.

All that being said I know fuckall about how planes work, but based on the amazing commentary above (many thanks especially to divabat and eriko, among others) it seems like there's just no way in hell that someone didn't plot that route.

I'd also like to echo the call for a plausible scenario in which a fire knocks out all comms while allowing the plane to continue flying for several hours. (Or have I missed that?)

What a terrible, terrible tragedy.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:41 AM on March 18


The elephant in the room with Diego Garcia is that it's not just a runway on an empty island, it's one of the more important American military bases in the region. It seems unlikely an aircraft with a disabled transponder would be able to approach without them taking self-defense measures.
posted by feloniousmonk at 9:42 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


feloniousmonk, I don't think there's any reason to believe that we would shoot down a commercial airliner just because we couldn't communicate with it, if that's what you're saying.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:45 AM on March 18


I'd question, though, the willingness of American commanders to give the order to shoot down an obviously civilian plane that's making a landing approach (assuming that's what was being done) even if it's radio-silent.

On the other hand, spinning out the DG hypothesis further: allowing them to land and then remaining totally silent about it lends credence to the There Was Something Important on the plane theory.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:46 AM on March 18


The Diego Garcia thing is a total red herring. It's a fantasy airport for pilots, an interesting place in the middle of nowhere you'll never get to land. I mean I've stared at the overhead imagery before thinking "wouldn't it be cool if I could land there?" It's a natural thing to play around with if you're a pilot geek with a simulator.

when the lives of nearly 300 people are at stake

I fear no one's life is at stake any more. It's astounding to me in the news coverage how people keep bending over backwards trying to hold out hope they're alive. It's remotely possible, but it's definitely not the likely scenario.
posted by Nelson at 9:47 AM on March 18 [2 favorites]


I fear the same thing, but this is all so weird I'm kind of hoping for a 90 Minutes at Entebbe endgame, maybe played out somewhere in Kazakhstan or something.

I don't know, grasping at straws, should probably shut up and keep reading.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:49 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


I think that it would absolutely be shot down if it was headed straight towards the fuel dump and wasn't stopping, but that's neither here nor there. My point was that at the least, you could expect a patrol of some kind to be sent to investigate, it's not just going to pass unremarked if it was anywhere within their purview.
posted by feloniousmonk at 9:50 AM on March 18


We only know a smidgen of the story. If the pointers that were made public turn out to be true, it raises the question if the person in charge of the aircraft was a special ops/military/highly trained individual and not a regular commercial pilot.
posted by travelwithcats at 9:51 AM on March 18


I found Ken Cubbin's "Cockpit doors, a false sense of security?" interesting article in light of MH370 speculation. He points out that the doors need to be opened about 20 times per flight on average. Doing this in a secure manner really needs a double "air lock" type door or the sort used by El-Al. But these are costly so manufactures and airlines come up with their own ad-hoc policies. While these procedures may be confidential they must also be widely circulated - so it can be assumed they are not that secret. There are probably also some quite predictable patterns of when a door is likely to be opened.
posted by rongorongo at 9:51 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


Malaysia Airlines missing jet: Thailand gives radar data 10 days after plane lost. The new data doesn't seem to add anything significant. If anything, the absence of the plane on Thai radar is the more interesting fact.
posted by Nelson at 9:54 AM on March 18


Re: Passengers
Honestly, I find it more respectful for the press and other online public venues to assume they are alive. Regardless of my personal opinion.
posted by travelwithcats at 9:55 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


feloniousmonk, I don't think there's any reason to believe that we would shoot down a commercial airliner just because we couldn't communicate with it, if that's what you're saying.

Iran Air 655.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:03 AM on March 18 [14 favorites]


five fresh fish, wow, I didn't know about that.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:07 AM on March 18


Korean Air Lines Flight 007, for that matter.
posted by Chrysostom at 10:13 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


re going postal: "running amuck" was originally a Malay concept.

Those of you wanting to make maps: I've been contacted by someone who works with GIS systems and wants to make a map too. If you like, MeMail me your email address and I'll connect you with her.
posted by divabat at 10:15 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


Post 9/11 or even USS Cole, I'm not sure what the US military would do if a plane was coming near one of their bases and not responding to communications.
posted by drezdn at 10:18 AM on March 18


R317: it'd be a pretty shit military if it wasn't willing to shoot its own grandmother in the face if she was heading straight for the base and wasn't identifying herself.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:19 AM on March 18 [3 favorites]


According to this Beritan Harian article (in Malay), the airplane didn't carry any dangerous cargo, but it did have several tons of mangosteens.

(I'm not sure if that was meant to be a joke from the authorities or if it's yet another European Names with Asian Features derail.)
posted by divabat at 10:21 AM on March 18


R317: it'd be a pretty shit military if it wasn't willing to shoot its own grandmother in the face if she was heading straight for the base and wasn't identifying herself.

I understand that, but certainly there has to be some judgment call made about an airliner in distress?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:23 AM on March 18


How would they know it's in distress if it's not communicating?
posted by sio42 at 10:33 AM on March 18


How would they know it's in distress if it's not communicating?

That's the point.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:41 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


Maybe I'm missing this, but as far as I know, we still haven't seen the ping arcs ("satellite corridors", which is rather misleading terminology) for the rest of the flight.

We know from the last ping that the plane was (probably, with an unspecified uncertainty radius) on one of two arcs - a northern arc that would have had it fly through India/China/Pakistan/Myanmar, or a southern arc that is open ocean but approaching Australia. The gap between the arcs corresponds to Malaysian/Thai radar coverage, and the rest of the circle is out of range / covered by other satellites. So far so good, yes?

But the ACARS pings happen about once an hour (?), and I don't see similar arcs for the previous pings. Why not?

(a) I'm an idiot and failed reading comprehension. (P->100%, but may not be the right answer here.)

(b) Someone is sitting on them but hasn't released them because (i) it exposes some capability that they'd rather not, or (ii) keep out of the big boys room, you nosy amateurs.

(c) They don't exist - the system purges all but the last contact in the interests of disk space. This might have made sense in the 1980s I guess but surely such a policy would have been revised by now?

Does anyone know?
posted by RedOrGreen at 10:44 AM on March 18 [3 favorites]


it'd be a pretty shit military if it wasn't willing to shoot its own grandmother in the face if she was heading straight for the base and wasn't identifying herself.

in the Hollywood movie version, Denzell Washington (or whoever) trusts his gut and lets the airplane land (or fly past) ... or perhaps Sandra Bullock shows up at the last possible second with proof that there is no harm intended, it is in fact an airplane in distress.

In reality, the plane gets shot down well short of its imagined target, or it certainly should.
posted by philip-random at 10:48 AM on March 18


But that's an easily explainable situation. Surely the military would stand by its actions and this would be known, yes?
posted by mazola at 10:52 AM on March 18


Had flight MH370 appeared out of the blue on approach to Diego Garcia after its overnight off-course sojourn it would not be the plane in distress, but any surviving passengers and those closest to them; and we'd all watch helpless while it was fired on.

Is this conversation now all about the US and its assets?

It would appear this hijacking wasn't aimed at the US. Can we stop talking gratuitously about shooting people out of the sky? It's as distasteful as assuming everything is axis of evil bad.
posted by de at 10:54 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


As a slight aside, I'm confused about how the Malaysian military (and possibly other SE Asian countries' militaries) allowed such a large unidentified object to pass through their airspace apparently with no reaction from them. Is this right? If I correctly understand everything I've read, Malaysian military radar picked up an unidentified object flying through their airspace shortly after MH 370 disappeared, and apparently didn't do anything about it. Thailand too? It seems first of all bizarre to pay for military radar if you're not going to act on the data that it throws up, and if you're going to allow unidentified aircraft to enter your airspace anyway. It also strikes me as irresponsible, once MH 370 disappeared, not to have coordinated better between their civilian and military radar. Presumably had Malaysia done this, it could have stopped the plane as it was doubling back across their country westwards. Is this right?
posted by ClaireBear at 10:59 AM on March 18


You know, the real question here is still... why Gival to Vampi? It makes no sense under any scenario.

If it's a suicide, why wouldn't the pilot fly straight out into the Indian Ocean? He's already flying over Malaysia so he can't be *that* concerned about radar, and you could keep the same heading and only pass over some small islands. And even if turning up the Malacca Straight was some plan to avoid radar -- you can just go from Gival to Igrex and it will shoot you up the straits. Vampi actually brings you *closer* to likely radar, putting you just off the Thai coast.

Same if the pilot is heading north as a hijacking -- why not stay Gival to Igrex? Why buzz the Thai coast? It really does look more like a confused wandering than a logical plan, yet they seem pretty certain by the pattern of turns that it's a deliberately set course, and yet it's hard to see a pilot being so disoriented that they are putting illogical points in, and yet get ones that plot a course close together. Especially if there's a flat out 'return to airport' option.
posted by tavella at 11:05 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


Tinfoil Hat: What if the jet's control system was remotely hacked and programmed to change course, shut down all communications, and ignore any further control from the jet console? What if some brilliant hacker has discovered the security hole to end all security holes and this was his first dry run?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:06 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


The gap between the arcs corresponds to Malaysian/Thai radar coverage, and the rest of the circle is out of range / covered by other satellites.

I don't know if it was ever officially stated, but I think I read somewhere that the gap could also correspond to where the signal would have also been picked up by the next satellite to the east. Note that Thai radar data wasn't shared until today.

It would be interesting to know the error range of the satellite transmission angle since this is a novel (and probably complex) way of calculating plane location. For instance, was the calculation made by calculating round-trip signal time? Was the data transmission only one-way? Or was the plane's timestamp compared to the satellite's clock sort of like a reverse GPS? If the latter, you would need to know the accuracy of the timestamp from the plane. I suppose there could even be some relativity effects on the satellite clock that might not have ever been relevant before if it wasn't designed for this type of location calculation.
posted by stopgap at 11:08 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


Tinfoil Hat: What if the jet's control system was remotely hacked and programmed to change course, shut down all communications, and ignore any further control from the jet console? What if some brilliant hacker has discovered the security hole to end all security holes and this was his first dry run?

That doesn't account for the lack of anyone trying to make contact with the rest of the world.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:08 AM on March 18


As a slight aside, I'm confused about how the Malaysian military (and possibly other SE Asian countries' militaries) allowed such a large unidentified object to pass through their airspace apparently with no reaction from them.

Well, you've got at least China and the US with assets in the region, I wouldn't be surprised if Malaysia thought the unidentified object was a military plane belonging to one of those countries doing a flyover. I'd imagine countries probably see that kind of thing all the time and it would seem pointless to even bother attempting to hail it.

Re: the plane being shot down at Diego Garcia, I don't know why the US would keep that a secret. It would be tragic but they would have been justified in their actions if it was heading straight for a target, whether the plane was communicating or not.
posted by jason_steakums at 11:10 AM on March 18


If it's a suicide, why wouldn't the pilot fly straight out into the Indian Ocean?

If we assume for the moment that a) it's pilot suicide, and b) that the copilot was complicit or subdued, and c) that the passengers and rest of the crew were somehow subdued (someone mentioned the sudden climb + depressurization?), then this flight pattern actually does make sense.

Some people who commit suicides don't want to look like they've killed themselves--for honour, family memory, insurance/benefits, whatever. Subdue the rest of the plane (somehow), turn all comms off, make some apparently purposeful course changes, fly past the point of no return.

You've now left behind a mystery, and an honourable death. You won't be vilified after death as that guy who killed nearly three hundred people.

Re: the plane being shot down at Diego Garcia, I don't know why the US would keep that a secret. It would be tragic but they would have been justified in their actions if it was heading straight for a target, whether the plane was communicating or not.

Imagine the negative PR. "USA shot down fully loaded civilian plane in distress." That's not a good reason, mind you, but from their point of view it's probably a pretty solid one.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:13 AM on March 18


If the US military knew anything they're not disclosing, then the past week of Navy deployments and search flights was a very expensive cover-up. Not impossible, but pretty unlikely.
posted by stopgap at 11:14 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


Imagine the negative PR. "USA shot down fully loaded civilian plane in distress." That's not a good reason, mind you, but from their point of view it's probably a pretty solid one.

No, I believe (I'd rather believe) that the US military would do the honorable thing, stand up, and say yes we did it and here's why. "USA shot down unidentified aircraft heading for ammo dump on a military base after it failed repeatedly to acknowledge warnings" is really not much of a PR problem.

Tragedy, sure, but not a PR problem.
posted by RedOrGreen at 11:17 AM on March 18 [2 favorites]


Imagine the negative PR. "USA shot down fully loaded civilian plane in distress." That's not a good reason, mind you, but from their point of view it's probably a pretty solid one.

Well, "USA shot down fully loaded civilian plane in distress on collision course with ground target". That's an important distinction. There's nothing else that can be done in that situation, the choices are "the passengers die" or "the passengers and an unknown number of people on the ground die". It would be tragic but not indefensible.
posted by jason_steakums at 11:18 AM on March 18


Yes, because everything that happens to anyone, anywhere in the world, somehow must be intimately related to the United States. It is completely impossible that something occur which is not, somehow, either a result of actions by the United States or actions toward the United States.

I mean, it's not like foreign "people" have their own agency and internal life.
posted by aramaic at 11:18 AM on March 18 [2 favorites]


How long does it honestly take a fighter plane, say, to get in the air, and try to figure out what the situation is?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:19 AM on March 18


Yes, because everything that happens to anyone, anywhere in the world, somehow must be intimately related to the United States. It is completely impossible that something occur which is not, somehow, either a result of actions by the United States or actions toward the United States.

I mean, it's not like foreign "people" have their own agency and internal life.


This line of speculation was explicitly dealing with the US base at Diego Garcia.
posted by jason_steakums at 11:19 AM on March 18 [11 favorites]


How long does it honestly take a fighter plane, say, to get in the air, and try to figure out what the situation is?

Generations, it seems.
posted by de at 11:23 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


"running amuck" was originally a Malay concept.

Having a pithier term than "going postal" does not mean SE Asians have some sort of increased propensity to the action. Edward Said wept.
posted by Panjandrum at 11:23 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


stopgap: Agreed, but again the negative PR of not doing anything at all?

For the record I don't think there's a US coverup of the "we blew it up" variety. If the Diego Garcia angle turns out to be actually relevant, then I might believe a coverup of a "we needed something on that plane desperately" variety.

RedOrGreen: I'd rather believe the same thing. But. Imagine this: you're the commander of the base, woken up in the middle of the night, told about this thing incoming. You give the order. Shortly thereafter you get a comminque stating to be on the lookout for such a plane because it's a missing civilian transport. After saying "oh fuck" a lot, you're probably going to call your superior and say "We may have a situation." Coverup seems likely from there, and it would be again impossible from a US standpoint to refuse to help out with this kind of humanitarian mission. There's could also be a left hand/right hand thing going on, or the TS/SCI thing preventing the left knowing what the right is doing.

jason_steakums, I get what you're saying, but world opinion being what it is nobody's going to pay attention to the 'collision course' bit, you know?

Bear in mind I'm obviously just wild-ass guessing like everyone here, just contemplating the consequences if X is true.

I think in all likelihood the most reasonable explanation is a hijacking gone wrong. Hijacker(s) overcome the pilots enough to kill comms, say "Take us to Wherever" and the pilots make it look like they're punching in the location while actually setting a course out to sea.

I can't think of anything--even as little plausible as that one is--that makes sense otherwise.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:25 AM on March 18


If it had been shot down by anyone in the area capable of doing so, would there be reasons they'd want to hide it? Say, fear that any involved may take retaliatory actions after the death of so many of their citizens on board?

Being shot down and then kept quiet would explain a lot of this, but what reason would any country have to do that?

On preview though, fffm's hijack and ditch theory makes even more sense. But still, I wonder.

/slaps more tinfoil on that hat
posted by cmyk at 11:28 AM on March 18


How long does it honestly take a fighter plane, say, to get in the air, and try to figure out what the situation is?

They made visual contact with Helios 522 and Ethiopian 702. Even the Soviet Union made an effort with Korean 007.
posted by ambrosen at 11:28 AM on March 18 [1 favorite]


/slaps more tinfoil on that hat

*hands cmyk a coconut and magic walking stick*
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 11:30 AM on March 18 [2 favorites]


I think in all likelihood the most reasonable explanation is a hijacking gone wrong. Hijacker(s) overcome the pilots enough to kill comms, say "Take us to Wherever" and the pilots make it look like they're punching in the location while actually setting a course out to sea.

I can't think of anything--even as little plausible as that one is--that makes sense otherwise.


Yeah, this is my vote for most reasonable theory, too. Doesn't require the pilot or copilot's disposition to wildly change from what people knew of them before, hijackers could physically prevent passengers from trying to use phones even if they did work or prevent it with the threat of a bomb or something else that the passengers couldn't fight back against, and if the hijackers required the pilots to make the plane do anything and the pilots realize the lives of everyone on board are already a lost cause, there's nothing the hijackers could do about it if the pilots entered in a course that took them way over water where they couldn't do any further damage.
posted by jason_steakums at 11:51 AM on March 18 [3 favorites]


Mostly agree, though it's hard to imagine that the pilots would not attempt some sort of communication in that situation.
posted by mazola at 12:34 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]


Wow, I love how Thailand just released today information that they tracked the plane on their radar but didn't tell Malaysia when intially asked soon after the flight went missing. The reason they said justified holding back info? " Malaysia's initial request for information in the early days of the search was not specific."
posted by saucysault at 12:38 PM on March 18


Hey, they could have been asking about any number of missing 777s.
posted by Justinian at 1:16 PM on March 18 [5 favorites]



If we assume for the moment that a) it's pilot suicide, and b) that the copilot was complicit or subdued, and c) that the passengers and rest of the crew were somehow subdued (someone mentioned the sudden climb + depressurization?), then this flight pattern actually does make sense.

Some people who commit suicides don't want to look like they've killed themselves--for honour, family memory, insurance/benefits, whatever. Subdue the rest of the plane (somehow), turn all comms off, make some apparently purposeful course changes, fly past the point of no return.

You've now left behind a mystery, and an honourable death. You won't be vilified after death as that guy who killed nearly three hundred people.


The problem is, the course changes would make it *less* likely that it would be taken as a suicide. If all we had was a sequence of "comms go out, plane turns back towards Malaysia but then continues flying in a straight line out into the Indian Ocean", the overwhelming assumption from everyone would be that something had gone wrong that had taken out the comms, that the pilots had turned back to try for an emergency landing, but were overcome by hypoxia or smoke and the plane flew on as a ghost plane. Because variants of that have happened before. And experienced pilots would know that; they'd know that a plane under apparent conscious control would look far more suspicious than a simple, believable one turn story.

If they were concerned that a single track into the ocean would leave it potentially findable, you could easily program a slight turn in the middle of the Indian Ocean, far away from any likely radars, as opposed to the Malacca Straits, with the potential for multiple country's radar detecting it. And if they were concerned about picking up a jet escort that might be able to identify the crash spot, they had already flown at a very detectable altitude over Malaysia. Why all but taunt the air forces of multiple other countries to notice you?

Honestly, it almost does make the hijacking/pilots attempting to attract attention storyline believable. Though that of course brings up questions: if they went north, how could they possibly have escaped notice to end up in Central Asia, if the pilots weren't helping? And if it went south -- you'd think at some point the hijackers would try to take direct control and either crash it or turn it around, not have it sail on for so many hours to nearly the Antarctic Ocean.

As someone said above, it's fractally weird.
posted by tavella at 1:24 PM on March 18


So very weird indeed. My hardest problem is grasping that no one anywhere in the world seems to know anything about what really happened. And then I come back to the fact that the world is HUGE, and it is apparently even huge enough to hide from all of its residents evidence of 300 souls (living or dead), and a jumbo jet (in tact or in thousands of pieces, some of which would float and presumably be seen by someone). With all of the information available to us today -- and available immediately and exponentially -- it's just really hard to accept that there is no information about what occurred, or at least that we don't have the equation that would, by some sort of arithmetic, make sense of what we do know.
posted by mudpuppie at 1:33 PM on March 18


The problem is, the course changes would make it *less* likely that it would be taken as a suicide.

Yes, that's my point exactly. The family gets to go on living thinking their son died valiantly, the pilot committing suicide knows that his name won't be spat on.

Again though, I don't think pilot suicide makes any sense, unless we're talking a severe psychotic break. The last thing, when you're suicidal, is wanting to draw out your death; I think a suicidal pilot would drop the nose, crank the engines, and go straight down.

it's just really hard to accept that there is no information about what occurred, or at least that we don't have the equation that would, by some sort of arithmetic, make sense of what we do know.

This is why I think there is more known than we are being told. Most especially, I strongly suspect that the US government has pictures that would at least flesh out the story, but can't/won't release them for fear of revealing certain surveillance capabilities. I'm not getting all conspiracy theory here; I'm just saying that the US has eyes in the sky that see a lot and it would be surprising if they hadn't picked anything up.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:36 PM on March 18 [2 favorites]


Sorry, I misstated; I meant that the course changes would make it *more* likely it would be taken as a suicide. If you want it to look like an accident, make a single turn, don't make it look like it was under conscious control for hours.
posted by tavella at 1:38 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]


I think I'm having a hard time being that cynical about it, but that's not to say you're wrong, fffm.
posted by mudpuppie at 1:38 PM on March 18


If a large country (U.S., China, whatever) had pictures of where it was but didn't want to reveal how they surveilled that couldn't they just send a jet to the area while "searching" and "accidentally" see it?
posted by DynamiteToast at 1:40 PM on March 18 [2 favorites]


This is the only plausible theory I've heard or read yet.
posted by fshgrl at 2:31 PM on March 18 [4 favorites]


Here's the interesting thing about the Diego Garcia connection:

Diego Garcia is in the Chagos Islands, which are owned by the British, but the U.S. has a significant naval base there. British law has extremely strict rules about the environment in the area--so strict that when the base was built in the 1970's, the Chagos Island natives were run off--sorry, 'relocated'--to the Seychelles area because they could not be trusted with the protection of what has been considered by some the most pristine waters in the world. Obviously, this rankled the natives, who have been protesting for years their right to inhabit the island.

Just a few days ago, the British press broke the story that the U.S. Diego Garcia Naval Base has been dumping human waste and sewage into those waters for years, polluting the waters To the point where the coral reef is dying. Though this just came out in the press, apparently the British Government has known about the pollution issue since April of last year.

All of this is almost certainly unrelated to the missing jet, of course. I seriously doubt there is any kind of Eco-terrorism going on, for example.

But...with the revelations coming out now about this pollution and cover-up, it certainly seems like a PR nightmare if, on top of all that, this same naval base shot down an unarmed, non-military passenger jet with 239 innocent people on board, so I figured it was worth mentioning.
posted by misha at 2:33 PM on March 18


misha: what's your source for your tale about the Chagos Island people being relocated on environmental grounds?
posted by Mister Bijou at 2:45 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]


Yeah, my understanding was that they were relocated on security grounds.
posted by Chrysostom at 2:49 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]


Sorry, I meant to link that! I read it on the Independent.
posted by misha at 2:52 PM on March 18


Ah, I see. Fact of the matter is the Chagos Island people were forcibly removed in the 1970s because the US military wanted the place all to themselves. The fact the Brits -- who still own the island, but let the US use it rent-free -- are stopping the locals from returning on so-called "environmental grounds" is just Brits being economical with the truth.
posted by Mister Bijou at 3:04 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]


This is the only plausible theory I've heard or read yet.

I'm with fshgrl. I have no expertise at all on any of this, but it feels right, not to mention tragic and entirely un-conspiratorial. A fire. A loss of electronics. An attempt to reach a comparatively close and easy landing option ... but smoke or a lack of oxygen won out.

A plane ultimately left on autopilot for six hours heading somewhere very remote and far away.

Very sad.
posted by philip-random at 3:14 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]


Can someone remind me why we're talking about Diego Garcia again? It's 1600nm from the last known plane radar fix and a hell of a long way further from the Inmarsat ring where the plane is believed to have last been seen. I'll say it again; finding Diego Garcia in a pilot's simulator is in no way surprising. I guess it's an interesting place given how it's such a secret secure military base, not to mention connected to the US torture program, but there's no meaingful evidence it has anything to do with MH 370 and a lot against it.

I share RedOrGreen's desire for more information about Inmarsat-derived location hints from previous hours during the plane's flight. I've been watching this part of the story pretty closely and so far have seen nothing about it other than a lot of people asking. Hopefully the relevant search teams at least have access to the info. My guess is the only reason the one Inmarsat location got out was that the company was frustrated the Malaysian government was ignoring them and had leaked it themselves to the media (WSJ?) already.
posted by Nelson at 3:15 PM on March 18 [2 favorites]


It was just pointed out to me that it would be surprising for flight simulators not to have those particular 5 runways, since they tend to have thousands of sample runways anyway. I couldn't get a clear idea about whether the articles mean "those 5 runways only" or "these 5 runways are included amongst others".
posted by divabat at 3:22 PM on March 18


I don't think it's a stretch that someone might like to fly/explore/land in local/interesting areas they're familiar with via a flight simulator.
posted by mazola at 3:27 PM on March 18


Nelson, eyewitnesses in the Malvides claim to have seen a low-flying jet where none had ever been seen before, possibly in colors similar to MH's. However as with everything else that's come out on this incredible case there is no corroboration and it's not consistent with the other evidence.
posted by localroger at 3:27 PM on March 18 [2 favorites]


This is the only plausible theory I've heard or read yet.

Except they *did not* head to the closest runway able to handle a 777. If the flew to Langkawi, they passed, by my count, 7 runways 6500' or longer, and the 2nd closest to their location when they made the turn was Sultan Mahmud Airport in Kuala Teenngganu, with an 11,400' runway.

IF they were on fire and they were trying to divert, they manually programmed their FMC a route that would keep them away from airports, instead of going to the FMC, hitting the AIRP button, which brings up a list of nearby *safe to land at for a 777* airports, then picking one of the closest 2 and selecting the bottom right function button, which, on that page, is labeled DIVERT NOW.

Seriously. ANY trained 777 pilot knows how to get a divert going. It's right there in the FMC. It would take *far longer* to program in the route they actually flew that to select WMKC or WMKC on the FMC and hit "DIVERT NOW"

No. It's not only not a plausible theory, it posits the absolute stupidest behavior by a set of trained pilots who are required to rehearse this procedure in simulators repeatedly. Suddenly, they forgot how to call up the diversion planning menu and went and typed in a route of five character waypoint IDs?
posted by eriko at 3:45 PM on March 18 [26 favorites]


This is the only plausible theory I've heard or read yet.

I'd like that theory too, but for two things. I'd like to know why the airport cited in that article would be a better choice than any of the others (and closer) airports provided in this map of airports supposedly capable of handling the 777. Also, what would explain the two course changes after the flight overflew that airport?

On preview, eriko touched on this but posting anyway for the links - which were gathered from other posts in this thread.
posted by forforf at 3:51 PM on March 18


Yeah eriko, I'm definitely not an expert or a pilot.

Right now some pilot friends of mine are having a heated debate about the details of what electronics would be working and what airport they might have diverted to etc on f'book. I guess the part they and, by extension I, found plausible is the fire/ emergency and that the pilots tried stuff, it failed and the plane crashed. All the hijacking and conspiracy theories seem insane.

I lived in Alaska once and planes go missing there a lot. I think people underestimate how hard it is to find a plane.
posted by fshgrl at 3:51 PM on March 18 [2 favorites]


There is also other not-officially-verified information that points towards a landing on land.

I think it's generally easier to wrap one's mind around an accident (however complex) vs. a precisely carried out hijacking. That's why many people believe it must have crashed in the ocean.
posted by travelwithcats at 3:52 PM on March 18


Some good analysis of the satellite angle calculations here. There is two-way communication, but it sounds like there are a lot of assumptions that go into the calculations, so I don't know how accurate they really are. The arcs are likely calculated based on either the delay between the satellite sending a ping and receiving a response, or the power level of the transmission. There is no discussion of any lag or processing time on the plane, which could lead to very different angle estimates. It also sounds like a banking plane could alter the perceived transmission power between antennas. I would interpret the arcs as more of a maximum distance from the satellite rather than a likely position. Again, I would be curious to see the intermediate ping calculations.
posted by stopgap at 3:55 PM on March 18


I suspect that when all the facts come out, they won't fit the facts.
posted by mazola at 3:56 PM on March 18 [6 favorites]


A follow-up post gives more timing detail. The plane is given a specific time slot to reply in, and the distance and speed calculations are based on delay and Doppler shift. So I think I have to retract my suggestion that the arc is more of a maximum distance.
posted by stopgap at 4:03 PM on March 18


Analysis of the southern arc, based on data from the intermediate pings, leads to a revised southern search area about 2400km WSW of Perth, Australia.
posted by stopgap at 4:11 PM on March 18


And here's the Australian Maritime Safety Authority's maps of the search area as described in their 18 March 2014 press release. It's a fairly specific area and while it seems heavily informed by the Inmarsat ring location, it's more specific than that.
posted by Nelson at 4:16 PM on March 18


Apparently it should be possible to reconstruct the intermediate ping arcs from the AMSA/NTSB southern search data. This would allow plotting the arcs on the northern route to test possible route hypotheses.
posted by stopgap at 4:28 PM on March 18


Ah, so they're using something analogous to GSM's timing advance field to derive the distance from the satellite. That should give a range accurate to within a few tens of kilometers at most (more likely closer to 1-2km), otherwise the terminals would be trampling all over each other when transmitting. Not terribly surprising it is logged, either. It's useful information to have for troubleshooting. It would also probably be relatively difficult to spoof that value, since it is measured by the base station (in this case the satellite), which then asks the terminal to transmit a bit earlier or later than it normally would.
posted by wierdo at 4:29 PM on March 18 [2 favorites]


Since the arcs are a mirror image, did anyone see a recalculation for the northern corridor?
Haven't read any official statement, but it seems like JORN was not in use. 3.200 km would be close to the maximum reach of radar 2 anyway, which does not cover the exact search area. What other info do you presume went into the calculations of the new search site?
posted by travelwithcats at 4:36 PM on March 18


It sounds like the assumptions for the southern search area were constant speed and heading, consistent with all (unreleased) intermediate ping arcs. This yielded only two possible southern flight paths. I don't know what their point of origin is — last known radar position?
posted by stopgap at 4:43 PM on March 18


So anything else than the inferred arcs? The speed can be calculated based on the distance between two arcs.
posted by travelwithcats at 4:50 PM on March 18


Interesting, the flight lines on that new southern search area seem to converge well east of the southern satellite arc from a point west of Australia and south of Java.
posted by jason_steakums at 4:51 PM on March 18


The speed can be calculated based on the distance between two arcs.

Right, but I think you need a point of origin to distribute the arcs uniformly. Since the two flight paths converge, maybe plotting them as great circles would give a second convergence point to use as the investigators' assumed point of origin.
posted by stopgap at 4:56 PM on March 18


I just woke up and logged on, the MeFi tab said (84) [new comments]. I thought Hallelujah! It's been found overnight! No, just a glitch.

With all of the information available to us today -- and available immediately and exponentially -- it's just really hard to accept that there is no information about what occurred, or at least that we don't have the equation that would, by some sort of arithmetic, make sense of what we do know.

I know, it's very humbling. Agony for the families and friends.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 5:41 PM on March 18 [2 favorites]


I wonder if they are also considering waypoints. There's very few in that part of the ocean, and if you assume they went from Igrex to Rerab, the southernmost, it looks like you end up where they are searching on the sort of flight path shown. Not sure why there would be two, though.
posted by tavella at 5:51 PM on March 18


fshgrl: "I lived in Alaska once and planes go missing there a lot. I think people underestimate how hard it is to find a plane."

Same in BC however those tend to be much smaller and less sophisticated planes. It's going to be a lot easier to find a 777 than a little Beaver.
posted by Mitheral at 5:56 PM on March 18


When you're talking about a search area comprising such a significant area of the Earth, the difference between a Beaver or Twin Otter and a 777 isn't so great. It's easy to spot runways where a 777 can obvioiusly and safely land from satellite views, because runways are very obviously manmade linear features. The plane itself, especially if broken up, but really even in flight, is much harder to spot.

I can understand why if anyone does have hard evidence they might withhold it because the ability to ferret such a small object out of a globe of surveillance data would suggest an existential threat to almost every other similar entity on Earth.
posted by localroger at 6:11 PM on March 18


Someone on reddit described it as a search for a single mis-typed letter in one bible of a set of 600 bibles.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:24 PM on March 18


Another as trying to spot a dropped quarter, on a four lane highway, while driving to work. And it might be under a leaf.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:26 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]


MeFi's Own Rob Cockerham had some comparisons.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:40 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]


From the Cockerham link, I liked the last comparison, "finding a short grain of rice at Disneyland."
posted by Bugbread at 6:53 PM on March 18


NBC is reporting that the hard left turn was pre-programmed into the flight's computer more than 12 minutes before the last radio transmission. That is essentially all she wrote for a mechanical cause of all of this.
posted by Justinian at 7:02 PM on March 18


finding a short grain of rice at Disneyland

Because Disneyland would only ever serve LONG GRAIN RICE AMIRITE.

Q-II's vouch notwithstanding, it's a very short and tiny needle in a very large and long-grained haystack.
posted by localroger at 7:05 PM on March 18


the hard left turn was pre-programmed into the flight's computer more than 12 minutes before the last radio transmission

i must have missed something - how could anyone know this?
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 7:07 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]


From the NBC article: "The change in direction was made at least 12 minutes before co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid said "All right, good night," to controllers on the ground, the sources said.

The revelation further indicates that the aircraft's mysterious turnaround was planned and executed in the cockpit before controllers lost contact with Flight 370. But it doesn't necessarily indicate an ulterior motive.

"Some pilots program an alternate flight plan in the event of an emergency," cautioned Greg Feith, a former National Transportation Safety Board crash investigator and NBC News analyst.

"We don't know if this was an alternate plan to go back to Kuala Lumpur or if this was to take the plane from some place other than Beijing," the doomed flight's intended destination, Feith said."
posted by cashman at 7:16 PM on March 18


The video says ACARS reported it at 1:07. I didn't know that system reported that level of detail.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 7:19 PM on March 18


The first sentence is misleading. The change in direction did not happen before signoff. The claim is that it was programmed into the flight computer before signoff.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 7:21 PM on March 18


i've been following this story like it was crack. i have no idea what happened to the plane, but i would like to thank the metafilter contributors for a higher level of uninformed speculation than is available elsewhere. i have a growing sense that we'll never get a definitive answer.
posted by bruce at 7:21 PM on March 18 [16 favorites]


Hijacker(s) overcome the pilots enough to kill comms, say "Take us to Wherever" and the pilots make it look like they're punching in the location while actually setting a course out to sea.

I agree with this. My thoughts: hijacker breaches the cockpit, gets pilots to switch off communication devices. Says - "take me to x location" and the pilots program the waypoints - hijacker maybe none the wiser that they've just put in random locations. Maybe the pilot was trying to signal by the unusual selection of waypoints that they was under distress (if he was thinking they wouldn't make it, but that radars or satellites would show where they went). I read in one of the articles linked upthread that the climb to 45,000 feet followed by the uneven drop is consistent with a struggle in the cockpit, so maybe the pilots also tried to fight back. I also think that the plane flying for hours afterward would be more likely due to everyone being unconscious, like the Helios flight. So maybe during the struggle, something happened that caused the depressurization of the plane causing everyone to pass out and the plane to fly until it ran out of fuel.

Alternately, there were no hijackers, but it was one of the pilots and the other pilot tried to stop him, leading to roughly the same scenario above.
posted by triggerfinger at 7:23 PM on March 18


The first sentence is misleading. The change in direction did not happen before signoff. The claim is that it was programmed into the flight computer before signoff.

It's clear in the article that it is preprogrammed. I just can't copy the entire thing and post it here.
posted by cashman at 7:34 PM on March 18


This morning's NY Times article (tried to) say the same thing. No idea how or why they kept this secret since the first analysis of the ACARS messages.
posted by miyabo at 7:43 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]


I'm just surprised ACARS transmits even actions like programming that in.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 7:43 PM on March 18


ARCARS and FMS are linked so information about things like weather, flight plans and engine performance can be shared both ways automatically. Why no alarm was raised over the changed flight plan at 1.07 might be one reason the Malay authorities did not release this information until yesterday's press conference.

hijacker breaches the cockpit, gets pilots to switch off communication devices. Says - "take me to x location" and the pilots program the waypoints - hijacker maybe none the wiser that they've just put in random locations.

It is kind of weird that the hijackers would know how to breach the flight deck in the first fifteen minutes of the flight while it was still climbing without raising the pilots' alarm (or the alarm of the people in business class that had access to plane phones I thought?) but not have a ready list of waypoints taken off skyvector and would just trust the pilots to take them there. And why would the pilots disobey, aren't they supposed to follow the hijacker's orders? It would also mean the hijackers were on the flight deck when the co-pilot said "good night" to ATC instead of the innocuously-sounding code-word for distress he could have used.

I suspect there is a lot of information we do not know that would change a lot of people's opinion of what happened. As it is, none of the three main theories fit all of the available information we have.
posted by saucysault at 8:27 PM on March 18 [2 favorites]


per cendawanita's post on March 17, here is the NST write up:
Acting Transport Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein yesterday conducted a closed-door briefing for Barisan Nasional backbenchers to update them on the status of the investigation into the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.

Speaking to reporters, he said the briefing...was meant to keep the parliamentarians in the loop on what had transpired so far.

The briefing, he said, was done at the parliamentarians’ request.

"This was not to share ideas or discuss sensitive issues about the investigation,” stressed Hishammuddin, who is also defence minister.

He said the parliamentarians had a responsibility to convey an accurate picture of the situation.

"The whole world is looking at us and it's important for us to be well-informed,” he said...

Hishammuddin said he was open to conducting a similar briefing for opposition members of parliament if they requested for one.
(my bf)

Note: The BN has been Malaysia's ruling coalition since Independence. The only serious contender is an allliance of opposition parties led by Anwar.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 8:35 PM on March 18


In case my point is not clear, why not debrief the entire parliament if "it's important for us to be well-informed". Why wait for a "request"?
posted by TWinbrook8 at 8:41 PM on March 18


Conclusion: If not outright lying, there has been endless dissembling. The reason none of our conjectures can make sense is because we've been fed bullshit. We may never know what happened, because we're not being told the truth.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:09 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]


Meh, it's just more political games as usual for the ruling party. I mean next to throwing your opposition party leaders into jail on made up charges this is nothing. The level of BS produced by the leaders is pretty unbelievable, say only a few days ago the Deputy Home Minister insinuated that the Chinese and Indians were godless pagans who tolerate child rape. He was baited by a question on why the Malay community had a significantly higher rate of child rape cases, and his logic was that in reality the Chinese and Indians actually had higher rates, but because Islam doesn't allow child rape, only Malays report it to the police. seriously. He was being baited specifically because there was a case earlier where a 41 year old raped a 12 year old girl and once he was caught he immediately married her as a second wife (permissable under Islamic law) in order to try evade the rape charges.

I think what happened to MH370 is unprecedented. If anything good comes out of this I would expect all airlines to now have a direct line to the military: Malaysia has a squadron of SU-30's stationed on the East Coast at Gong Kedak, in future if an airliner ever drops off the radar by turning off its transponder they should immediately scramble an escort: the SU-30 can track an airliner 400km away, and they lost contact with MH370 140km from the coast, so it should have been more or less doable in this case, especially since it doubled back. Obviously the military isn't going to scramble jets on its own for any and every random radar return it gets, so this directive has to come from MAS itself saying they've lost contact with one of their jets and they need an escort / visual confirmation / short range VHF communication with it.
posted by xdvesper at 9:27 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]


What amazing is how this plane is some sort of karmic reflector. People seeing the story they want to see, in the human interest, the international aspect, the terrorism claims. Because we know nothing about this situation, we prefer to project our own meaning on to the situation rather than accept we know nothing on it.

That's why I think it was a fire. We know nothing and it is the most parsimonious explanation. Planes catch on fire and when they do it is very bad. Commercial pilots don't hijack their own airplanes. Happened twice before this at most. Just so happened that one pilot did it three weeks ago in Europe. So that's what's fresh in CNN's mind.

I've never ever seen such rank speculation presented as news before, ever. But for CNN, it is lucrative. They are crushing in key demos and were up 100% in the ratings from before. Hell, I turned it on. I never turn on CNN.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:27 PM on March 18 [12 favorites]


I should think the other thing that comes of this is an international requirement for all aircraft to have an always-on location/direction beacon. It's unfathomable that in this day, an aircraft can simply vanish. Inexcusable.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:34 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]


five fresh fish: "I should think the other thing that comes of this is an international requirement for all aircraft to have an always-on location/direction beacon."

From what I've gathered through this thread, though, everything on an aircraft is designed to be turn-offable in case of electrical fires.
posted by Bugbread at 11:11 PM on March 18


> We know nothing

That's not the case at all. If the pre-programmed divert were a planned turn back due to any early flight emergency "All right, good night" at least 12 minutes and at most 40 odd minutes after deciding to turn back is simply not the professional response to KL's ATC on (temporarily) departing its airspace.

A fire is unlikely the cause.
posted by de at 11:32 PM on March 18


So it seems that a lot of countries in this region have acknowledged/are too embarrassed to admit that their military radar is not manned at night.

Is this something that a hijacker would know? A pilot?
posted by TWinbrook8 at 3:11 AM on March 19 [1 favorite]


Lack of Useful Radar Exposes Defense Weakness explores the issues of radar coverage and the relucatance among countries in SE Asia to share such information.


Series of Errors by Malaysia Mounts, Complicating the Task of Finding Flight 370:

The radar blip that was Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 did a wide U-turn over the Gulf of Thailand and then began moving inexorably past at least three military radar arrays as it traversed northern Malaysia, even flying high over one of the country’s biggest cities before heading out over the Strait of Malacca.

Yet inside a Malaysian Air Force control room on the country’s west coast, where American-made F-18s and F-5 fighters stood at a high level of readiness for emergencies exactly like the one unfolding in the early morning of March 8, a four-person air defense radar crew did nothing about the unauthorized flight. “The watch team never noticed the blip,” said a person with detailed knowledge of the investigation into Flight 370. “It was as though the airspace was his.”

posted by mlis at 4:25 AM on March 19 [2 favorites]


Malaysia Cedes Some Control in Search for Flight 370

But confusion over the effort spread Tuesday, with several nations, including India, Thailand, Japan and Indonesia, saying they had ships and aircraft sitting idle while they awaited instructions from Kuala Lumpur, which has been overseeing the international operation.

Instructions on how to proceed are "not very clear," said a senior South Korean military official in Seoul, which has offered a P-3C and a C-130 transport plane to the search fleet.

posted by mlis at 4:29 AM on March 19


Why the "startlingly simple" Chris Goodfellow fire theory is wrong. [via Slate]
posted by kreestar at 4:38 AM on March 19


We may never know what happened, because we're not being told the truth.

Please point out what statements you believe to be untruthful.

What amazing is how this plane is some sort of karmic reflector.

Totally.

The fire theory is just a non-starter at this point though. Planes do not catch on fire and then fly for six hours (Especially FBW ones!). Pilots would never turn off the transponder in response to a fire [1]. Pilots do not program a set of diversion waypoints during a fire, and then calmly say "Good night" to the controller 20 minutes later. Pilots would never intentionally climb a plane that was on fire.

In the first few days after the incident, I agree that fire was totally the best guess (c.f. SR111), but not finding the wreckage near the point of last contact and receiving the satellite handshakes six hours later are just really incompatible with fire.

[1] The Boeing Quick Reference Handbook says in event of fire, pull power to any obviously smoking/burning devices, but the transponders are located in the EE bay where the pilots would never see them. It does not say start throwing breakers to everything. It does not say anything about removing power to busses, as the Goodfellow writeup describes, since in a FBW aircraft you need those electrical busses to keep the flight computers running. Shutting them down would be make the plane uncontrollable. I understand that in an emergency people can do weird things, but Goodfellow should at least be honest that shutting off the transponders makes no sense rather than suggesting that all crew actions fit together perfectly. Not to mention shutting down the radios without at least sending out a mayday? Definitely super weird, definitely not reasonable behavior you can wave away with "aviate, navigate, communicate".
posted by kiltedtaco at 6:18 AM on March 19 [6 favorites]


Could the fire not have taken out the transponders?
posted by Admira at 6:36 AM on March 19


MeFi's Own Rob Cockerham had some comparisons.

The piece (for those who have not read it, it scales down the relative sizes of the Indian Ocean and a 777 to convey how much ocean there is to search and how little target there is to search for) is nice, but even when he gets down to the graspable area -- like finding a pen in San Francisco, say -- he is still using areas that offer a lot of hiding places instead of smooth ocean. I think to get a more accurate comparison, you need a relatively homogenous search area to convey the idea. If my math is right, this is comparable to searching a football field for a stray eyelash.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:46 AM on March 19 [2 favorites]


Yes, the transponders could have caught fire. But those are sitting in the EE bay right next to every other piece of electronics that control the aircraft, including the flight computers. So you need to burn up the transponders and the radios and disable the crew, but keep the plane airworthy. That's the part that just seems so difficult. And someone had to program in these diversions, which on their own are inconsistent with a fire. I'm definitely not going to say it's impossible, but it's a big stretch.
posted by kiltedtaco at 6:55 AM on March 19


Re: waypoints & sequence of events

At the press conference today there was the following opening statement:
"I am aware of speculation that additional waypoints were added to the aircraft’s flight routing. I can confirm that the aircraft flew on normal routing up until the waypoint IGARI. There is no additional waypoint on MH370’s documented flight plan, which depicts normal routing all the way to Beijing."

Later on, there was a question concerning waypoints. A reporter asked if radar data showed that the aircraft passed through at least two waypoints after the turn back. That question was dodged. Check out the video at 16:15 for that particular question.

The very next question: "There were reports today that the plane diverted course and went westwards before the pilot said goodnight. Can you confirm?" Authorities replied with "That's not correct". That question starts at 17:40 in the same video. The reporter was likely referring to CNN's report about the pre-programming of waypoints:
"On Tuesday, a law enforcement official told CNN that the aircraft's first major change of course -- an abrupt westward turn that took the plane off its route to China and back across the Malay Peninsula -- was almost certainly programmed by somebody in the cockpit.
The change was entered into the plane's system at least 12 minutes before a person in the cockpit, believed to be the co-pilot, signed off to air traffic controllers.
" Article was updated after the press conference.


At a previous press conference it was clarified that it is not clear when ACARS was disabled. The only thing that is known is the time frame: 1:07MYT (last proper ACARS transmission) - 1:37MYT (next scheduled ACARS transmission that did not come through).
posted by travelwithcats at 7:15 AM on March 19 [1 favorite]


Pilots would never turn off the transponder in response to a fire [1]. Pilots do not program a set of diversion waypoints during a fire, and then calmly say "Good night" to the controller 20 minutes later. Pilots would never intentionally climb a plane that was on fire.

We have an entirely new timeline. Malaysia now says "goodnight" transmission was before the systems stopped working.

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/03/18/malaysia-s-sinister-timeline-for-flight-370-unravels.html

We know next to nothing about what happened to this plane. It is just a bunch of wild-goose chases. And fire or malfunction is the simplest explanation. It is more common than hijack, and massively more common than crewmember hijack.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:18 AM on March 19 [1 favorite]


I do have to wonder if the whole "aviate, navigate, communicate" system will change in light of this situation.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:20 AM on March 19


he is still using areas that offer a lot of hiding places instead of smooth ocean

The ocean is only smooth on the surface. A major problem with the recovery of the Air France jet was that it sank into an underwater mountain range.
posted by localroger at 7:35 AM on March 19


And fire or malfunction is the simplest explanation. It is more common than hijack, and massively more common than crewmember hijack.

How common is flying for multiple hours after catching fire?
posted by Chrysostom at 7:42 AM on March 19 [1 favorite]


Right, the operative issue are the reports that additional off-track waypoints were programmed prior to the last ACARS update at 1:07. That report is super critical, and I think it's hinted at by the Malaysian authorities confidence in a "deliberate" action.

If those are not true, then I am happy to retract my reticence towards the fire scenario. But I haven't seen any statements directly contradicting that. The plane doesn't have to fly the actual waypoints prior to the sign-off, they can be pre-programmed, ACARS relays that update to the ground at 1:07, the pilots sign off, the plane reaches IGARI, automatically turns towards to the diversion waypoints, and the transponder is then turned off. I'm not making that timeline up as a wild guess, that's the sum total of the reports I've seen.

Also note that the aircraft doesn't necessarily fly "through" the waypoints, it flies towards them and when it gets close enough it turns towards the next one, so I wouldn't place much weight on that.
posted by kiltedtaco at 7:45 AM on March 19


roomthreeseventeen: "I do have to wonder if the whole "aviate, navigate, communicate" system will change in light of this situation."

It seems unlikely, I know I'm not going to stop trying to save my life in order to make it easier for rescuers to find my body.

Besides, everything seems to point to the occupants of the airplane in this case being unable or unwilling to contact anyone.
posted by Mitheral at 8:21 AM on March 19 [1 favorite]


How common is flying for multiple hours after catching fire?

I was thinking a fire seemed like a good culprit but having Ctrl+Fed for "fire" through the List of accidents and incidents involving commercial aircraft (got back to the 60s then decided technology was so more advanced now it wouldn't be a fair comparison) , it seems like in past situations where there's been an in-flight fire in the cabin/fuselage (as opposed to an engine fire), the plane has crashed less than an hour after the fire is initially detected.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:21 AM on March 19


That's why I think it was a fire. We know nothing and it is the most parsimonious explanation. Planes catch on fire and when they do it is very bad.

If it's that bad, could you please provide a plausible explanation as to how a fire could be so bad as to incapacitate all aboard, while leaving the plane airworthy for at least four hours?

Commercial pilots don't hijack their own airplanes.

Oh I see.

Happened twice before this at most. Just so happened that one pilot did it three weeks ago in Europe.

Oh wait you meant they do.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:26 AM on March 19 [1 favorite]


i was just reading the wikipedia article about the Air France flight because i didnt' remember it taking as long to find it, just to recover it.

wreckage was found the very next day.

unlike with this where this is still no wreckage a week later.

so it did take a while to recover, but was found almost immediatly.
posted by sio42 at 8:28 AM on March 19


Which just brings me right back to thinking that someone--USA, China, or Russia most likely--has to have some photos that shed light. There's no way that nobody at any of the multiple surveillance HQs in the States (or Russia or especially China) didn't task a couple of satellites to start taking as many photos of the area as they could as soon as they heard about this. That's assuming there weren't any taking pictures already.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:42 AM on March 19


There's no way that nobody at any of the multiple surveillance HQs in the States (or Russia or especially China) didn't task a couple of satellites to start taking as many photos of the area as they could as soon as they heard about this.

By the time most governments "heard about this" the plane was long gone.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:52 AM on March 19 [2 favorites]


Comments from two 777 rated air transport pilots, one of who was either flying for Delta or AA. In short -- that plane didn't act like it had a fire aboard.
posted by eriko at 8:53 AM on March 19 [7 favorites]


If it's that bad, could you please provide a plausible explanation as to how a fire could be so bad as to incapacitate all aboard, while leaving the plane airworthy for at least four hours?

Smoke inhalation. When Payne Stewart's plane decompressed it flew for hours, off course. If the people in the aircraft died or passed out from smoke inhalation, the plane could fly for hours by itself.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:59 AM on March 19


Tensions reached a boiling point Wednesday when a group of Chinese relatives of missing passengers criticized Malaysia’s handling of the search efforts during a news conference in Kuala Lumpur. Chaos broke out as Malaysian police roughed up journalists crowded around the group.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:03 AM on March 19


I mentioned my brother, who doesn't fly this plane, but has 20+ years experience as a commercial pilot. Many things in his life are like Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah's life. He does the handy videos of fixing things to Youtube. He oversees simulator training for the airline he works for. Once when I dropped by his place and he was flying something new, he had the plane's schematics spread out on his table; not something required but something he needed to know to make sure he and his passengers were as safe as possible. He's politically active.

This hits him hard. He can see no way but an intentional act. It's pretty awful.
posted by readery at 9:04 AM on March 19 [3 favorites]


Happened twice before this at most. Just so happened that one pilot did it three weeks ago in Europe.

Oh wait you meant they do.


My point is how extremely rare it is, especially when compared to the causes of all crashes. There is, to my knowledge, only one situation that has occured where a pilot crashed an airliner deliberately, the flight that went down off of Long Island.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:05 AM on March 19


He can see no way but an intentional act. It's pretty awful.

I think that's pretty short sighted. There's no evidence that it was intentional.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:06 AM on March 19


kiltedtaco, what reports do you have in mind?

I think it's possible to interpret the official statements one way or another, but the press blows stuff up and then that in turn is rephrased and spread. There is a lot of wrong info floating around.
There are testimonies that I am more likely to believe, like that Vietnamese ATC "frantically" tried to establish contact on 121.5 for example. Other things are repeated and repeated although the sources are not verified. I'm sure the Malaysian authorities have had grounds to label it "deliberate" action. Were those grounds interpretations of raw data that is verified, did this interpretations change in the mean time or was it a political reason to enable them to classify it under Section 130C of their penal code, making it an offense relating to terrorism?

I mean we can talk about the "unnamed officials". What do you guy think about those?

Anyway, if someone wants to read more into it: Apparently this woman's banner said: "We are against the Malaysian government for hiding the truth and delaying the rescue. Release our families unconditionally!" As mentioned upthread, there were some rough scenes prior to the press conference today.
posted by travelwithcats at 9:17 AM on March 19


There is, to my knowledge, only one situation that has occured where a pilot crashed an airliner deliberately, the flight that went down off of Long Island.

Murder/suicide is known or strongly suspected in the cases of: Silk Air 185, Egypt Air 990, Royal Air Maroc 630, FedEx Express 705, and Japan Airlines 350.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:24 AM on March 19 [7 favorites]


There is, to my knowledge, only one situation that has occured where a pilot crashed an airliner deliberately

In the interest of supplementing the discussion with verifiable facts, I filtered this Wikipedia list to incidents that are specifically the pilot crashing their own commercial scheduled flight. These include Japan Airlines Flight 350 in 1982, EgyptAir 990 in 1990, Royal Air Maroc 630 in 1994, SilkAir 185 in 1997, and LAM 470 in 2013. There may be others, I haven't done a full survey.

Yes, pilots crashing their own planes is uncommon. No, it's not unheard of. No, we have no real evidence either way about MH 370 yet. The conflicting information we're getting from Malaysian authorities and well-placed leaks is confusing enough, the last thing our intelligent discussion needs is confident assertions of fact without evidence.
posted by Nelson at 9:25 AM on March 19 [1 favorite]


There was an interview on maddow with the girlfriend of the american guy on the plane. She lives in Beijing. She made it out like the Chinese relatives are being pushed into a frenzy by the govt. She was sure her phone was being monitored and that internet has been very hard to access to get any news and that she had to find "alternate" means, as she put it, to get online and get outside info.

Sounds like an awful situation to be in for everyone.
posted by sio42 at 9:25 AM on March 19


If not smoke, why not carbon monoxide? It's colorless, odorless, and creeps up on you and disorients you before killing you. Maybe there's a fire, a small one, in an area of the plane like the avionics bay that doesn't get a lot of O2. Isn't carbon monoxide produced by incomplete combustion? The pilots get an electrical fire alarm and start pulling breakers, unaware that they are in the first stages of CO poisoning. Maybe they succeed at extinguishing the fire and then change course to try to find a runway to set down on, but they're too far gone to pull it off, and the plane full of dead people crashes into the Indian Ocean hours later.

But really, at this point, I think my money is on terrorist attack gone wrong. But I think almost everything, from fire to theft to pilot suicide is still on the table. And I have no money.
posted by vibrotronica at 9:26 AM on March 19 [2 favorites]


There are testimonies that I am more likely to believe, like that Vietnamese ATC "frantically" tried to establish contact on 121.5 for example.

As others have suggested, major airports should have 24hr access to a search team that includes fast fighter jets with powerful radar that can be scrambled as soon as contact with any major flight has been lost for a significant amount of time and can co-ordinate with military ground radar.
posted by Golden Eternity at 9:34 AM on March 19


Smoke inhalation

Which is why they are trained -- repeatedly -- to put on the masks the moment they sense smoke. These masks go on incredibly quickly. Indeed, for most airlines, one pilot is required to be wearing the mask if they are alone in the cockpit above FL250 or regardless if they're above FL410.

There are checklists for in cabin fire. Here's one for a BAe 146 (scroll to figure 3.) Items in CAPS are referring to controls with that label or a setting on a control.
1) Oxygen Masks: Crew don, EMERGENCY (set oxygen switch to EMERGENCY)
2) Smoke Goggles: Crew don
3) Crew Communications: Establish (make sure you can hear each other)

4) ATC Transponder: A7700 (International code for emergency)
5) Air Traffic Control: Inform
6) PANEL FLOOD LIGHTS: Select STORM (Brighten panel in case of smoke)
7) Flight Deck Emergency Lights: ON (More light on the FD.)
8) GALLEY SWITCH: SHED (if fitted) (I'm assuming this means "cut power.")
9) FASTEN BELTS: ON
10) CABIN EMERGENCY LIGHTS: ON
11) NO SMOKING: ON
12) Flight Deck Door: Closed

Note:
1) Land at nearest suitable airfield
2) If source of fire can be identified, continue with appropriate procedure below
So. Mask On, Goggles On, Check your other pilot, Transponder to 7700, call ATC, then, if you know what the source of the fire is, ONE of you goes and deals with it. The pilot flying flies the plane, period. Note the order. Mask/Goggles. Transponder to Emergency. Call ATC. Configure a/c for the emergency, then and only then does one of you go deal with it.

ANYBODY following the checklists calls ATC. There are zero cases where you cut the power to the transponder and the radios first unless you have completely and utterly ignored the checklists about fire. That's not impossible, but it is incredibly improbable because of the repeated training they get on just this item. The fastest way to lose the plane is for the pilots to lose oxygen, so if there's any hint that oxygen is at risk, masks go on.

Fire is not a credible answer here. Fire in no way fits the facts. This is why the pilots who fly these planes are saying that the plane was flown the way it was, and it was not downed by a cabin fire. If these pilots were dealing with a fire, the first sign would have been the 7700 squawk, and the second would have been a mayday or pan pan call to ATC.

They did not squawk 7700. They did not contact ATC. They either completely and utterly disregarded the checklists, o