MH370 is still missing, with no final answers
May 16, 2018 9:13 AM   Subscribe

Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared on March 8, 2014, shortly after leaving Kuala Lumpur, bound for Beijing. The governments of Malaysia, China and Australia called off the official search in January 2017 with no answers. How could a modern aircraft tracked by radar and satellites simply disappear? Because, say a group of experts, the pilot wanted it to. The theory posited on “60 Minutes” has something in common with previous ones about the fate of MH370: They're all guesswork. “It's all assumption and supposition and opinion. They have no corroborated facts to back any of it up, and we have never had anything corroborated.” (SL Washington Post) posted by RedOrGreen (57 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
Until the plane is found (if ever...) everything is guesswork, but this is the most likely scenario.
posted by ob at 9:30 AM on May 16 [2 favorites]


Seems like the kind of event most likely to create conspiracy theories. Not that this position is that, bur this seems a lot like the things that fueled Bermuda Triangle raving in the 70s.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 9:33 AM on May 16


It's fascinating that people seem unable to accept that a thing can be not knowable.
posted by thelonius at 9:46 AM on May 16 [43 favorites]


all guesswork. “It's all assumption and supposition and opinion. They have no corroborated facts to back any of it up, and we have never had anything corroborated.”

sounds like the early, early days of science. Or more to the point, "reality" before science showed up as means to getting to truth of things. I'm hardly the first one to say this, but it's odd to realize that we live at a time when EVERYTHING eventually gets explained ... or certainly that we tend to expect EXPLANATION. And suddenly here we are with a genuine unresolved mystery. Or as thelonius just put it:

It's fascinating that people seem unable to accept that a thing can be not knowable.

Chalk it up to gods and/or monsters, I guess.
posted by philip-random at 9:49 AM on May 16


It's fascinating that people seem unable to accept that a thing can be not knowable.

it's not really that unusual though, is it? especially for family members who want closure.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:51 AM on May 16 [22 favorites]


One thing the WP article fails to mention is that debris almost certainly from MH370 has been found, consistent with the plane crashing in the South Indian ocean.
posted by justkevin at 9:52 AM on May 16 [16 favorites]


It's fascinating that people seem unable to accept that a thing can be not knowable.

I mean, it is knowable though, right? Like, the plane is on the planet Earth somewhere.
posted by Automocar at 10:07 AM on May 16 [16 favorites]


I mean, it is knowable though, right? Like, the plane is on the planet Earth somewhere.

Yeah, theoretically, but its knowability is contingent on finding some evidence, and it is possible that that will never happen.
posted by thelonius at 10:20 AM on May 16 [1 favorite]


Like, the plane is on the planet Earth somewhere.

That’s what they want you to think.
posted by Grandysaur at 10:21 AM on May 16 [28 favorites]




I mean, it is knowable though, right? Like, the plane is on the planet Earth somewhere.

That's one theory
posted by mazola at 10:25 AM on May 16


One thing the WP article fails to mention is that debris almost certainly from MH370 has been found, consistent with the plane crashing in the South Indian ocean.

Even so, the geography of Kuala Lumpur to Beijing implies the South China Sea would have been a more logical location.
posted by infini at 10:31 AM on May 16


Whatever came of investigations into the pilots? IIRC that was the responsibility of Malaysia; did they issue a final report? As the article notes, a murderous / suicidal pilot is a fairly tidy explanation for everything.
posted by Nelson at 10:35 AM on May 16


It's fascinating that people seem unable to accept that a thing can be not knowable.

Not with that attitude...
posted by The Tensor at 10:36 AM on May 16 [3 favorites]


"It's fascinating that people seem unable to accept that a thing can be not knowable."

It's one thing to accept that some things are not knowable. It's another thing to accept that this specific thing (the location of a very large, very expensive object with very sophisticated tracking devices in a very heavily regulated industry) is not knowable.

And it's another thing entirely to accept that this thing being unknowable should be unknowable.
posted by kevinbelt at 10:39 AM on May 16 [21 favorites]


I choose to believe Lost came true.
posted by millipede at 11:00 AM on May 16 [6 favorites]


It's fascinating that people seem unable to accept that a thing can be not knowable.

Oh, thelonious, you started a good one there : )

I'm all for accepting ignorance, but I'm pretty sure you can never say of something that it is not knowable. God is perhaps not knowable, since his existence hinges on belief rather than knowledge, but a plane that was manifestly made in a Boeing factory, the people who manifestly existed, are not unknowable, they are just missing.

Give it time until some Thiel-turned-less-evil finances a school of remote underwater drones and the major parts of the plane WILL be found. Unless it is in Diego Garcia, Ukraine, Afgahistan or the Moon.

Also, I remember fondly the hours spent on the (now humongous) thread on PPRune, where, generally, the pilots do not take kindly to suggestions of pilot error/blame. And not so fondly how my own speculations were promptly deleted from the thread.
posted by Laotic at 11:11 AM on May 16 [3 favorites]


Yeah, it’s easy to just idly philosophize about ambiguity when you didn’t lose a loved one to it.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:22 AM on May 16 [13 favorites]


I choose to believe Lost came true.

The global news cycle well and truly went off the rails during MH370 and never really got remotely normal since then, so I choose to believe that we are the ones trapped in... whatever this is.
posted by BungaDunga at 11:33 AM on May 16 [18 favorites]


BungaDunga, you mean like the owners of our matrix went bankrupt, it was sold in an auction and now our caretaker is some irresponsible 18-year old universal being just dicking around with us? That would make sense.
posted by Laotic at 11:41 AM on May 16 [16 favorites]


Chalk it up to gods and/or monsters, I guess.

I swear I remember some talking head on some TV show speculating about whether God had taken the plane, but I can't find the link. But CNN's Don Lemon did ask a panel of experts if it could have been a black hole.
posted by Sangermaine at 11:52 AM on May 16 [2 favorites]


That WP article is terrible. Basically, the author watched a TV show that presented a slanderous theory as authoritative, then spent most of the article repeating it as authoritative before admitting that it’s all a bunch of speculation. I feel stupider for having read it.
posted by sjswitzer at 11:59 AM on May 16 [5 favorites]


There's more than one pilot aboard. Sure, there's the Captain, but there are at least two other flight-capable crew, by regulation.

There have been instances where a depressurization event incapacitated the crew and left a zombie flight. This particular aircraft, cleared for landing in the EU and USA by way of their formal piloting, was not susceptible to that.

Instead, we are lead to believe that this jumbo jet ditched in the very middle of the south pacific as the jet fuel ran out, and the passengers and crew, who were linked into the internet by a global satellite network, blithely let it happen? For "Islam" and such?

Like the right-feet-running-shoe mystery in Vancouver, we are being fed a line of baloney.

There are lights in the sky.
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:23 PM on May 16


I mean, it is knowable though, right? Like, the plane is on the planet Earth somewhere.

Sure, but when?

I don't think refusal to not know is all that surprising here. Aside from the general human attitude about knowing stuff, this represents an incident in a mode of travel that (1) has very few fatal incidents and (b) a lot of people have anxiety about. Even those of us who don't have notable worries about air travel have to accept that we have even less control over what happens when we're on a plane than we do driving. And since we over-estimate our own contribution to how safe we are when driving that makes us very sensitive to things like this where not only do you end up dead but nobody even knows where or how.
posted by phearlez at 12:34 PM on May 16


There have been instances where a depressurization event incapacitated the crew and left a zombie flight. This particular aircraft, cleared for landing in the EU and USA by way of their formal piloting, was not susceptible to that.

What does that mean "not susceptible to that"?

Just this week a cockpit window blew out on a jet liner and the copilot got partially sucked out the window. The pilot then couldn't use the radio due to the noise in the cockpit.

All kinds of shit can go wrong when you hurtle a giant winged cigar tube at a couple hundred miles an hour.
posted by srboisvert at 12:43 PM on May 16 [2 favorites]


I think for people for whom this matters, they need closure and that's valid. The knowability issue isn't directed at that group, but the group of people, for example unscrupulous media, who aren't basing their ideas on corroborated facts and so on.
posted by polymodus at 12:56 PM on May 16 [2 favorites]


> srboisvert:
"Just this week a cockpit window blew out on a jet liner and the copilot got partially sucked out the window. The pilot then couldn't use the radio due to the noise in the cockpit.


Link please? (Not being all citation needed, I just really want to read about this.)
posted by Samizdata at 12:57 PM on May 16


All it needs to get to the top tier of lost things with Amelia Earhart, El Dorado, and the crew of the Mary Celeste is a few years and a more memorable name.
posted by sfenders at 1:00 PM on May 16


Here's the link to a first officer getting sucked out of the window this week. Over the Tibetan plateau, which complicated descent due to depressurisation.

Here's the last time it happened (dramatised).
posted by ambrosen at 1:22 PM on May 16 [2 favorites]


It’s completely reasonable that families of the passengers and crew would seek closure. I’m not sure that wignut conspiracy theories facilitate that process. Rather, it seems to demonstrate a complete lack of empathy or understanding of their needs.
posted by simra at 1:22 PM on May 16 [4 favorites]


For all the evidence supporting a theory that the pilot intentionally flew the plane into the sea, there is just as much evidence that there was a fire onboard and the pilots were incapacitated after turning the plane around but before they could send out an SOS.

It also has the benefit of being the simpler explanation, so I find it much easier to believe.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 2:40 PM on May 16 [5 favorites]


There's no real correlation between truth and simplicity.

There's just a collective will to wish that were the case, given that it'd make things that much easier for our poor brains. The longer you think about it, the harder it is to believe this dumb idea has lasted so long.
posted by ProfLinusPauling at 3:20 PM on May 16 [2 favorites]


There are so many ways this lurid and irresponsible speculation goes off the rails, but this is completely over the top:
“Captain Zaharie dipped his wing to see Penang, his home town,” Simon Hardy, a Boeing 777 senior pilot and instructor, said on “60 Minutes.”

“If you look very carefully, you can see it's actually a turn to the left, and then start a long turn to the right. And then [he does] another left turn. So I spent a long time thinking about what this could be, what technical reason is there for this, and, after two months, three months thinking about this, I finally got the answer: Someone was looking out the window.”
I imagine him stroking his chin while he makes this brilliant deduction. How can anyone take this seriously?
posted by sjswitzer at 3:33 PM on May 16 [7 favorites]


I'm not sure it's simpler, Big Al 8000, but there's a known tendency in airline investigation to blame the pilot if causes are unclear. And ghost planes from depressurization are a known thing, and I've got suspicions that if they hadn't been able to recover the boxes from the Helios flight they would have called it deliberate action by a pilot as well. Of course, pilots committing suicide with their planes is also a known thing, i.e. Germanwings, but if it was suicide it was such an odd extended way to do it; if one of the pilots had enough control to send it thousands of miles towards the Antarctic, they could have ended things much quicker by diving it to the ground.

That's really my problem, I think; I have trouble making motive and manner sync up. If it was suicide from depression, well, in those cases the pilots usually do it quick with a dive. If it was a more planned out suicide for insurance purposes, it would explain the path, but it takes a seriously cold and cruel mind to opt to kill hundreds when you could stage a solo accident much easier. If it was a political statement, surely you'd... make a statement, not disappear silently. And there was no particular evidence that either pilot had the sort of deranged mind or was under the kind of pressure that you would expect if it was a deliberate act, at least from what I remember at the time. They had family and were in good financial situations, etc.
posted by tavella at 4:25 PM on May 16 [7 favorites]


This latest hot take reminds me of the mystery that surrounded the disappearance of Flight 19 in the Bermuda Triangle in 1945. What could it have been? UFOs (a popular theory after the war until about 1990 or so)? A water spout? Beings from Atlantis?

Flight 19 was written about in dozens of books and magazine articles, but in reality the simplest explanation was that the inexperienced pilots lost their bearings, and didn't have the skill or knowledge to navigate back to Florida. On top of that the pilots in the flight relied military discipline, and so followed the direct orders of the lead pilot.

They ran out of fuel and crashed in the sea someplace.

Pretty simple explanation, and yet the "mystery" of the disappearance continued for years and years.

MH370 will probably be kept alive in the public imagination in the same way, unless the remains of the aircraft are found someplace in the Indian Ocean. Which is unlikely.
posted by JamesBay at 4:43 PM on May 16 [1 favorite]


There are people who like to be certain and people who like to be right. Fortunately for them people who like to be certain are easily satisfied.
posted by sjswitzer at 4:54 PM on May 16


There are lights in the sky.

... Are you making the claim you appear to be making?
posted by PMdixon at 4:59 PM on May 16 [3 favorites]


One of my favorite debunkings is about Japan Air Lines flight 1628 . For years and years and years it was reported as fact that the pilot really did see an "unidentified flying object", and there was no explanation for what he saw.

In fact, the pilot of Flight 1628 had repeatedly reported seeing UFOs, and there were some very good (and technical) reasons for the phenomenon he observed. This blog post has more.
posted by JamesBay at 5:24 PM on May 16 [1 favorite]


There's no real correlation between truth and simplicity.

Actually, there is: it’s known as Occam’s Razor and it’s evident in a wide range of physical phenomena.
posted by simra at 7:07 PM on May 16 [5 favorites]


Hitting Ctrl-f on this thread finds no mention of the 4 tons of mangosteens on board. Coincidence?
posted by OldReliable at 7:44 PM on May 16 [3 favorites]


Remember the time you couldn't find your keys? You looked everywhere. The next day, you found them in the fridge, right beside the milk you brought home yesterday. This is essentially that. The plane hasn't been found, but it's sitting at the bottom of an ocean somewhere, right beside the milk.
posted by davebush at 8:35 PM on May 16 [1 favorite]


Seeing as the crowd of 'it couldn't have been the pilot, I'm a pilot and I'd never do it' is slowly getting on here too, I'd like to add a bit of my speculation (this being the internet and all).

First off, if I remember correctly (and unless the info was disproved in the meantime) the aircraft executed a peculiar maneuver just after the transponder went off: a very steep climb to its service ceiling of about 40000 ft, after which it returned to a much lower flying level. An explanation for this could be to make the floor too steep for any would-be intruders into the cockpit to use effective force on the door. At the same time, if the cabin was being depressurised, well, you get the idea. In any case, the likelihood is that a human executed the maneuver, although the reason could still have been fire on board.

Second, the genius conclusion in this case was the triangulation of the satellite pings the aircraft was sending even with all its comm equipment turned off. This put it on a course through the Indian ocean, exactly opposite of where it was supposed to go.

The interesting hypothesis that's emerged now is not so much the speculation of 'wanting to see his hometown', as 'flying along the craggy border between Malaysia and Thailand'. This, if done intentionally, would show great expertise on the part of the pilot - the plane is now without a transponder and coming in and out of military radar coverage of two countries, so each of them might think it is the other's military plane accidentally coming across the border and then returning. Which prompts no reaction on either side.

There is one important aspect for me: supposing the pilot did it intentionally, the part I have a very hard time imagining is that he flew for hours on end knowing there were a couple hundred dead people right behind his back. I do not believe that a human being is capable of withstanding the crushing feeling of guilt which would surely come after some time in the lonely cockpit. Which is why I would disagree with the controlled ditching theory - if the pilot did it, then he would likely just take off his own mask off or whatever, to end it all once the plane was programmed on a straight route to its demise.

And as for the closure - even if we find the plane, I think we're not likely to learn much more about the motives of the pilot (the black boxes will probably be unusable by then), or details of what must have been happening on board. Perhaps fire on board could be proved/disproved by finding charred bits, but beyond that I'd not expect much more new information.

Also, I understand Amelia Earhart was found a long time ago but they just want to be really, really sure, and need more money to be more sure.
posted by Laotic at 10:56 PM on May 16 [2 favorites]


Occam's Razor doesn't say "it's the simplest answer therefore it must be correct", sometimes the more complex answer is it. What it does say though is that the simplest answer is MORE LIKELY to be correct - it's a guide, not a hard and fast rule
posted by mbo at 10:59 PM on May 16 [5 favorites]


That is a very poor article.I watched the Australian 60 Minutes program and it does make a better case. For example, the debris recovered so far indicates a gentle landing rather than a high speed crash, and the captain had plotted a course on his home flight simulator similar to the one taken. The ending quote about it all being speculation and guesswork comes from a nonexpert and ignores that there is at least some evidence fitting this theory.

I don't understand though why we should just shrug our shoulders and say, oh well, we'll never know. "With that attitude" indeed.
posted by blue shadows at 11:03 PM on May 16 [1 favorite]


Yeah, theoretically, but its knowability is contingent on finding some evidence, and it is possible that that will never happen.

No, knowing is contingent on finding evidence, knowability doesn't require the evidence to be found. It is knowable, it just isn't known.
posted by Dysk at 4:56 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]


All this talk of "unknowable" reminds me that there are simple statements about numbers that are true but not provable. This fact shook the world to its existential core* a while back, but mostly we just ignore it carry on with our lives, going to the market, walking the dog, eating cabbage and so on.

*Well at least the fields of math, logic and formal philosophy. But still, this is kind of bleakly terrifying and the world is still full of things we do not and cannot understand, despite the callow assuredness of the "everything's on Google now!" crowd.
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:08 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]


Actually, there is: it’s known as Occam’s Razor and it’s evident in a wide range of physical phenomena

It's truly amazing to me that Franciscan monk William of Ockham (c. 1287–1347) managed to invent statistical significance and p-values a whopping 400 years before Arbuthnot and Laplace — and then applied this powerful mathematical tool to a vast data set of solved mysteries and the various prevailing theories about those mysteries. The man truly was a genius. For as well known as he still is today, William of Ockham clearly was robbed of his contributions to probability theory and empirical notions of truth, which he derived all by himself centuries before the Enlightenment.

Okay, now that I've got being a sarcastic jerk out of my system, I'm going to point out what Ockham actually said, via Jacques Vallée quoting the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: "Nothing ought to be posited without a reason given, unless it is self-evident or known by experience or proved by the authority of Sacred Scripture."

Being as fair as possible, Ockham's Razor is just some practical advice to avoid overthinking things, or "gilding the lily," or working harder than you have to. It's not a rule, or a law, or anything but one occasionally helpful heuristic for trying to find out the truth.

If you do some reading on the science of modelling real-world systems, I think you'll at least come to appreciate why I find this "Simplicity=Truth" premise so pernicious and silly. [Here's a free pdf of that same linked Science article.]
posted by ProfLinusPauling at 10:20 AM on May 17 [5 favorites]


(I am sorry to have encouraged this tangent. I think the MH370 mystery is generally fascinating and am happy to see a new thread on it.)
posted by ProfLinusPauling at 10:24 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]


I'm still holding out hope that a night watchman at Almaty airport will come forward about the odd unscheduled "cargo" landing he saw that night.

And that someone will then get him and his family to safety way way far away from there.
posted by argonauta at 12:25 PM on May 17


Gonna point out again, there was a co-pilot, and another crewperson capable of flying that rig aboard.

Maybe the Pilot had mental mind control powers, and he used it to fly to nowhere and die!

Gonna let that one sink in a bit.

Sir William of Ockham scowls in your general direction.

Lights in the sky, in the age of smartphone videos?

Yeah.

Michigan. Those little bright points are OURS... what were we shooting them at? Over Lake Michigan? If it was an exercise, there's around a billion or two worth of ordinace going all explodey there.

There are lights in the sky.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:31 PM on May 17


(I am not entirely convinced this is not a viral vid for a film-school horror picture show, but mostly convinced it is.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:41 PM on May 17


There are lights in the sky.

Um, people pointed out what that was in the comments: a drone LED light show. In this case Occam's Razor definitely applies, and I'm really not impressed with your "Lights in the sky".
posted by happyroach at 9:18 PM on May 17


Occam’s Electric Razor had a ridiculously overpowered lithium battery that exploded mid-flight and brought down MH370.
posted by Burhanistan at 9:27 PM on May 17 [2 favorites]


This, on the same week that The National Enquirer finally got to the bottom of the Kennedy assassination...
posted by littlejohnnyjewel at 9:37 PM on May 17


Gonna point out again, there was a co-pilot, and another crewperson capable of flying that rig aboard.

Not sure what your point is, Slap*Happy, but:

Pilot locked out of cockpit, Germanwings.

Pilot locked out of cockpit, Delta Airlines.

Pilot locked out of cockpit, Air India.

"the reinforced cockpit door, designed for maximum security, would have stopped staff or passengers from getting into the cockpit to make contact with the outside world".
posted by Laotic at 2:44 AM on May 18 [1 favorite]


And now the 2018 FAA Reauthorization bill is expected to include a provision for a secondary cockpit barriers to be installed in all aircraft.
posted by cardboard at 7:30 PM on May 22


I'm not sure it's simpler, Big Al 8000, but there's a known tendency in airline investigation to blame the pilot if causes are unclear

Well, to be honest, “the pilot screwed up” is a pretty simple explanation (and pretty often true). But “the pilot committed suicide by flying a convoluted path and ditched in the remote Indian Ocean” is pretty complicated.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 8:42 PM on May 24


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