mh370: where is it?
June 17, 2019 12:26 PM   Subscribe

from the atlantic, more about where mh370 may have gone, and an american lawyer looking for the debris, over five years later.
posted by koroshiya (35 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
What Really Happened to Malaysia’s Missing Airplane
A Boeing 777 is meant to be electronically accessible at all times. The disappearance of the airplane has provoked a host of theories. Many are preposterous. All are given life by the fact that, in this age, commercial airplanes don’t just vanish.

This one did, and more than five years later its precise whereabouts remain unknown. Even so, a great deal about the disappearance of MH370 has come into clearer view, and reconstructing much of what happened that night is possible. The cockpit voice recorder and the flight-data recorder may never be recovered, but what we still need to know is unlikely to come from the black boxes. Instead, it will have to come from Malaysia.
Noted aviation journalist William Langewiesche theorizes that pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah intentionally crashed MH370 into the ocean.

The Atlantic Dusts Off Discredited Conspiracy Theory to Accuse MH370 Pilot of Hijacking is a critique of Langewiesche's article.
posted by kirkaracha at 12:42 PM on June 17 [5 favorites]


did a search but didn't see it. thanks.
posted by koroshiya at 12:53 PM on June 17


I like this article, Langewiesche does a great job in summarizing a lot of information clearly. But there's very little new in it. An anonymous source about the pilot's mental state, that's about it. I happen to agree with his conclusion of deliberate pilot action, but he doesn't bring much to the table in the way of new evidence.
posted by Nelson at 12:54 PM on June 17 [5 favorites]


(Previously...)
posted by RedOrGreen at 1:17 PM on June 17


It's disappointing if Langewiesche's details are fluff, but at the end of the end, there can't really be any other answer, can there? Zaharie must have done it, and it must have been for personal reasons, because if it was terror, someone would have claimed it.
posted by mumimor at 1:20 PM on June 17


Computer glitch, control-system collapse, squall lines, ice, lightning strike, bird strike, meteorite, volcanic ash, mechanical failure, sensor failure, instrument failure, radio failure, electrical failure, fire, smoke, explosive decompression, cargo explosion, pilot confusion, medical emergency, bomb, war, or act of God—none of these can explain the flight path.

Well, an act of God can. I mean, why is that even here, tossed in with all these real possibilities?
posted by chavenet at 1:35 PM on June 17 [6 favorites]


Christ, the idea of a whole cabin full of the dead, sitting underneath the lights and the bells and the chimes, traveling for hours ...
posted by Countess Elena at 1:47 PM on June 17 [13 favorites]


excellent writing. sober, methodical, and logical, even if it adds little new.

also makes me think of how many people we entrust our lives to in this highly technical, highly interconnected world who could (for any number of reasons) cause mass casualties. pilots yes, but also truck drivers, doctors, food inspectors, bridge engineers, firefighters and police, etc etc...
posted by wibari at 2:01 PM on June 17 [7 favorites]


there can't really be any other answer, can there? Zaharie must have done it,

There's really nothing that rules out the first officer. Evidence might point to the pilot in command as the more likely culprit, but it's far from decisive.

It does seem unlikely to me to be an act of terrorism, as what reason would terrorists have for flying it out over the ocean for six hours, rather than just crashing it right away?
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 2:07 PM on June 17 [1 favorite]


The key critique of the "the pilot did it" scenario is (as linked by kirkaracha above):
Had Zaharie really wanted to disappear his jet, he would not have made the sudden turn to the left, as the airplane did, but to the right, where, flying over the South China Sea, he would have quickly slipped beyond any radar coverage.

Instead, by turning left, the jet headed straight into airspace covered by overlapping radars based in Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia—as well as their air forces, which could have shot down a hijacked plane.

Not only that, but the new navigational heading taken by MH370 was one identical to what is named Terminal Primary Approach for the nearest airport, Sultan Ismail Petra Airport at Kota Bharu—on the eastern coast of Malaysia. That would have been first choice for an emergency landing at night.

But no attempt at an emergency landing was made...
So the alternative scenario would be the pilots getting into serious trouble - CO poisoning, say - making the turn towards an emergency landing approach, and losing consciousness before relaying a mayday. Odd, certainly, but maybe whatever was disabling them affected their judgement first. And then the ghost flight continues towards Antarctica.

I don't know, and I think I agree with the assessment that it's too far gone now to ever really know.
posted by RedOrGreen at 2:15 PM on June 17 [16 favorites]


If the report about the pilot's flight simulator run is accurate, it seems like that sews it up right there. Especially because he habitually ran full flights on the simulator, takeoff to landing, but this was reportedly the only flight path he did not play out in real time, but jumped ahead multiple times rather than just cruise for hours over the Indian Ocean. Yes, he made thousands of runs on the simulator, but for the one weird one to match up? That's no coincidence, surely.
posted by rikschell at 2:21 PM on June 17 [9 favorites]


That was 5 years ago? I would have guessed 3.
posted by thelonius at 2:22 PM on June 17 [2 favorites]


Why on earth is there a mechanism to depressurize the cabin?? Is that a real thing? And by the same token, how would the pilot repressurize it - is there a way to depressurize but store the air somewhere (and again, why)?
posted by Greg_Ace at 2:35 PM on June 17


So the alternative scenario would be the pilots getting into serious trouble - CO poisoning, say - making the turn towards an emergency landing approach, and losing consciousness before relaying a mayday. Odd, certainly, but maybe whatever was disabling them affected their judgement first. And then the ghost flight continues towards Antarctica.

From the Atlantic article:
...there is some suspicion, from fuel-exhaustion simulations that investigators have run, that the airplane, if simply left alone, would not have dived quite as radically as the satellite data suggest that it did—a suspicion, in other words, that someone was at the controls at the end, actively helping to crash the airplane. Either way, somewhere along the seventh arc, after the engines failed from lack of fuel, the airplane entered a vicious spiral dive with descent rates that ultimately may have exceeded 15,000 feet a minute.
posted by kirkaracha at 2:51 PM on June 17


> Why on earth is there a mechanism to depressurize the cabin?? Is that a real thing?

I don't know - not a pilot of any sort - but it could be useful, for example, for emergency fire suppression?

(Depressurizing just involves venting to the external atmosphere, and re-pressurizing would require just an external air intake and a compressor.)
posted by RedOrGreen at 2:54 PM on June 17 [1 favorite]


So the alternative scenario would be the pilots getting into serious trouble - CO poisoning, say - making the turn towards an emergency landing approach, and losing consciousness before relaying a mayday.

That seems difficult to reconcile with the fact that the plane seems to have made at least two more turns after that initial turn, with the "last major turn" estimated to be about an hour after the first.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 3:05 PM on June 17 [2 favorites]


This has always been one of the major things that creeps me out about air travel. There's absolutely nothing you can do to get out of a terminal situation. It's just all screaming all the way down. I've flown in the past (uncomfortably, at 6'4") but if i have my way I won't ever do it again. Not just because it's creepy, but because of the security theatre and the appalling cost in greenhouse emissions.

Anyway. Turning the murder/suicide idea into a horror movie would probably be pretty great for people who want to not sleep at night for several days afterwards.
posted by seanmpuckett at 3:14 PM on June 17 [4 favorites]


> ...there is some suspicion, from fuel-exhaustion simulations that investigators have run, that the airplane, if simply left alone, would not have dived quite as radically as the satellite data suggest ...

Given the three caveats, I'm comfortable with the idea that we don't know the full range of how a real 777 might react in this scenario.

> ... the plane seems to have made at least two more turns after that initial turn ...

Yeah, this is harder to hand-wave away.

I don't have a preferred view here - I'm hesitant to blame a pilot who isn't around to defend himself, but I do have a hard time seeing what else it could be that isn't a stretch. But I have no problem saying that the investigation has been appallingly awful.
posted by RedOrGreen at 3:15 PM on June 17 [3 favorites]


The article doesn't add much to what has already been widely reported, aside from a folksy story about Blaine Gibson that ultimately adds color but no actionable information. At this point, "we don't know" is probably the best resolution we are going to get.

Speculation is all well and good if it leads to testable hypotheses that are then tested. But these speculations aren't that. And worse still, assuming the story hinted at here were the actual truth (or a near-enough approximation), what would we learn from it?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Someone made his word quota and the Atlantic is still a mere shadow of its former self. Shame on me; I clicked.
posted by sjswitzer at 3:29 PM on June 17 [3 favorites]


FWIW, even though there's no new info here it was (as someone noted above) summarized well, and it was information that I hadn't stumbled across before, so it was worth reading for me.
posted by Greg_Ace at 3:34 PM on June 17 [12 favorites]


I lived in Kuala Lumpur from 2013-2014, and took an MH flight in the region about 2x a month for work while I was there. So this one (and the shoot-down over Ukraine) kind of hit scarily close to home.

The shit show that was the government trying to cover up something where there isn't much to actually cover up...is about exactly what I would expect from a corrupt government and an inept police force. Yeah, a few people weren't exactly doing their jobs, but none of that could have changed the ultimate fate of the plane and those on it. All it could have done was help us find the plane and get some closure. Shame on them for trying to save face at the emotional expense of the victims' families. They should be outraged.
posted by allkindsoftime at 4:20 PM on June 17 [5 favorites]


> Why on earth is there a mechanism to depressurize the cabin?? Is that a real thing?

There is a mechanism to pressurize the cabin. The engines compress outside air which is pumped into the cabin and then escapes through a vent valve. This ensures that the cabin air is always freshly oxygenated.

The pressurization system is normally turned off when the plane descends below 10,000 feet for landing. The article speculates that a pilot turned the pressurization system off at high altitude. The depressurization might even have happened due to a malfunction. There have been a few cases of pressurization failure leaving a plane full of corpses to fly on autopilot until it runs out of fuel and crashes.
posted by monotreme at 4:48 PM on June 17 [4 favorites]


People still debate about where/how Amelia Earhart ended up and that was over 80 years ago.

I followed this very closely when it happened...all the confusion, misinformation, contradictions, the utter impossibility to make sense of the facts. I hope someday there will be an answer.

Here the pilot, Zaharie Amad Shah, explaining "how to tune your air conditioner to save electricity".
posted by TWinbrook8 at 5:16 PM on June 17


pressurization failure leaving a plane full of corpse

I think the other pressurisation failures (Helios and the Learjet are all that spring to mind) were at altitudes where everyone was unconscious but still alive. You have to climb to 40,000 feet to make it fatal.

I thought the article was fantastically clear, and the details about the Inmarsat transmissions and the fact that they had Doppler readings that told of when the plane was moving was new to me, as well as the single cellphone call attempt from the FO's mobile.

And I was impressed by the debris collector. He seemed good, and really to care and to make a difference to actually definitively making sure we know it's definitely gone.

I met a couple of people from the official search and rescue mission in 2015, when they were back home in Rhodes. Obviously I didn't find out anything interesting, but it made it feel a little more real to me, especially as the assured physicality of a search and rescue sailor is something you remember, even from briefly hitching a lift with them.
posted by ambrosen at 5:40 PM on June 17 [7 favorites]


Wouldn't it be lovely if this stirred up the ocean dust enough to return as BREAKING NEWS on cnn and bump the even more boring current political rehashes of rehashes.
posted by sammyo at 5:53 PM on June 17 [1 favorite]


Oh God running a fact-checking blog on this (as 2 very annoyed journo types doing this for free) was full on. We weren't interested in endorsing conspiracy theories, just fact-checking and citing sources, but there were so many rumours that we couldn't catch up to and SO MUCH MISINFORMATION. We were accused of being agents for conflicting organisations and when we told people that we had no pull in the official investigation people got REALLY MAD at us. On the plus side, a lot of people looked to us as a sober source of information, always cited, and we even had interviews with aerospace engineers to answer misconceptions.

I'm actually really annoyed and frustrated at people who've capitalised on MH370 by publishing speculative books about this, as though this is a fictional murder mystery and doesn't involve real people. There's something very exoticising about the whole thing and it doesn't sit right.
posted by divabat at 6:02 PM on June 17 [21 favorites]


There's absolutely nothing you can do to get out of a terminal situation. It's just all screaming all the way down.

Having once had a flight in a turboprop over mountains and jungle in Laos with the worst turbulence I've ever experienced: could I please ask people not to scream, for precisely this reason. If you're going to die, you're going to die. Screaming just makes any near-misses far more unpleasant for all on board.

Thank you for your attention.
posted by pompomtom at 8:52 PM on June 17 [14 favorites]


I will read anything by William Langewiesche. His piece on a cruise ship that crashed, and how crucial both random chance and speed of evacuation were to survival—I think about it every time I travel.
posted by sallybrown at 6:31 AM on June 18 [6 favorites]


I don't know who Clive Irving is, but he's got some nerve, calling anyone else out for a "tone of condescension" and "dramatic color."

I think he's doing some really sloppy logic, too:
Had Zaharie really wanted to disappear his jet, he would not have made the sudden turn to the left, as the airplane did, but to the right, where, flying over the South China Sea, he would have quickly slipped beyond any radar coverage.
He's arguing that a good pilot would have chosen a more efficient method... for accomplishing a completely inexplicable and irrational thing? After accusing Langewiesche of assuming too much, he makes some very specific assumptions about the motives and goals of the cipher at the center of this whole thing, in order to show us that his resulting invention is ridiculous? Isn't that a strawman?

Irving criticizes "the core of [Langewiesche's] indictment" for not corresponding with the Malaysian investigation's report, apparently missing the real point, which is the huge red flag that the easily-uncovered, glaring mismatch itself presents. It's like he only skimmed the article he's criticizing.

I don't think I've seen any of Langewiesche's other work, but I'm impressed.
posted by Western Infidels at 6:45 AM on June 18 [2 favorites]


Langewiesche is excellent and the only reason I read the article.
posted by kirkaracha at 9:36 AM on June 18 [3 favorites]


I don't think I've seen any of Langewiesche's other work, but I'm impressed.

See longform.org for links to some of his other work, including the one about the ship disaster sallybrown mentions above.
posted by PaulZ at 12:58 PM on June 18 [3 favorites]


That was well written and it was nice to get a summary of a story that had slipped from my mind.

If you can live without working from an inheritance I would suggest it isn't "modest", but what do I know?
posted by maxwelton at 1:04 PM on June 18


I will never recover from William Langewiesche's Vanity Fair piece on AF 447, the Rio-Paris flight that crashed in 2009. The combination of tight writing and utter horror made it probably the most mesmerising thing I've ever read. (I do not recommend it for nervous fliers. Of which I am one.) His father I think was a highly regarded aviation expert (engineer?) and Langewiesche's deep knowledge and love of the subject really show.

I come from a large family of aerospace peeps and am partnered with another, and they are constantly exasperated with people who get nervous on planes--"do you have any idea how safe these things are?" etc. They're right, but not in the way they think they are. Because MAX 737 debacle notwithstanding, the really terrifying wild card is always the human at the controls. I feel for those passengers and their families.
posted by peakes at 7:23 AM on June 19


Add me to the pro Langewiesche crowd. Every article I've read by him as not only been fascinating and very good and explaining the intricacies of aviation, but I also find them quite haunting. This shares all of those qualities and it feels pretty definitive.
posted by ob at 8:28 AM on June 19 [2 favorites]


Blogger, author, and airline pilot Patrick Smith's response to the William Langewiesche piece.

From the beginning I’ve been afraid of the rogue pilot theory — the idea that one of the pilots, presumably Captain Zaharie Shah, was responsible for the flight’s disappearance. I suppose this is partly out of pride. I don’t want it to have been Zaharie, because the idea of the captain hijacking his own aircraft and killing over two-hundred people shames the entire profession.
posted by Bee'sWing at 10:42 AM on June 23 [1 favorite]


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