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A hypothesis

(This is my last posting on the disappearance of flight MH370—at least until we find the wreckage.)

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).

Last year Boeing issued an Airworthiness Directive for other models of B777, to look for cracking in the fuselage skin under the SATCOM transceiver antenna. Such cracking could lead, in extremis, to rapid decompression. "The FAA said it had also determined that this unsafe condition "is likely to exist or develop in other products of the same type design"."

Posit an incident similar to the loss of Helios flight 552:

Chain of events:

* On February 22nd, aircraft 9M-MRO underwent maintenance. During this, or during a previous maintenance cycle, an empty oxygen bottle was installed by mistake for a full one, or a valve was jammed, or some other undetected fault rendered the flight deck crew's emergency oxygen supply inoperable.

* At 17:22Z on March 7th, while in flight at 35,000 feet, the fuselage ruptured under or around the SATCOM antenna housing, damaging the SATCOM antenna connections and causing rapid decompression.

* At the same time, the previously undetected fault in the gas supply to the pilots' oxygen masks starved them of oxygen.

The pilots would not succumb to hypoxia immediately. They probably had enough conscious-but-confused time to don their (non-functional) oxygen masks, dial a course change into the autopilot, reduce altitude by 5000 feet, and broadcast a Mayday that nobody heard because it never got out of the airframe (because of the damaged SATCOM antenna).

Then they lost consciousness.

The plane drilled on into the big blue for six more hours with the pilots dead at the controls, like Paine Stewart's LearJet. The cabin crew were unable to get through the reinforced door before their portable oxygen bottles ran out: the aircraft finally ran out of fuel and came down somewhere over the middle of the Indian or Pacific Oceans.

We might not find the wreckage for years.

I'd like to stress that this is my current preferred hypothesis. It doesn't rely on conspiracy theories or human malice, and it explains the observed course and altitude changes. All it requires is the ghastly coincidence of two individually survivable maintenance errors affecting the same aircraft on the same flight. (Which is, of course, the pattern of most major aviation disasters.) There is, however, one take-away from this picture.

If this turns out to be what happened to flight MH370, expect the airline industry to start pushing back hard against the requirement for reinforced cockpit doors to be locked at all times while airliners are in flight.

Losing Helios 552 might be a freak accident, but if decompression and a locked door led to the loss of MA370 as well, then this would be a new threat that will now have killed 360 air travellers—many times more than have died as a result of hijackings since 9/11.

Is it appropriate to employ anti-hijacking measures to prevent violent hijackings a couple of times per decade, if they run the risk, as a side-effect, of crashing in-service airliners a couple of times per decade?



If you broadcast a Mayday, you'd do it on good old VHF 121.5MHz, which wouldn't involve satcom and would be a matter of switching to the VHF you keep tuned to guard and hitting the PTT button.


Okay. Could the VHF antenna on a 777-200ER be damaged by an event that wrecked the SATCOM antenna? (Are they in different locations?) Alternatively, what sort of depressurization event would also take out all the radios?

(I know pilots are supposed to concentrate on flying the plane first, and taking second: it's also possible that they never got the Mayday out before losing consciousness in this scenario. But it stacks up another question.)


RF at that sort of frequency is pretty much line of sight, if the aircraft wasn't on radar then it's unlikely VHF comms would have got through.


My hypothesis so far is a fire in just the wrong spot being undetected or ignored for just long enough to cause widespread system failure. Boeing had *cough* one or two of those lately, so I guess it's not entirely unreasonable.


This article has a diagram of the various antenna positions on a generic 777 but in the comments it's claimed the actual aircraft had a different arrangement.


This would also be consistent with the report of "mumbling" when another aircraft attempted contact with them...


BTW, as far as locked doors are concerned, there's a story from late 2012 / early 2013 where one of the pilots went to the toilet, and when he wanted to return found that there's no response over the intercom from the other pilot to unlock the door. Luckily the other pilot was just asleep, but if he'd been more thoroughly incapacitated, or preoccupied with an emergency in progress...


I would certainly buy the lack-of-oxygen theory. I do wonder why more of this is not handled by the autopilot; if not contradicted, it could descend to a safe altitude with enough pressure to revive the pilots, if not contradicted, it could broadcast a distress signal (good idea if you're automatically descending into who-knows-where), if not contradicted, it could unlock the cabin door.

Automatically unlocking the cabin door seems like a relatively low-risk option.


Well, we know the transponder went out.

We know the plane didn't get to its expected destination.

We know there's been no detection of a debris field anywhere expected.

So far, I think that's all we know; I don't think there's any confirmed anomalous track information.

US says no evidence of a mid-air explosion in the satellite data.

Simplest possible explanation seems to be a soft failure in the navigation and comms systems; in the dark, over water, it'd be very hard to recover from that once the pilots noticed.


There are a number of troubles with that theory Charles, one of which is that the plane should have followed its intended course and stayed on radar by passive reflection, but it is certainly also one of my favourite theories right now.

The lack of debris near where it disappeared from the radar opens the door to more "interesting" theories, such as kidnapping or theft.

First of all, identifying planes by transponder code is not hard ID.

It would be perfectly possible for co-conspirator plane to fly transponder-less up to the target plane, take over the transponder code, and fly decoy on the official route, while the MH370 goes elsewhere.

That means that the point of "last contact" doesn't tell us anything but the existence of an electronic device acting like a transponder at that time and place.

Turning the transponder off and tailing another transpondered plane very closely is another way to disappear from ATC without plastering the surface with debris and then you are also more or less free to go wherever you want, until somebody visually spots two planes very close.

The decoy plane does not need to be the same size, so the probability of such visual detection would be low.

Therefore, suspecting foul play, we don't have any trustworthy information about the planes whereabouts after the last visual sighting of the plane.

It would be interesting to know if there were any high-value targets on that plane, amongst the passengers or in the cargo.

If the cargo was the interesting bit, killing off all the passengers by dropping pressure and oxygen is trivial.

One interesting nugget is the rumour that "passengers phones are still ringing".

That's sufficiently implausible that nobody would take it seriously and actually follow the SS7 data.

But if true, it would be explained by the plane sitting somewhere at the edge of a jungle, for instance on the remains of an old WW2 strip, passengers dead, and cargo gone.


Most A/C ATC comm isn't done over satellites -- I'm tempted to say all, to be honest. VHF over land, HF over oceans. While MA370 was over water, it was over the Gulf of Thailand, and it looks like they might have been in VHF range the whole way -- line of sight from FL350 is a long way.

Note that the 772 and 772ER (originally, the 772IGW, Increased Gross Weight) are considerably older designs than the 773/773ER/772LR) I find it odd that the AD would apply to the 772, but not the 772ER.

ACARS does run over satellites, indeed, the HF ACARS link seems to be newer that the SATCOM link. (Over land, it's VHF as well.)

The transponder went out as well. That antenna is on the bottom of the airplane, as are the VHF and HF antennas. The SATCOM is on top. It's hard to posit an antenna failure that knocks out all the antennas yet leaves the plane flying.

To me, power is much more likely. That would drop the transponder, drop satcom, leave HF/VHF on very low power or out and knock out most of the flight instruments, which may have led them to a navigation error.

Power's hard to see happening, though. As far as they went, it looks like they had at least one engine. The chances of losing power generation with a running engine are very low -- you have to lose the generator on that engine, and the other engine, and the APU, and the RAT. There are multiple power busses, as well.

I suspect that we'll know much more now that we know where the plane actually went. You can search the Gulf of Thailand all you want, if MA370 was over the Malacca Strait, you're not going to find it in the Gulf.

One thing a large scale power failure would do -- it would have cut off the CVR and FDR. So, the black boxes won't really help.

Finally, given the other redundancies in modern airliners, I would be somewhat surprised if the pilot and copilot's emergency masks shared the same bottle of O2. The few times we've seen both taken out by hypoxia, they were either not wearing masks (think they Payne Stewart runway jet)
or the oxygen bottle(s) ran out.


Your argument is fine, IF the airspace is relying on civil PSR and/or SSR. Military grade air surveillance can detect differences in returned signal strength on the PSR. (look, this is part of my job, ok?)


Whew. Imagine being a passenger on this flight. You're on emergency oxygen. You see the cabin crew frantically trying to get through the door. They're not making much headway. The oxygen is running out. You know you're going to die ... there's not a damned thing you can do ... and you have maybe an hour to contemplate it.

I have to wonder, though. It seems unlikely that out of 200-odd passengers, no one had a satellite phone, to call someone and tell them what was happening.


The conspiracy theorists haven't really got started yet.
How about a botched special op rescue attempt against a hijacking using nerve gas that left everyone on board dead. The whole thing was covered up by substituting a decoy aircraft which then flew off radar. The original flight never left the ground and is in a hangar somewhere.



But think about the rather confusing "we tracked it" "No we didn't" conflicting messages coming out of .mil...

Clearly something was not trivial about their radar return.

And as I said: My leading theory, like Charles, is still failure leaving the autopilot to run the show.

I'm just trying to point out that the "point of last contact" does not tell use that the plane was ever there, only that somebody wanted us to think it was.


If I had to guess at a scenario I would go for the total electrical failure.

As someone said on PPRuNe, turning west by magnetic compass and staying high until you reach the west coast, then following the coast south until identifying Port Dickson or thereabouts abeam would be a sensible strategy to go back to KL - it would provide good navigation handrails and keep you well above the mountains and clear of the traffic coming up behind you. If you turned that much, you'd need to climb or descend to obey quadrantal rules and avoid traffic, which explains the level change. And then perhaps they cocked up a visual manoeuvre over the water at low level, at night, which has certainly happened before in aeroplanes that worked fine (Yemenia A310, Sharm el-Sheikh B737).

that said, the only reason to be manoeuvring at low level would be if you were already practically on the KL Rwy 11 approach, or perhaps looking for landmarks. you can see why the Malaysians are embarrassed in that case - it was positioning for a long final (the coast is 15km or so) and they didn't realise it was there.


So more people die because the door to the flight deck is more useful as a safety feature than a security barrier.

Since when has risk assessment played a part in security theatre?


In Southeast Asia, a GSM phone works almost everywhere. I've been in rural parts of China and had solid 3G signal. Your GSM phone will work from Dingle to Seoul.

Satellite phones are pretty rare here - it's unlikely anyone would have one unless they were working in very remote locations. I would not consider it unlikely at all that no one on the flight had a satellite phone.


You're all overlooking the obvious.

It's Bane, Batman's nemesis.

This is totally his M.O.


Quite a few long haul aircraft have a crude public satellite phone service built into the IFE. It's send only and very, very pricey, but if you're desperate...

On September 11th 2001, a flight attendant on one of the planes picked one up and dialled the AA flightwatch [I don't know if public service was available, but AA certainly had them for cabin crew to talk to ops], which was the first confirmed news that a plane had been hijacked.


I still think that your idea requires a government level conspiracy, if that area is covered by military surveillance.


That's true - almost all long distance aircraft I've travelled in over the last 10 years have had built-in satellite phone. Which everyone regards as the single most expensive way to talk. I've been on Thai from BKK (Bangkok) to LHE (Lahore) which had no per seat IFE, and no phone. But that was a much older crate than a B777. (A330 - the worst 'long haul' crate).

Still, this was a red-eye. it's entirely conceivable that whatever happened was after the cabin lights were dimmed and the heat was up for sleeping.


Below is a quote from: "Ways eyed to make planes easier to find in ocean" Tuesday Mar 11, 2014 (Joan Lowy for The Associated Press)

"Some newer airliners already stream much of the same information recorded by black boxes back to their home base via satellite. Airlines do this primarily so that they know whether there are any problems with the plane that require maintenance or repairs. If they get the information while the plane is still in-flight, they can have mechanics and parts in place when it lands, saving time and money.

But if planes also streamed back information like altitude, airspeed and heading, it could also provide critical clues to searchers in the event of a crash. However, if all the thousands of airliners that are in the air in the U.S. everyday were all streaming large amounts of data at the same time, there wouldn't be enough bandwith to transmit the data or enough capability to record it on the ground, Waldock said."

I find the claim that there isn't enough bandwidth for streaming this data hard to believe ... so would like an informed opinion from the readers here.


In response to your final question, I would say that yes, it is appropriate to employ anti-hijacking methods. This is because hijacking is a risk that applies not only to the flight's passengers but also, as we saw on 9/11, to thousands of bystanders. Those who choose to fly (and I often do) have chosen to assume the risks associated with flight; I think it is fairer to concentrate those risks on them than to spread them to the general population.


On September 11th 2001, a flight attendant on one of the planes picked one up and dialled the AA flightwatch [I don't know if public service was available, but AA certainly had them for cabin crew to talk to ops], which was the first confirmed news that a plane had been hijacked.

I'm fairly certain that the phones on that plane were the ones in the seat backs where the calls to the AA reservations centers were free. The call that I think you're referring to came into the Cary (Raleigh) call center as a reservations call over this system.


However, if all the thousands of airliners that are in the air in the U.S. everyday were all streaming large amounts of data at the same time, there wouldn't be enough bandwith to transmit the data or enough capability to record it on the ground, Waldock said."

I find the claim that there isn't enough bandwidth for streaming this data hard to believe ... so would like an informed opinion from the readers here.

Uplink bandwidth is still the biggest constraint on IP service to aircraft. But relaying almost all the data points in the cockpit once every minute or 5 seems doable.

There are still a lot of people who think a T1 circuit is a big pipe. (In the US a T1 in general refers to a 1.5/1.5 Mbps circuit.) And most planes with in flight internet can do that without much issue.

But over the ocean or in SE Asia? I have no idea.


How hard can it be to have multiple redundancies for aircrew comms to ATC, and multiple redundancies for the oxygen supply to the flight deck crew, who will inevitably take over in the event of inflight incident/emergency?

Even if its just a second transponder, with its own independent power source broadcasting "Inflight emergency, Power failure, Mayday" on a loop?

These things should be fitted as standard in the factory.

Airliners have inflight emergencies far more often than being hijacked by suicide bombers, as OGH will attest.


Thanks, David!

Taking into consideration that smartphone usage incidence is probably higher in SE Asia than anywhere else on the planet - therefore lots and lots of towers everywhere - does this change what you said?


Note that the 772 and 772ER (originally, the 772IGW, Increased Gross Weight) are considerably older designs than the 773/773ER/772LR) I find it odd that the AD would apply to the 772, but not the 772ER.

It does apply to both the 772 and 772ER. The FAA considers them to be the same, as there aren't the significant airframe differences that exist between the 772/772ER and 772LR or 773 and 773ER. Basically, it's for any current 777 model. However, the directive only applies to aircraft with certain types of SATCOM antenna, and from what I've heard the aircraft in question did not have that type of antenna (there are certain configurations of aircraft that must be checked, but what exactly those configurations are isn't publicly available, so I couldn't verify it). So it might not be relevant anyway, though it certainly is interesting.


That doesn't sound all that hard, but it will add weight, and therefore cost per flight. I don't know how the cost/benefit works out; it depends on how often this sort of incident happens, and so far it seems to be unique.


Airlines can tell you how much in fuel costs a each magazine costs on each flight. Fuel costs are their single biggest variable expense these days. So all other things being equal when you add something to a plane as a standard item it has to pay it's way or they have to accept a reduction in revenue for the flight.

And as hard as it is for some to accept, there is a cost benefit analysis for each item that might save a life. Which is one reason airlines and auto companies would rather implement government imposed items which are publicly debated than implement them on their own. Airlines have found out by brutal market dynamics that increasing the cost of "your" flight by $1 immediately starts driving folks to other flights. Especially now that in the US a reservations agent has to give the lowest fare first. And when you add in code shares to a reservations screen your $1 more flight could wind up 20 slots down on the display.


There are around 20,000 civil aviation aircraft, both airliners and freighters, in service. If they're not airborn for at least a third of their lifetime hours the owners are bleeding money, so reckon on 7000 planes being airborn at any given time. Now assume they're being parsimonious with the data uplink: say, 9600 baud for 1kb/s of telemetry and the same again for cockpit voice (two pilot headsets and a background mike in case of clues like circuit breakers popping, doors slamming, shots being fired, etc).

We're asking for a steady 134mbps of aggregate satellite uplink bandwidth here -- probably more like 200mbps, because of the IP packet and routing overheads. But let's assume we can get by with less -- specifically, one Iridium PPP channel per airliner.

Now, the Iridium satphone network provides data ... but only at up to 10kbps for their "direct" service, although the data rate is 2.2 to 2.4kbps for compressed files such as zip archives. (There's a lot of compression in the loop.) We need 4-8 Iridium channels to support the 10-20kbps I'd like to see, but Service costs around $1.25/minute. So let's assume we can squeeze everything we need into 2.2kbps by very aggressive compression. (Realistically, I would guess a CVR is recording 100kbps or more on at least two channels, and the flight data recorder is tracking 20-50 parameters each at over 10kbps resolution. So this is taking huge liberties with the amount of data we need to store.)

So, to pay for the commercial air fleet at Iridium rates would cost on the order of $12.6 million/day or $4.6Bn/year. Plus the cost -- I've seen quotes of on the order of $100K per airframe -- for FAA-certified multiply redundant satellite transcievers to be fitted to each aircraft. That's $2Bn for the existing fleet, then $70M/year for replacement.

The cost per airframe works out at $100K setup then $230,000 per year for operations, or $7M over the 30 year lifetime of an airliner -- compare to the $40M ticket price of buying a new 737 or Airbus A319, or the $300-400M of a 747 or A380 jumbo.

Upshot: for a huge long-haul jumbo it would be a small enough cost incrememt -- but for anything except the biggest wide-bodies it would add a visible percentage overhead to the cost of operations. And that's with incredibly efficient data compression and a very parsimonious use of satellite bandwidth.

Even though widespread use would create a market for cheaper satellite data comms, this is unlikely to prove popular with the airlines as the number of hull losses where this data could be useful is these days measured in single digits per decade. Is it worth spending $1Bn per airframe lost just to have a network backup for the CVR/CFR?


Taking into consideration that smartphone usage incidence is probably higher in SE Asia than anywhere else on the planet - therefore lots and lots of towers everywhere - does this change what you said?

I find it hard to believe that general cell towers have any radiation patterns that are above ground footprint for each tower except for leakage. If you look at the antennas (at least in the US) they are very much oriented to a horizontal pattern. With enough antennas in each cluster to allow them to vary the strength pattern as needed for local geography and interference.

From what I know and wikipedia seems to confirm it, on board Internet in the US is via a combination of SPECIAL ground towers and sat comm. Plus based on the Air France incident some airplanes do send telemetry via a HF radio band but it's low bandwidth and not always picked up when planes are in remote areas or areas the airline doesn't cover very well.


Even though widespread use would create a market for cheaper satellite data comms,

Already on the way in the US.

But that still doesn't change the cost curve of Charlie's analysis all that much. Free bandwidth doesn't even change it all that much. The long term costs are in the capital and ongoing fully funded equipment costs.

Although I'd think the CVR bandwidth could be done with 32KB, maybe 16KB.

Put in a US zip code for the Exede site if it will now show you prices. 27601 is for Raleigh NC.


I just ploughed my way through the accident report for Helios 552 and it clearly states that the cabin crewmember who finally got into the cockpit more than 2 hours after the oxygen masks in the cabin deployed did so by "using the
emergency access code to open a locked cockpit door" (p129). It drily notes that his waiting for so long was "quite puzzling" but offers no suggestions as to why this would be. So the cabin crew didn't need to bash the door in on a 737; is it not reasonable to assume that on a 777 there would be a similar system?

Your hypothesis is good though. You might not even need the broken comms and failed air crew O2 -- on Helios 552 the experienced crew got stuck in some awful failed processing loop that, despite the passenger masks deploying and a honking great cabin altitude klaxon sounding, prevented them from diagnosing the problem until they passed out. I think the time of useful consciousness at 32K ft is around 45 seconds.


If you turn out to be right, Charlie, it qualifies as a miracle as explained by Pratchett:

“Whatever happens, they say afterwards, it must have been Fate. People are always a little confused about this, as they are in the case of miracles. When someone is saved from certain death by a strange concatenation of circumstances, they say that's a miracle. But of course if someone is killed by a freak chain of events : the oil just spilled there, the safety fence just broke there : that must also be a miracle. Just because its not nice doesn't mean its not miraculous.”


If you turn out to be right, Charlie, it qualifies as a miracle as explained by Pratchett (Small Gods), and you in the Fuller Memorandum, speaking of which will that be coming out in UK Audible?


speaking of which will that be coming out in UK Audible?

I hope so, but: insufficient data. (UK audio books are commercially marginal propositions: only the RNIB splitting costs with Orbit allowed them to do the first two books, and I guess they'll want hard sales figures before committing to paying for more.)

I hope so, but: insufficient data [ ...]

I hope so too. Not that I have a Goth fetish or anything... Anyway, letter in the London Evening Standard today, mentioned James Jesus Angleton, who the writer claimed wasn't entirely mad. Apparently he corresponded with several famous authors ( which clearly means I'm sane ).



David and Charlie's explanations tell me that long-distance mind control by Internet-based/using AI is a long, long way off! And I had such high hopes ...


...and in the latest news, China going back over their recon sat imagery found floating debris the next day around 105.63 east longitude, 6.7 north latitude, to the east of the estimated point of disappearance when the transponder cut off (i.e., downwind of a presumed "immediate" impact point). This would not fit with the reported primary radar track headed west.

It's not confirmed yet, it was not super high resolution recon sat imagery.

A lot of searchers are back out in the middle of the Gulf of Thailand and South China Sea...


Problem with that hypothesis Charlie is the one of the first things pilots are taught to do in the event of depressurisation is get down below 10,000 feet - for obvious reasons. It doesn't make much sense that they would get 'off track' but not complete the decent, particularly since they would probably stick it into the autopilot.

Currently, I'm back to the following hijack hypothesis, which I think fits better.

First, as I said before and I think has been proved, the Malaysian military are embarrassed that they didn't have a working air defence radar setup. They have described 'going back over plots' to find their current 'turn back' hypothesis. Let's assume for the moment they've got it right finally and the plane ended up at 29500 tracking back over north Malaysia/Thailand and being lost to tracking in the middle of the northern Malacca Strait.

Imagine a hijacker or two, sitting in business class at the pointy end of the plane. Once the aircraft reaches cruise the cabin staff start dealing with the food, and one of them will take some trays to the cockpit for the pilots. From business class the hijacker has opportunity to wait till the door has been unlocked and rush the cockpit. Done right they could be inside and have the pilots under control before any message could be sent. Pulling the fuses and cutting off all transmissions would be relatively easy. That explains the timing, it has to be when food is being served.

They could then use the currently little trick to keep everyone in their seats; cut the cabin oxygen and deploy the oxygen masks. If they could vent the cabin quickly, they could make it such that any gung-ho passenger couldn't get up front. That would explain keeping the aircraft at 30k.

So they turn back on a westerly track, one that seems aimed at Banda Aceh - why? The only thing that makes sense to me is that that direction is the fastest route to no primary radar coverage. If you want to disappear, then you need to drop off the tracking you expect to be happening, and the Bay of Bengal/Indian Ocean is the fastest/best bet. Them damn Spratlys makes the other direction, the South China Sea, a heavily surveyed space.

What would the plan then be?

It's a guess, but I'd kind of assume that with that scenario you'd be looking to do a 9/11 - dropping down low to put the aircraft into something - but what? Maybe India/Sri Lanka - you can see a Tamil having a motive. The other option is an islamic terrorist. They couldn't reach the middle east with the available fuel, but they could reach Diego Garcia - the base of so many sorties.

Either way, we know it didn't work out - but it might also explain why no announcement claiming it has been made. If it's Tamils it could be a one-off, and otherwise the plan could still be made to work if nobody knows what it is - so keep the failure quiet and try again.

Time will tell if these chinese satellite pics are actually aircraft wreckage - and if so this whole hypothesis is null. But it's the best scenario I've come up with so far for fitting the known facts.

Whew. Imagine being a passenger on this flight. [...] You know you're going to die ... there's not a damned thing you can do ... and you have maybe an hour to contemplate it.

Fortunately, passenger oxygen doesn't last that long — it only needs to last long enough for the plane to descend, which is normally done within minutes. Hypoxia itself is either completely unnoticeable (from the inside) or mildly euphoric, so no horror there, either.


Charlie's hypothesis reminds me of .... the history of railway safety
Single-point failures. succesive failures, where, in turm, each individual "fail-safe" didn't, etc.
I suspect the latter, there was a progessive set of circumstances that allowed a catastrophic failure, after everyhting else had (supposedly) worked ....

Just the same, I'm beginning to think that locked cockpits are a bad idea


"the directive only applies to aircraft with certain types of SATCOM antenna, and from what I've heard the aircraft in question did not have that type of antenna"

The Guardian has a report from Reuters confirming this.

Of course that doesn't rule out a catastrophic loss of pressure/comms due to some other cause. But it doesn't look like there's any particular reason to think that was a likely scenario.

For the little it's worth, the Malaysian military's ineptness has been pretty surprising. Granted it's tough to be a little guy in a corner of the world where a lot of big mean guys throw their weight around, still it just doesn't seem all that hard to figure out where you lost a radar track. And the worst thing you can do when it comes to getting along with the big guys is waffle.


Radar is not a magic lantern that illuminates perfectly and identifies without error. That area of the world is a busy place in terms of civilian, commercial and military air travel. ATC relies more than it likes to admit to transponders on aircraft kicking back a better signal then a simple reflection to both positively identify an aircraft and to accurately locate it and at range, over ocean distances radar gets very fuzzy indeed -- doubling the distance means quartering the naked return signal level, already quite low.

Close to airports and their ATC radars things are a lot better, returns are crisper and mush is reduced but away from land air-monitoring radar is not that useful. Military radars tend to concentrate on borders and coasts, assuming any military threat will have to approach land before it can do anything inimical. When last heard from and last positively located MA370 was almost in the middle of the gulf between Indonesia and south Vietnam, a long way from the coasts and the air traffic radars.


"This is because hijacking is a risk that applies not only to the flight's passengers but also, as we saw on 9/11, to thousands of bystanders. "

No, it isn't. September 11 is totally nonrepeatable. This is basic common sense.

The hijackers failed to repeat their strategy even on that day as soon as their strategy became known to the passengers. It was only possible at all because everyone assumed that hijackings would lead to hostage negotations that would probably leave everyone alive. So a large number of people stood by and let a few people take over using [i]box cutters[/i], for crying out loud.

Continuing to implement security measures aimed at preventing another 9.11 is totally a case of closing the stable door after the horse has escaped. If there are new megacasualty terrorist attacks, they will carried out using new and unforeseen methods of 9.11 was.


This is an interesting guess at what it would take to attempt another 9/11...but it seems like an overly elaborate plan to me. Overly elaborate to be successful, anyway.


I can't help but think that a lot of what is going on to confuse things is that the area and countries involved have huge cultural issues with publicly saying "no" or "you're wrong" in pubic. Or admitting that some wrong information was put out. Or even saying "I/we don't know."

Talking with friends who have worked in this part of the world and reading about technical work there where they have to deal with it at times down to the level of not using "NOT" in programming code or on screen prompts leads to some strong cultural conflicts at times.


So far...

1)Terrorism...any incident these days would require the terrorists to move VERY fast, and a screw up might result in a plane crash. The passengers see a hijacking and any hijacker these days is going to get swarmed because of 9/11. In the process of swarming the hijackers, the plane crashes because they lose control.
2)Theft. Supposes a high-value cargo on the plane. The question becomes-what is so valuable that a criminal gang/crew hijacks a whole plane, kills about 200+ people, to get the item in flight or in transit? And, while I know most criminals have all the long-term planning ability of sociopath weasels, this kind of theft (especially considering the value of the theoretical items involved) means that any attempt to fence the items could mean it's cheaper and easier to kill the criminals involved.
3)Massive accident/failure-my personal preference, mostly because it just happens. Explains just about everything of what happens.


"The hijackers failed to repeat their strategy even on that day as soon as their strategy became known to the passengers."

You overlook that one of the measures taken in response to that strategy is making it close to impossible for the passengers to get access to the cockpit.

Besides, it's trivial, from the cockpit, to drop cabin pressure and dispose of the passengers.

No, I'd say that once the bad guy is in the front seat, that strategy has become a lot easier to carry out.

Now, what you really don't want to think about is what things like zero-hour contracts on those jobs does for security.


The Chinese have processed & released satellite data, claiming to have seen floating debris in the S China Sea ... NE (ish) of the last civilian contact site ....


"...while I know most criminals have all the long-term planning ability of sociopath weasels..."

This mostly applies to the criminals that get caught. My father (a defence lawyer) used to collectively refer to these clients as "disorganised crime" precisely because of their poor planning. However he also made the point that they are a subset of criminals, and that IQs in prison populations are in fact about the same as the general population on average. It seems likely that the successful criminals are considerably better at planning and mostly escape the law (when they're not directing it, paying it off, or redefining what it means, anyway).


Greg, I posted that 9 hours before you did 8-)

Latest news: Reportedly, Malaysia Air sent realtime data on engine performsnce to Rolls-Royce for maintenance purposes. THAT feed reputedly ran for four more hours after the transponders poofded. With the engines running. RR refused to confirm details citing ongoing investigation. Also unclear what other than engine diagnostics was in that data feed.


The engine data is very highly compressed and to a large extent consists of "Everything is OK" and nothing more because the transmission costs are so prohibitive.

The one most interesting databit in that last transmission is if that is the "post-landing" packet or if the plane is still in the air.

Also note that WSJ's source is most likely the satellite operator.


Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you "Snakes on a Plane" -


g h
Ooops - missed that!
The RR-engine data-feed imples that the plane flew (on) for (another) 4 hrs, @ a speed of?
Which gives a search raduis of?
And a potential search area of ?
Oh dear.


See the classic D L Sayers' detective novel: "Unnatural Death" for a classic case in fiction.
If the murderer had stuck to the one original victim, she would never have been caught.


IIRC the speed when lost was 471knots, which if it flew for 4 hours gives a potential radius of 3500km - enough to get them to India.


Agreed, but the number of ~2_000 x 20 m runways even in that radius is low (but non-zero and well documented).


My pet, ridiculous theory suggests that in a a couple years there'll be a new Chinese factory producing knockoff 777s.


"Latest news: Reportedly, Malaysia Air sent realtime data on engine performsnce to Rolls-Royce for maintenance purposes. THAT feed reputedly ran for four more hours after the transponders poofded. With the engines running. RR refused to confirm details citing ongoing investigation. Also unclear what other than engine diagnostics was in that data feed."

Latest latest news, Malaysia is denying that data was sent to Rolls Royce after the transponders poofded.


Reportedly, Malaysia Air sent realtime data on engine performsnce to Rolls-Royce for maintenance purposes

Real-time engine data rang a bell yesterday so I had a look to refresh my memory. Aircraft will typically send a package of telemetry including some engine data four times during a flight, after take-off, during climb to height, shortly after getting to cruise height, and before landing. Real-time monitoring of some parts of that telemetry can be requested by the ground but would not normally be done unless a fault indication had been sent as part of the original packet. is part of a TV programme about Rolls Royce engines which shows their end of things.


Further news: the supposed debris location was visited and nothing found.

At this point, the only person who I'd believe a denial about the engine management data from would be the CEO of Rolls-Royce walking out of the front door in Derby; the Malaysians seem to come up with a new story every time a briefer appears, and the more the journalists ask them, the more opportunities they have to confabulate.


The engine flight data news appears to have been spread by the Wall Street Journal, who are attributing it to unnamed sources.

The Aviation Herald is poo-pooing it rather pointedly.

Possibility that the WSJ has been pranked? Non-zero.

AvHerald has rather more plausibility on matters aeronautical than the WSJ, from where I'm standing. So at this point I'd want to hear an official confirmation from RR, the NTSB, or the UK's CAA, before I give credence to this rumour.


With regards to the closed cockpit doors, the easiest answer to both demands would be a deadman's switch just overhead every seat, so there is no risk of accidentally pushing it when going down unconscious. Also, make it one of these locks that need power to close, so in the case of something going very wrong, e.g. power loss, the door opens.


Err, IQ and planning ability are somewhat disjunct, especially with things like tolerance to belated rewards, impulsive behaviour and like.

The higher numbers of ADHD in prison populations might be somewhat debatable, but are a point to ponder about. Quite a few might be self-medicating with cannabis and street drugs, though.

If you excuse me, methylphenidate works best with me when caffeine and stomache content are in a certain range, if you understand what I mean...


So far, I've seen four bits of "evidence":
1. Malaysian military radar tracked an unidentified plane going over the peninsula and being lost over the straits of Malacca.
2. Chinese satellite photos of stuff in the water
3. WSJ reporting on the Rolls Royce engine data
4. An oil rig worker reporting that he saw a plane going down in flames in the Gulf of Thailand

As of Thursday, the results are:
1. Unidentified plane: was that the jet, or an unidentified plane? This is my speculation, but we don't know how often unidentified planes (such as, oh, American spy planes) fly across the Gulf of Thailand. Or it could be the missing jet.
2. Chinese satellite photos have been disavowed, and the Malaysians are now saying they weren't meant to be released. There seems to be a lot of junk in the Gulf of Thailand, although the American media reports last night reported these images as coming from the Straits of Malacca.
3. Rolls Royce and Boeing have both denied the WSJ report. Chance of WSJ getting pranked going up.
4. The oil rig worker's report seems to be largely ignored, because the Vietnamese "sent an airplane to the area, and they saw nothing." What kind of airplane? Another prank, or just an ignored part of this hairball of an investigation?

So at this point, do we have anything solid?


Re number 3. Chances of WSJ being pranked tending to 1. If the manufacturer of the engines and the plane to which they're fitted are both calling foul on the report, then no, sorry.

I guess it's possible there was a broadcast if there was some automatic fault reporting or something happened to trigger a normal broadcast - Vulch's comment (63) that there's a broadcast just before landing makes sense so there's data from just before a crash when you're close to lots of receivers, if there is a crash at landing. Something that takes out the communications that ought to work from mid-ocean and leaves the pilots attempting to make an emergency landing and triggers the engines to make a pre-landing broadcast that gets picked up by fluke isn't impossible to posit. This could be poorly worded and reported in the WSJ misleadingly but essentially accurately.

But I'll go with a journalist that wanted to print something new about the story and didn't know the right questions to ask to fact check properly. An editor in the same situation.


Wasn't the justification for NASA's whole X-33/VentureStar SSTO space plane to install the sort of satellite phone network you'd need to handle the sort of dataload you're talking about?

I think you may have squared the... not-entirely-equilateral-sided-tetragon between the Muh TerraMuslims! and the Heinleinian We Wuz Robbed of Space crowds.

So "Air Malaysia Disapperance Event Due to Terror-Silences" -> SSTO rocketry -> space habitats -> just add 60 odd years to all the dates in Heinlein's original future history.

Sorted 8^)


Fridgepunk: you have things slightly backwards, but...

Teledesic and a couple of competitors were proposing super sized dense global cellular data/phone sat constellations. This was known within the industry as "Teledesic Winter", spoofing Nuclear Winter, suggesting so many sats in orbit that their shadows would affect the climate.

This spawned the mid-late 1990s launch vehicle spurt, including notably Rotary Rocket, Kistler's TSTO K-1, and the expendable Beale peroxide-kerosine launcher.

The surge failed when the phonesat systems were cancelled, more or less because Iridium disproved the market assumptions.


Latest reports are that the signals for hours after the plane disappeared seem to be genuine, but not from the engines as originally reported. From the Guardian's liveblog:

"The theory that the plane flew for hours is based on a signal coming from a different system inside the plane – a satellite-communication link – and not the Rolls-Royce engines...

Communications satellites picked up faint electronic pulses from Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 after it went missing on Saturday, but the signals gave no indication about where the stray jet was heading nor its technical condition, a source close to the investigation said on Thursday.

The “pings” equated to an indication that the aircraft’s maintenance troubleshooting systems were ready to communicate with satellites if needed, but no links were opened because Malaysia Airlines and others had not subscribed to the full troubleshooting service, the source said."


And now, from the hugely-ironic-unlucky-numbers department: the missing 777-200ER appears to have been the four hundred and fourth aircraft of its type to come off the production line.


Error: 404 not found.


And "4" is an unlucky number in Chinese culture too - apparently some manufacturers skip production numbers ending in 4.


On the door to the cockpit: no, we shouldn't modify the policy.

Two reasons:

a) there's no way to tell how many -other- 9/11 style suicide-hijackings there would have been without the locked, strengthened doors.

It's inherently impossible to quantify that, but we do know they kept trying.

Eg., the "flaming scrotum" or "great balls of fire" underwear bomber. They're not very bright, but they're persistent.

b) people quite rightly make a sharp distinction between accidental harms and deliberate ones, particularly if they're done with a collective/political intent rather than a criminal one.

Accidental harms... well, we're all going to die someday. You take reasonable precautions and hope for the best. It's impossible to guard against every chance, and sort of discreditable to get bent out of shape over astronomically small chances.

But when someone attacks you for a collective/political purpose, they're doing more than mere harm. They're attempting domination, conquest, rule in one way or another -- they're trying to -force you to do something-.

That is quite properly another kettle of fish altogether and a different calculus applies.


Absolutely correct. The jails are full of stupid people with poor impulse control.

Smart sociopaths have very good impulse control and are good at long-term planning; that's why they survive, and in fact often achieve positions of power and wealth.

If they didn't, the genes for sociopathy wouldn't have achieved a stable equilibrium in the human population, which apparently they have.


As already said, it wouldn't have to mean open doors; just put a few dead man's switches into the cockpit's_switch

and route the lock in a way it opens when there is no power in the cockpit.

If there is an attempt at hijacking, just keep pressing the switch. If you want out of the cockpit but there is no power for the keypad, well, the lock is already open.

BTW, I guess even a reinforced door would have some problems with shaped charges cutting through, though it would be tricky to get a charge big enought to cut the door and small enough to keep the plane flying...


There are plenty of other possibilities why sociopaths have not disappeared, e.g. think about a combination of genetic factors that make you somewhat immune to depression under normal circumstances, with a disordered childhood, you get the stimulating effects of violence without the debilitating depression and become a sociopath. There are plenty of others...


Sad thought -

Diego Garcia is a bit past the actual estimated max range the plane could have made, almost directly in the direction it was seen traveling (though, lacking the locations of the final four hours' worth of maintenance system pings, the actual final course is very poorly known).

DG has radars that would have picked it up. So at least we'd have known.

DG also, if this was a hostile act, is a class 1 target...

Just hypothesizing. Someone hopefully will leak either A) where the USS Kidd is going more precisely or B) where the last maintenance radio ping actually was.


Or ...
something went worng ... it flew on for approx 4 hrs, ditched safely in the... err ... middle of the Indian Ocaen, with nothing but more sea for many hundreds of miles.
The main fuselage will have sunk by now, of course.

I also get the impression that the Malaysian "authorities" have handled this extremely badly - a culture of secrecy & authoritarianism doesn't sit well with massive international search-&-rescue.


Sorry, that's very poor genetics.

As long as a genetic disorder doesn't kill you before you reach breeding age - Cri du chat syndrome that kills you within a few days of birth normal for example, or SCID (there are few babies born with SCID, a very few live to 5 these days) - you'll find a steady state in the population a few generations after the mutation appears until conditions change to disrupt the balance.

That steady state will reflect any benefits the mutation causes, and any costs - in inheritance terms. To take a relatively non-controversial one, blue eyes have a fairly steady state in most Caucasian populations because they have a benefit (blue eyes are 'preferred' by many as they're seen as an attractive feature so you're more likely to get a partner, although individual tastes will vary of course) and a small cost (most obvious these days, you lose potential partners that like people with brown eyes).

Debating exactly what the benefits and costs of sociopathic behaviour are isn't something for just before work. And the inheritance pattern almost certainly isn't as simple as blue eyes. But achieving current cultural positions of power and authority is almost certainly not why the trait survives.


This gets murkier & more confusing:
Suspicions of 'foul play' as radar shows plane being 'deliberately flown' West
... looking around the Andamans, now ???


This is a good idea, but adds lots of complexity.

Another ploy would be to add a secondary oxygen supply system for the pilots, based on a chemical oxygen generator such as the passengers get (the passenger emergency oxygen supply doesn't last long, and is based on chemical oxygen generators, not bottles of compressed oxygen, as the chemical units are safer).

If you try to automate things, then you need something like this:

If 2 out of 3 oxygen electrodes show low oxygen in the cockpit, then flash up a dialogue that the pilots must cancel inside of 2 minutes.

If the dialogue is not canceled, then run the following tests:

* Check if there are mountains nearby. Avoid them.

* Check if there is a city, or an air traffic avoid zone nearby.

* Immediately start automated mayday broadcast.

* Fly to area where air pressure is human-survivable, and fly in figure-8s until further notice.

This lot is computationally difficult. A back-up oxygen system is a lot easier, as is intensively vetting some cabin staff along with giving them basic flight and pilot training, and a key to get past the cockpit door.


Detail modification to this based on actual aviation practice - "Fly to in triangles until further notice".


I think the watch-words for this entire tragedy are "murky" and "confusing".


Yup. Murky and confusing indeed.

I keep envisioning someone in the cockpit saying "take this plane to Cuba. No wait, Somalia."

Then I start scratching my head, because, while I know that there's a long-term insurgency in eastern India, I'm totally confused about who benefits from the plane going in that direction. It seems way too complicated for pilot suicide. Are some Malaccan straits pirates trying to level up or something?

To add to the weirdness, a 5.5 magnitude earthquake struck off the Nicobar Islands (one remotely possible destination for the plane) on Friday, 3/14. Fortunately for my sanity, it didn't happen at 1:59:26 local time.

If this plane is never found, it's going to be the butt of Forteana and crazy fantasies for a very long time to come.


Fortenea theory: Bob howard was on the plane, which landed on the plateau.


14.15 BBC's science correspondent Jonathan Amos says his sources tell him that the plane sent an "automated ping" five hours after take off. "you cannot get a ping like that if the plane had crashed," he said. The ping data - which has been passed to Malaysian authorities - will give a rough altitude and location.
And, if following previous form, the Malaysian "authorities" will screw it up ....
Will this data also be apssed to the Indians & the US & Chinese government agencies concerned - who might actiually get something useful done. ( ?? )

Horrible worst-case.
Yes, there was an abduction/theft of the entire aircraft, probably with crew complicity [ Why? ] it flew West but then sometning went wrong & it didn't land in or near the Andamans.
And will, thus, likely never be found.

And we are back to the end of heteromemeles' comment.


"Losing Helios 552 might be a freak accident, but if decompression and a locked door led to the loss of MA370 as well, then this would be a new threat that will now have killed 360 air travellers—many times more than have died as a result of hijackings since 9/11.

Is it appropriate to employ anti-hijacking measures to prevent violent hijackings a couple of times per decade, if they run the risk, as a side-effect, of crashing in-service airliners a couple of times per decade?"


Fundamentally, yes. For we know that there is no real upper limit to the potential for casualties if a suitably motivated person is able commandeer and operate a large airliner.

Further, the industry has expanded massively since 2001, and the effective rate of fatal accidents per million seat miles flown has dropped at a far greater rate. The industry is safer as an absolute.

In both incidents, it is likely there are no outside parties dead, and so the risk you undertake when you fly is similar to the situation when childhood vaccination is practiced, in that there is a very small risk that your child when vaccinated with a prepared virus, actually contracts and dies from the disease that others gain immunity from. Sad for you, but the result is a society where the vast majority are protected from diseases that we cannot eradicate.

Helios 552 was not a freak accident in that a set of unlikely actions truly combined at once to incapacitate the flight crew. It was completely preventable with competent airmanship. The fact that the aircraft made a perfectly safe flight to London earlier in the day illustrates that if the cockpit pressurisation system switch was set correctly, the aircraft could operate even if it was mechanically defective. Simply increase the airflow to maintain a safe cabin pressure and although the fault must be remedied at first opportunity, you have a serviceable aircraft.

...And to ensure that is part of your job as pilot. You are the "goalkeeper," so to speak. To spot that things are wrong, and to either set the aircraft up yourself, or if the vehicle is unfit for operation, to refuse to take delivery of it on the ground.

Consider the British airways A319 incident last year, where the flight crew took off with the engine cowlings unlocked. They should have spotted that when they did the walk around at Heathrow. It's not the ground crew's responsibility to ensure that the plane is fit to fly, it's your job as an *officer* to confirm that, and to swear at the men until the work is done.

Airline crews are fairly well paid partly because of the boring nature of the work when it is being done correctly. It truly is boredom money, right up until the moment when a problem occurs and a genuinely intelligent person is needed.

You can "drill" someone into learning the procedures to fly even a complex machine like an airliner, we see that in the form of people's ability to master flight simulators, but if they are thrown an unusual scenario, many of these people would get overwhelmed in the emergency.

The industry in recent years has gotten obsessed with insisting that there is a pilot shortage but it is simply a ruse, an attempt to flood the market with qualified people and lower their wages. Same as with Pharmacy, the legal profession, visual effects work, Silicon Valley computer programming requirements and such.

In motorsports, it is an unwritten rule that you look after your own crash helmet, in skydiving, you should pack your own parachute, as climbers prepare their own ropes. Civil aviation really ought to have a rule that your portable air supply is literally your own and it is kept tested and fit for duty as a condition of employment. It is a gas bottle that you literally have to lug around.

Because, assuming the airworthiness directive is actually on the right lines, that is what actually failed here, not the fuselage nor the cockpit door nor anything else.


This might help ?
Or not, as the case may be.


It certainly illustrates that unexplained plane disappearances are not as uncommon as the general public might think (even if they're statistically small compared to number of operating aircraft across the globe).

Less useful in figuring out what happened to MA370 though.

(Nicely done info-graphic, too)


Sociopathy is probably a bundle of mental states, and accordingly doesn't have a universal cause.

BTW, why should violence cause depression? Not in my experience. It's -frightening- and unpleasant, but not particularly depressing.


17.12 Investigators are increasingly certain that someone with aviation skills was responsible for the change in course, a Malaysian government official has said

A US official said investigators are examining the possibility of "human intervention" in the plane's disappearance, adding it may have been "an act of piracy." The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it also was possible the plane may have landed somewhere.

16.58 The BBC is reporting that the MH370 may have been flying for more than five hours after it disappeared. It is believed the plane was sending automated signals to a satellite system long after radar contact was lost.

This would mean the jet could have flown more than 1,000 miles beyond its last confirmed position.
The satellite "ping" was from INMARSAT, apparently ...
The plane had to be powered-up, but not necessarily flying to have sent the signal (OR so it was said on BBC radio4 @ ~17.20 today.


"Possibility that the WSJ has been pranked? Non-zero."

It need not be a prank. If somebody misinterpreted GMT for local, or time since take-off, or time since system power-on, or Daylight Savings Time, or any other minutia of interpretation, they could be well-placed, well-meaning, sincere, and wrong.

A store-and-forward system (like email) used for reporting engine details could have resulted in data going across the network or arriving hours later. Or somebody make a typo when doing the lookup, or logging the engine into the computer.

Or it could be a cover-up. Or aliens. Aliens are definitely a possibility.


It made *several* changes of course, at standard waypoints, routing northwestwards towards the Nicobars. *Someone* was in charge.

why should violence cause depression? Not in my experience. It's -frightening- and unpleasant, but not particularly depressing.

I imagine that if you're in a unpredictably violent relationship and see no way out, knowing the violence will continue, you'd become depressed.

on another topic: shame about Tony Benn, though perhaps a warning that becoming a "nation treasure" has a disabling effect.


I'm not a pilot and don't work in the airframe industry.

But what if they lost a window in the cockpit. Or some such. Pilot might have changed the autopilot setting before blacking out from lack of O2 or due to something flying about hitting him in the head. Plane then flew till it ran out of fuel.



If weird scenarios are still being considered, here's my take ...

From the news coverage I've watched it seems that there are 2 different and separately controlled mechanisms on that aircraft that 'ping' and that only one (the better known/publicized) was manually deactivated. This points to piracy by someone who while might be able to fly the craft is not a seasoned pro on this type of craft.

Social engineering-leverage piracy ..

As no passengers communicated any dastardly or emergency-type goings-on via cell or email/webmail, this suggests that someone friendly and in authority (i.e., would be listened to) told passengers to please continue keeping all their electronics turned off. This message would have to be delivered very shortly about 5-10 minutes later than when the 'okay to use your cell phones again' messages are normally announced. To make this request more 'real', the ‘pilot’/chief flight attendant would repeat this message again another 10 minutes later. After a couple of repeats, the ‘pilot’ would then tie this message to a related and relevant action, i.e., a 90-degree sharp turn off the programmed course. The rationale would be described: "We have an electronic/gizmo glitch so are returning to the original airfield for a look-see. Unfortunately this means that all passengers will have to keep their electronics turned off in the interim. Then 10-15 minutes later: “Air traffic control has suggested a possible fix suggesting that maybe we can locate and fix the glitch ourselves, so would not lose as much travel time/inconvenience you as much. However, this will require that everyone - passengers and crew - pass all of their electronic gear to the cockpit so that it can be vetted by our cobbled-together handwavium glitch detector.”

You'd need 3 or 4 insiders to pull this off: navigator or assistant pilot who knows just enough to fly the craft plus at least one senior flight attendant to collect electronics and keep passengers happy/occupied, and a 'passenger'. The passenger stooge/accomplice's primary role would be to serve as a 'reasonable voice' on behalf of the passengers without any of them discovering that he/she is an accomplice. This means someone able to project authority as well as concern for ‘fellow passengers’.

So, take a long, close look at the flight crew...


I believe the flight was a red-eye, so it would be even simpler to just wait for the passengers to fall asleep, make a gentle turn, and head for wherever.

I'm still scratching my head on this one. Another possibility is that someone decided to kidnap a bunch of Chinese passengers and hold them for ransom, and for whatever reason, the Chinese have not announced that this happened, possibly because they don't want anyone else to think they can get away with it until they've resolved the situation.

For what it's worth, the flight is probably not sitting at Veer Savarkar International Airport in the Andaman Islands, since that facility is shared with the Indian Navy. While India and China don't love each other, they're not squaring off over this.

Perhaps the idea was to ditch the plane survivably (Sully Sullenberger/Hudson River style) in the Indian ocean near a pirate ship? That seems daft to the point of suicide, but maybe it would work. You'd end up with a vanished plane, passengers on a pirate ship who knows where, and an intermediary negotiating with the Chinese Ambassador in Switzerland over the price of returning them.


I agree that sociopathy is likely to have a quite divese etiology, but than it applies even more that while the "intraspecific predator" might sound somewhat attractive, it's not necessarily the driving force in the evolution of sociopathy. It might be sociopathy is just a common failure mode in the ontogenesis a social species.

As for violence and depression, well, physical stress, as in violence, is likely to trigger an endocrine stress response, namely the short term catecholamine surge and the somewhat more long term corticosteroids. Though response to catecholamines is somewhat diverse, quite a few think it somewhat enjoyable; responses to cortisone, OTOH, are also somewhat mixed, with hypomanic reactions in the short term not that unheard of. So in the short term, expect physical stress to be a somewhat mixed stimulus, with both positive and negative reinforcement, in the short term the positive might be somewhat bigger in some.

In the long run, corticosteroids are part of the HPA axis of stress response, and alterations in this one are implicated in the etiology of depression. So in the long run, stress is likely to lead to depression in some. Which would make for a somewhat negative reinforcement in most; human beings are quite bizarre in what they can take a liking to, so I'm not that sure some might find depression enjoyable...

Most of the research on interactions between sociopathy and depression I found was not on sociopathy, but on psychopathy, a somewhat related construct, and while the relation between psychopathy and depressions seems to be somewhat, err, complex, there are some indications of a negative correlation.

So it seems plausible that at least psychopaths are somewhat protected from the depressiogenic effects of stress or negative emotions, which might be a extreme form of a continuum. As with other continuums, e.g. intelligence, most are going to be somewhere in the middle, and some are going to be very sensitive. This would not necessitate any special selection in favor of psychopathy, just Hardy-Weinberg at work.


Interesting point, reinforced doors might be counterproductive that way if they're left open....but overall, successful hijackings are still less common post 9/11, and nonexistent or near-nonexistent in the First World:

I don't know of any hijacker who's actually cut off oxygen or attempted to do so. Most of them don't seem to have been very sophisticated.


"I imagine that if you're in a unpredictably violent relationship and see no way out, knowing the violence will continue, you'd become depressed."

-- well, sure, but the reference was to violence in general.


"that while the "intraspecific predator" might sound somewhat attractive, it's not necessarily the driving force in the evolution of sociopathy."

-- true, you don't need to be a sociopath to kill, though sociopathy does make it much harder to condition you -not- to kill.

Forensic archaeology indicates that like most social predators, intraspecific violence was a major cause of death for humans at pre-State levels of social organization. That's remarkably consistent. The default state for human beings is to kill easily and on little provocation as long as the target is outside their in-group and they feel it's safe.

Sociopaths, of course, don't -have- an in-group, since that's their distinguishing characteristic.

"So in the long run, stress is likely to lead to depression in some."

-- in some, to be sure. Depends how stressful the individual find violence as such.

Plenty of people find -danger- exhilarating. Whole industries are based on that -- surfing, rock-climbing, skydiving. Arguably a lot of professional soldiers who seek out spec-ops jobs are too.

The major adaptive advantage of sociopathy would seem to be the ability to "change face" very rapidly.

The father of a friend of mine was, I'm convinced, a sociopath. I've read the report which lead to him getting a medal in Korea; it involved creeping up to and rolling into a Chinese-held trench while the rest of his unit staged a diversion.

He then went down the trench (it was quite dark)with a sharpened entrenching tool and killed between fifteen and twenty men in less than five minutes. Just went down the trench killing at every second stride.

That's not why I think he was sociopathic; it's the reason he gave for always volunteering for stuff like that: "I was bored."

Also the fact that he tossed a CPO who rated him about his uniform overboard on the way back. Didn't say anything, just looked around to see if he was under observation, grabbed the man and tossed him over the rail. Someone on a lower deck happened to see him falling, and gave an alarm. When the man was pulled out of the water he calmly denied having anything to do with it.


"I don't know of any hijacker who's actually cut off oxygen or attempted to do so. Most of them don't seem to have been very sophisticated."

Say you did that and it resulted in several medical emergencies. A bad result if you consider the passengers hostages, each one that dies by accident puts you in a worse bargaining position.

So if you don't need survivors and you aren't using the plane as a weapon to attack something, you try to smuggle a bomb on board. If you do need survivors you do better not to mess with the oxygen. How many examples does that leave?


Morning news
INMARSAT data ... flew "under control" for over SEVEN HOURS after the flight deviation.
The Malaysian guvmint agencies, it appears have actually been holding information to their chests...
The informed opinion is that it was almost certainly done with the connivance at least, of the flight crew.

[QUOTE To sum up, it was confirmed that plane has flown a long way off course for up to 7.5 hours after losing contact with the ground and that it gradually had its systems turned off. He said it could have continued on two different paths; along a corridor above the southern Indian Ocean and - astoundingly - towards Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. As a result, searches in the South China Sea have ended.

See also Heteromeles comment @ #100


Guess it was someone else's turn to have one of their cyperpunk books come true.


To me this is looking more and more like an Insurance scam gone wrong. I suggest checking the affairs of the passangers and crew. Is Malaysian Airlines financially sound? How much is a plane of this type insured for?


Hmmm. I'd say that kidnapping to an unknown location is looking more likely.

My Saturday morning news is that the plane reportedly flew on for 6.5 hours or more after the communications ended.

"Satellite data did not provide a precise location for the plane, Razak said. But he added that the last signal came from either a southern flight corridor from Indonesia to the southern Indian Ocean, or "a northern corridor stretching from the border of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to northern Thailand." (NPR reporting)

At this point, I haven't found an online map of the new search areas, but I'm sure it will pop up shortly.

The other interesting thing (per CNN, take it for what it's worth) is that the plane climbed to 45,000 feet after turning off its transponders, then dropped to 29,000 feet, then climbed again. Someone fighting for control?

For what it's worth, I'm guessing the northern corridor is where the plane went, because it's probably a bit easier to get away from the Chinese military on land. One could even speculate the Uighurs (or their unknown allies) are involved.

The problem with ditching the plane in the ocean is that you need two pirate ships standing by, not one: one ship for the hostages, one ship for the pirates. The hostage ship is disabled and set adrift somewhere in the eastern Indian ocean (coordinates to be provided when the ransom is paid, too bad there's not much water on board, better hurry up with the ransom...) while the pirate ship gets as far away from the hostage ship as fast as it can. This works only if the pirate ship can't get caught by the Chinese Navy. That may be one of those non-trivial challenges, along with the basic problem of ditching the plane in the Indian Ocean and making sure everyone survives getting off the plane.

On land, conversely, the kidnappers could split (which they'd have to do, given that the Chinese would be Looking for them for the rest of their lives). One challenge would be destroying all the passengers' cell phones so that they couldn't be tracked that way. Hmmm.

I'd say that at the very least, the thriller writers have a new plot or two to play with.


My pet theory right now is that hijackers took over the plane, but didn't reach their destination. Either at some point the passengers/crew tried to take back the plane and caused it to crash, or the hijackers wanted to go somewhere outside the plane's range and didn't believe it would run out of fuel before they got there...


Interesting tidbit from NYT:

"Radar signals recorded by the Malaysian military appeared to show that the missing airliner climbed to 45,000 feet, above the approved altitude limit for a Boeing 777-200, soon after it disappeared from civilian radar."

Equalize cabin pressure, climb to 15km for some minutes, and nobody in the passenger compartment is going to bother you again, ever.

Turning of air-condition, cabin pressurization, entertainment and light etc. etc, will then save fuel for you.


Foteana Theory: A passenger turned on their laptop and it said "Bluetooth device detected - Boeing 777 Install (Y/N)" with the not unusual results if the Boeing was the wrong version.

That said, is there a putative Hijacker motivation theory bearing in mind that the Malaysian police have many theories, some of which come to court, notably in the case of Anwar Ibrahim who bought me a tea once (in a Buddhist Temple in Jalan Ampang, just down from the towers!) and didn't try and assault me, not even a little bit. Am I that unattractive?!


An idea on how to transport a stolen aircraft ...

777 Dimensions: 199ft 11in width/wingspan x 209 ft 1 in up to 242ft 4 in nose-to-tail overall length x 60ft 9 in height

Landing need – need between 1,160 to 1,600 meters (3,800 and 5,200 feet) to land at sea level, depending on its weight at the time. If all you need is a long smooth surface, this means a hard-packed dirt road would do – 100 feet wide and a little over a mile long. If you’ve access to earth moving equipment – as commonly used in mining - you could probably build an adequate runway in one day or so. Private or abandoned airfield somewhere in western or northern Australia – middle of nowhere. I prefer Australia because no one is even considering it, and the info provided could be deliberate mis-direction. (Do US and other countries’ spy satellites even bother to cover this friendly region?)

Toss some camo or ‘build’ a camp/town over/around it and the plane disappears from view. Wait until search efforts slow down and/or your ship comes in. This step would be unnecessary if the following step followed immediately, i.e., within 24 hours of plane’s ‘official disappearance’.

Tankers/container ships: Several classes of tankers/container ships are long enough to transport this aircraft in one piece/unassembled. Get a couple of trucks top-side, attach cables between trucks and aircraft, lock in several gang planks between pier and ship, and pull the aircraft on-board. Container ships would be even better because their topsides are probably less cluttered. Plus container ships have containers which could easily be taken apart, put on skeleton frames and re-assembled around an aircraft. Psychologically, all you’d need is for the various views of the container ship to look sufficiently ‘random’ – different colors/logos and apparent ‘finishes’/designs would do that.

Depending on year, about one-third of containers travel the oceans empty of cargo (dead-weighting). Offering an aircraft-carrying service would represent a financial opportunity. Container ships have a short-ish lifespan apparently (under 20 years) so a used one can be picked up dirt-cheap at auction. Better yet, use a container ship that’s officially been sold for ‘salvage’ – therefore no longer on any reputable company’s official books. Stick a Liberia flag on it, a few random call-numbers, and away you go. Container ships have very small crew – and if the only cargo you’re carrying is one airplane, then you’d probably need an even smaller crew. Ships have satellite plus marine band radio, in addition to radar and sonar so the crew could easily keep up-to-date on news regarding lost airplanes and change course as required. Not sure what if any ‘plans’ ships need to file with what authority – but probably nowhere near what’s needed for aircraft. Also not sure whether ships out-number aircraft in terms of ease of surveilling them by satellite. There is an online ship tracking online service (sea-web) available on ships-register (add dot com, parent firm is IHS, business roots are ‘provider of product catalog info to aerospace engineering’) that I was able to easily find via Google.

You can then safely stay at sea for as long as needed … unloading the aircraft would probably take place somewhere quiet, and within distance of a useable ‘airfield’ for take-off and within a short hop flying under 10,000 ft to a legal airport that has very poor security/spot checks with international authorities. From there, move/fly the aircraft to the next airport up and keep upgrading your official papers until you can blend in with any legit aircraft. If you’re fast, this could be by today. By this time, you’d have also figured out how to mask any uniquely identifying pings. As a private charter aircraft, you could fly anywhere and transport a lot of any people of cargo with this aircraft.


Do US and other countries’ spy satellites even bother to cover this friendly region?

Many/most fly polar orbits so each one can cover the entire earth in 20 or so orbits. Put up a few and you get coverage of most anywhere on the planet every few hours.

And since actual film is no longer used it's just a matter of how much data you want to store and for how long.

On a another note I suspect that was as being seen floating in those sat pics released the other day were cargo containers that fell off a ship. 100s or 1000s do so every year. Many will float for a while depending on what is inside of them.

This story says maybe 10,000 fall off ships in a year.


It's a great idea, and probably someone should check whatever's in the Ghost Fleet off Singapore to see if any of those remaindered container ships were bought or stolen recently.

That said, Australia isn't a primitive country, and a bunch of people building a huge airstrip, even in northwestern Australia, would almost certainly be noticed. Big influx of foreigners who aren't talking to outsiders? Suspicious mate, especially given how contentious immigration from the Indian Ocean rim has been for the last few years.

The other problem with the idea is that the Australian military has been building up their northern and northwestern frontiers for the last few years.


According to the Inmarsat ping-time plot, the plan probably landed in Uzbekistan.

Getting their by having prefiled a flightplan with Burma ATC and all the way to europe under the pretense of being a freight carrier would be a trivial.

So who would be wanting what so badly, that they implemented this bit of incredibly well-organized crime ?

There are a lot of things Iran would dearly love to be able to buy from Malaysia, semiconductors, firing capacitors for bridgewire detonators, all sorts of alloys etc. etc.

Most of these things could be put on a passenger plane to China or USA without any troble, by pretty much any other "ship to" country would cause endless amounts of dual-use paperwork.

I think we've been witness to Operation Plumbat II.

The plane is in a hangar in Uzbekistan somewere, the goods are on their way to Iran in cars.

o me this is looking more and more like an Insurance scam gone wrong.
If it is insurance, I'd suggest Boeing more than "MAS" as in the Ford Pinto case.

If the 777 was as the top of its ceiling, how long does it take to descend to a safe level? If you've got oxygen but not pressure, how long until you get brain damage. If the 777 manages to land and there's 200+ brain damaged passengers, what would Boeing have to pay for constant care? Enough to motivate "corporate murder"?

While Boeing is close with the NSA & the US in general & area 51 etc... have they looked at the Boeing firmware for the 777? And would they tell us if they had? Would they tel us if the found a "problem"?.


Poul: not without refueling. They had about half the flight range needed to make it to Uzbekistan with the fuel load on board at takeoff...

Not impossible to have landed and refueled but.... Difficult.


What a lot of people's comments are missing is simply that this is a ridiculously public and inefficient way to smuggle stuff or people. It's simply too big and public an operation to expect to get away with over time. Sure, if the payoff is immediate and you can make yourself invisible afterwards, but that seems rather a high barrier; surely a lot of resources are being burnt if this is a smuggling or similar type of operation.
It;s simple enough to operate a ghost ship, mock up a container ship headed for scrap, etc etc. Why would you go for a public aircraft which needs a runway, fuel, when you can smuggle stuff in millions of other ways without the publicity?


The northern/northwestern part of Australia between Darwin and Port Hedlund isn't that populated ... plus there's lots of mining so ready access to earth-moving equipment to create a temporary landing strip.

Most importantly, as per Wikipedia: "Most mines in remote areas are operated on a fly-in-fly-out basis where the miners' "home" and family remains in a major city, and the miners fly out to their mine for two weeks of solid work, then fly home for one week of rest.[citation needed]"


Sadly - if this out-right theft, it's unlikely there will be any survivors.


They could have made it all the way to Somalia or Yemen, for that matter. While taking the plane apart makes some modicum of sense, taking the plane and ransoming the hostages might work even better, and the Somalis, for better or worse, actually do that sort of thing. Still, there are a lot of places for that plane to be. I guess the good news is that the passengers are possibly still alive somewhere.


Australia is the world's 3rd largest uranium producer ... a re-identified 'charter plane' that flies 'mining crews' might more easily escape notice than a regular commercial air craft.

For any Aussies reading this - just how populated and sky/seas-patrolled is this area?

When did the U.S. fleet move and from where to participate in the expanded search ... into the Indian Ocean and away from the heisted aircraft?


If it a hijack, about time we had competent a "terrorist" group that doesn't depend on the incompetence of the authorities,

SPECTRE anyone?


"What a lot of people's comments are missing is simply that this is a ridiculously public and inefficient way to smuggle stuff or people."

Indeed it is.

And for all that, they seem to have put a lot of effort into it, in particular to misdirect everybody as much as possible about what's going on and away from where it is actually going on.

Somebody wanted something really, *really* badly.

That's the main reason why I concluded this was Iran bypassing IAEA safeguards: Only state-level actors are this ruthlessly calculating, and the only government program which could benefit enough from a one-shot air-freight from Malaysia would be something like acquiring WMDs.

If my theory is right, it will be interesting to see to what extent Iran care to cover stuff up: Will we find the abandonned plane and the corpses in some hangar (or dessert ?) -- or do they bury everybody and cut the plane up for scrap so no traces will ever be found ?

PS: I find it interesting but not conclusive that the two stolen passports were used by iranians who arrived in Malaysia on valid iranian passports.


This doesn't look competent from a terrorist perspective. It looks like piracy.

Terrorism has political goals; as a political goal, "make everyone very angry with you" serves no obvious purpose. There isn't anything that the people responsible can possibly do now that will make the Chinese less angry, and several things could come out that would make them *more* angry. Damaging Freescale by killing 20 critical employees might well seriously anger the US Permanent Government, too.

It looks much more like the kind of focus on short term profit that goes with piracy.


On landing: "a hard-packed dirt road would do"

Nope. This plane weights 138 tonnes empty, plus what remains of fuel, freight, and people. There are plenty of paved runways that can't take that weight without cracking up, including international airports like Jakarta.

Landing on a dirt road at 160 miles per hour is going to result in very bad things happening very quickly.

Here's a list of runways long enough for it to land. It's a pretty big list. What we actually need is a list of runways long enough and strong enough. That's a much smaller list.

Or it's at the bottom of the ocean, which has always been the most likely outcome.


But that's getting a bit silly, you seem to be reasoning from the presumption that this involves Iran, when surely they would know that any such obvious operation would be immediately traced back to them and thus render the whole thing utterly pointless.
Okay, maybe if they got hold of a dozen nuclear armed cruise missiles in the process so could then say "Bring it on" to the world, I might buy it, but this isn't actually "Under siege".


I think they expected this to be untraceable.

The Inmarsat tracking has probably come as a very ugly surprise for them: Without that, the plane could have been *anywhere* and they would have had plenty of time to cover their tracks.

(See the wapo link above for their actual possible range on known fuel reserves. Then add a couple of percent saved because they don't have to run the aircon after killing the passengers).

With the Inmarsat tracking pointing directly at the Kaspian Sea, people are apt to wonder, like I did, who in that neighborhood might be involved, and desperate enough to do something like this.

There are a lot of unsavory people and causes in that geograpnical area, but one particular effort stands out, because it could materially benefit big time from one or two pallets of otherwise unremarkable air-freight.


Given the political hot potato that is illegal immigration in Australia, you'd expect them to have some decent kit looking north.

They do, some serious over-the-horizon radars pointing north and north-west. JORN is supposedly capable of detecting a light aircraft at 2000+ km.

That brings up another interesting question - if a nation's military sensors did detect something interesting way out in the ocean, how does that nation make that information public without telling the world what the capabilities of those sensors are. For instance, the Andaman Islands are about 4000 km from the nearest JORN station. If the Aussies did detect something of note happening to a 777 with no working transponder, then who do they tell and how, without tipping the world off that JORN can has a range of 4000 km not 2000 km?

The usual technique here would be to hint to an allied searcher where to start looking, so that searcher just happens to be lucky enough to come across floating debris with a day's searching, instead of a month's searching. However, the sheer scale of the search space here makes that approach less deniable.

The same problem applies to the big radars at Diego Garcia, whatever India has pointing south-east, and every navy ship in the eastern Indian Ocean.


Hmmm. I'm still not sure what's so valuable about a plane that you'd kill 292 people for it.

If it's a kidnap and piracy venture, you could ransom the people (income stream one), disassemble the airplane and sell the parts (income stream two). In fact, you'd probably want to take the plane apart, simply to clean up the crime scene and make sure that the people investigating it have to buy every single part of the plane off the black market to have any idea what you did to hijack it.

Then you can do it again, if you want. Even if you never hijack a plane again (you being the organization that did it, not the pilot), there are still immense bragging rights for pulling it off, plus not a little terror. If someone can hijack a plane and make it disappear to another country or continent, that's more than a little scary. If they can do it without anything more than terrorizing the passengers and getting countries to pay huge ransoms, well, that's scary and profitable. Countries might find it cheaper to pay ransom than to try to shut you down.

Hmmm. I'm not sure I like where this thought is going. Imagination is a curse sometimes.


Used 777 market price is about $35 to $55 million USD and this requires only one transaction ...

Ransom for passengers .. First, how/where/with whom would do you negotiate? Second, don't most governments have no-ransom policies? (Not sure what the carrier's insurer would say about a ransom demand.)

If the aircraft was heisted so that it would be used to fly only and be maintained in certain restricted areas - not into or at international patrolled airports - then any having unique ID numbers on parts may be irrelevant.


This has goen worng ....
I suspect "They" wanted the palne - the passengers were irelevant & are probably all dead & would be, by now, even if THE PLAN had worked ...
Plan was probably to steal deniable aircrafts for - almost anything.
But, didn't make it to "sekrit hiddun air-strip" but crashed in the mountains od the India/Afghan borders somewhere.
The real "masterminds" behind this are keeping shtum, beause they've learnt a lot (Including the IMNMARSAT angle) & are waiting to repaet it - without the mistakes.
As for the poor people - written off.
If you are sufficently greedy or sufficently enamoured of your true holy cause, whop carea about a few extraneous bodies?


Sorry about the typos.
However, onr thing is certain.
IF we ever find out who & what "cause" was responsible, the PRC will want payment - 7 that will be painful.
Very, very stupid move, in fact.
Which points to piracy, doesn't it?

OTOH, if it's a heist-gone-wrong, which I incline to. Then expect more succesful repeats [ Allowing for the INMARSAT data problem, of course ]


This was looked at in some detail by the BEA after AF447. Bottom line you don't have to stream data continuously, getting a telemetry burst after the plane gets into difficulty and before impact would be very valuable and technically, financially achievable. There's a link to the report on my blog if anyone's interested (I didn't include as I wasn't sure whether a html link would get spammed).


What a lot of people's comments are missing is simply that this is a ridiculously public and inefficient way to smuggle stuff or people. It's simply too big and public an operation to expect to get away with over time.

This. For smuggling? You can buy a container ship for what a plausible 777 highjacking attempt would cost. Using the plane later for some nefarious purpose is doubtful anyway; operating a 777 is not trivial or cheap, and they attract attention where they're not expected. The idea of selling the plane brings one back to the problems of using it, and trying to find anyone who can use a 777 but can't buy one legally.

As dramatic as the air pirate fantasies are, stealing a jetliner in flight doesn't seem practical. (Stealing a light plane from an airstrip, no comment; this is the internet, after all.) Has anyone ever successfully hijacked a civilian aircraft in order to acquire the vehicle?


Here's a fun little yarn about MH370:

The possible flight paths are pretty close Pakistan. Which is a famously unstable country, full of people who are somewhat upset about being droned by the US and of those not being droned, there are probably also a lot who are upset about their lack of souvereignty vis a vis the US.

The fun begins when you have a Boeing 777 (capable of flying anywhere an ICBM could fly, albeit slower), a few hundred hostages and disgruntled Pakistani military personell pulling off a Snowdon with a 10kt nuclear bomb. This is then flown to New York. The new pilots may or may not announce to the Americans what they want to do, they may also leave out crucial parts like the hostages or the bomb or both. And then what?


Actually, the Somalis have been working as pirates for years (here's a 2009 article on the subject, and as I understand it, they found long ago that ransoming a ship's crew was more profitable than stealing and selling its cargo.

I'm just proposing someone is trying the same with an airliner full of people: making the simple deal that they'll deliver the people safely for cheaper than it will cost China to come after them and rescue the people, plus making it clear that the hostages will be killed by friendly fire if the Chinese try to rescue them, with all the bad PR that would come from a botched rescue attempt.

Their main security right now is that the authorities don't know where the plane is. I suspect that, if they did, they'd light it up in the media for the world to see, just because it would make the pirates' lives hellish and make it even more difficult for them to pull this particular crime again.

As for the 777, an intact jetliner is too big to fence. What are you going to do with it? As soon as it shows up at an airport, the military and forensics are going to be all over it and its previous flight path, and whoever was flying the plane will be in custody. How do you stage such an operation so that the authorities don't find where you hid it and go after you? That's hard. It's easier to disperse the parts. Put them on a boat and sell them back to Malaysia even. File off the serial numbers and after a while, even when the authorities find some of the parts, they probably won't be able to trace them back to your operation without a huge amount of work.

That way, you can, just maybe, pull this kind of stunt again.


A little realism in the range estimates. It's 2,340 NM Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Malaysia Airlines said it had two hour flight reserves; that works out to an extra 1,080 NM at mach 0.84 standard cruise. Call it 3,500 NM slightly optimistically. That is 6.5 hours flight.

This corresponds to 340,000 lb zero fuel weight (303,000 empty operating plus about 37,000 lb people and baggage) plus 110,000 lb furl, per Boeing's type info. Subject to revision but GTOW should have been 450,000 lb. about 20,000 lb fuel burned on climbout the rest for cruise.

The last transponder code was 40 min after takeoff, the northerly suspected primary radar at about 1 hr 40 min. That gives about 4:50 max flight time straight line at cruise altitude from the last primary radar position. That is 2,600 NM from that position.

The WSJ graphic showing seven hours mixes up fuel at departure and remaining fuel at last known location.

2,600 NM from the primary radar spot plus the Inmarsat data is either a thousand NM from Perth, or over the China/Kyrgistan border. Not quite to the ends of the Inmarsat red arcs. Clearly not Uzbekistan. Nor Somalia.


That assumes straight line flight. Very useful would be the times and arcs for the earlier Inmarsat pings. Inmarsat hasn't released those yet that I see.


AvWeek asked about JORN detection: Australia didn't even give a direct "no comment".

There are 2 Australian Orions dedicated to the search, perhaps too obvious to have them search in areas cued by JORN data?


James Healy-Pratt, head of aviation at Stuarts Law solicitors, said the lack of information from Malaysian authorities was in stark contrast to the reaction of French officials when an Air France plane – whose black box was not recovered for two years – crashed in the Atlantic in 2009. The lack of information suggested Malaysian authorities may have something to hide. ENDQUOTE]
And, again, the PRC will want payment for this staggering display of bluff, bumble, incompetence, arrogance & "keeping secrets" from the Malaysians, who appear to have screwed this up beyond all hope.
AIUI, they knew (their military certainly knew) that the plane was off-course & still flying during the period after its transponders were turned off. They then kept quiet about this for - what - five days ???

In the meantime, to repeat, whatever this attempt was, it's almost certainly failed & the aircraft has gone down with all hands .... somewhere.
We may never, ever find it, or those responsible.
Which sugests that they will try again.


I think you're showing that, however much I dislike Western government and journalism, we're actually pretty open and expect a high degree of openness. It's not the same everywhere.

China has a pretty good history of keeping secrets from its populace. Malaysia I wouldn't have known about up front, but it seems like it's doing pretty well to keep a secret like this for this long in the face of the level of scrutiny its getting from the world's press and the amount of information on some of this stuff that's out there for some of this data that's globally available.

It's hard to do, increasingly hard to do. But obviously it can be done.


Some updated thoughts:

1. The passengers and crew not involved in the hijacking are almost certainly dead. It's been a week now; food and water and guards for 240 people is non-trivial, as is ensuring that none of them retain a cellular communication device, let alone a satphone. Unless it's a state actor, the resources to imprison and guard the victims simply won't be available. I think that cruise period at 45,000 feet tells its own grisly story of mass murder.

2. This wasn't a mad impulse but a planned event. Options are (a) political (viz. terrorism) and (b) criminal (theft).

a) Political: targets could be the USA (Freescale employees), China, Malaysia. One possibility is that AQ found an abandoned former soviet bomber base somewhere in Asia, have landed the plane, are offloading the corpses and on-loading explosives, and some time in the next weeks/months a 250 ton cruise missile is going to show up. (Has the World Trade Center memorial tower had its official opening yet?) Another: Uighur separatists. (But their metier is more along the lines of rioting and throat-cutting than fiendish Bond movie schemes). It's unlikely to be a black op intended to provide a pretext for a move on an innocent target (e.g. Iran); the USA and the west are backing off from military adventurism this decade, China doesn't roll that way, nobody else needs the trouble.

One long shot: Dear Leader Kim wanted his own microprocessor, so the Freescale employeers were herded to the back of the plane and given oxygen while the other passengers were killed by depressurization. Landing in Asia, refueling, onward flight to Pyongyang. (Probability: very low. The Norks don't have any 777 pilots and there are better ways to set up a semiconductor industry that wouldn't piss off China if word got out.)

b) Criminal: It was a heist. The target was too bulky for a courier flying business class with a brief case (otherwise a mugging at the terminal would do the job); it's air freight. It's also legal to transport, or at least legal enough that the security officers will turn an eye after their palms are greased. (Or a government agency was involved.)

Any way you cut it, the target needs to be fungible, extremely valuable, semi-legal, and it's on its way to Beijing. An example might be an airfreight container full of 500 euro bills being shipped from the Zetas cartel to a bank in Beijing for laundering. Or the equivalent in dollars. Call it somewhere north of $200M for it to be worth the extreme risks of a hijacking and mass murder. Oh, and it needs to be secret-ish, but known to enough psychopathically ruthless killers that one of them decides to make a move on it (hence: laundering huge amounts of money from organized crime as a candidate).

Upshot: the plane will be found in the next days to months either as a pile of wreckage on a mountainside, or sitting abandoned on a runway at a long-closed Soviet bomber base in Central Asia, with a pile of decaying corpses on board.

Charlie says: I'm going with option (b), a heist with collateral murder, because in all the heat and noise coming out of the investigations, nobody in Malaysia or China has whispered a word in public about the cargo manifest beyond "it was checked by security".


50kg of diamonds


Or maybe the murder wasn't intentional; the relatives of 200 people and 5 or 6 governments can cause you a lot of trouble, whereas if you'd followed the original plan and landed at a remote airfield, wrecking the 777 in the process but a couple of hours work digging out the cargo would be worth it. Then you just leave the passengers to fend for themselves and hare off into the distance in a few trucks/ SUV's.

Only it all went wrong and you ended up killing the passengers by asphyxiation and well you know the rest.


The resources used suggest a government or semi-government agency out of control.
Agree with option (10 Unfortunately, I doubt if any of the passengers are alive now.
Unless, as you say, it's Kim.
But, if it's Kim & word gets out, I suspect China will just stand back, while the rest of the planet erdaicates the Dear Leader & his entourage ....
Or do it themseleves, of course.

US conspiraloons are suggetsing the Iranians + a nuke-armed cruise missile for Tel Aviv.

My most likely scenario is that the heist/takeover/theft of cruise missile/plane has gone horribly wrong & it's crashed.
Which means "They" will try again - & we don't know who they are, do we?

Other snippets.
INMARSAT are now publicly assisting & sending people to Malaysia.
There is a strong suggestion that the last signal was sent from the ground (wtf?)
Someone has mentioned the "Dawson's Field" hijackings back in 1970....
Oh and THIS might be illuminating - a runways map.


Or 2(c): The pilot or co-pilot has been simmering for a while and decides now was a good time to end it all, and have it be 'spectacular' by making it a mysterious mass murder. What was the pilot doing with his home flight simulator; trying out scenarios, or just keeping up his skills? What's the co-pilot's background?

If I were going to steal a jet to repurpose, I'd go for a cargo plane. How does the security compare; do the cockpits have secure doors, are cargo containers x-rayed? Maybe stowaway in one? No pesky passengers to worry about (though no hostages to threaten, to keep from being shot down). And other things I'm not remembering at the moment.


The seas are harder to search than land so if part of the plan was to disappear I'd head for someplace with a landing strip next to the ocean. Cocos Keeling Island (Australia) is fairly remote - not sure whether it'd be possible to cut off all forms of communication to/from there.

While I still tend toward the heist hypothesis ... there's the escalating Russian-Ukraine-Crimea mess with the 'secession election' taking place on the heals of the Paralymics closing in Sochi. Once international paralympic athletes leave, there will no longer be any risk of being perceived as an extraordinary monster if Putin decides to 'play hardball'. (The paralympians is where the West would draw the line between ordinary - possible to spin - and extraordinary political monsters.) How a missing plane would stir that pot - I don't know - apart from anyone using it at this point would have deniability thanks to Malaysia's handling of things to-date.

RE: North Korea angle: Were any of the passengers nuke experts/engineers?


Putin playing "hardball"? Excuse me, but the West just recently helped overthrow a lawfully elected Ukrainian government and replaced it with something that looks like a mix of the old kleptocracy and neoNazis.


If you mean that the chief kleptocrat is Viktor F. Yanukovych, agree ... have you seen his digs?


So it's OK for the West to overthrow governments as long as we can come up with a good excuse, but if Putin does it he's the New Hitler?


Not saying that ... prefer fair elections, good government, honest politicians everywhere.

Am concerned about the spread of 'civil' wars especially when the larger players get involved. Economic sanction talks are probably being held already ... access to Crimea would lessen the hurt.


Back on subject
Whoever did this has royally pissed-off both the USA & the PRC - was this a wise move?
Which suggests it is not N Korea.
So, SPECTRE or a national agency or Al-Q?
Place your bets here!


A few thoughts on the "political" scenarios:

First off, there's a big problem with the 250-ton cruise missile scenario: getting the thing to its target without it being detected by radar, interdicted, and shot down. Ordinary cruise missiles deal with the problem by flying at low altitude, and having small radar cross-sections. The Sept. 11, 2001 attacks got into controlled airspace by being airliners with legitimate flight plans. I'm not sure either option works for a black-flagged jumbo jet flying in from over the ocean. (That said, One World Trade Center is not yet open to the public.)

On the other hand, there's precedent for kidnapping techies: Mexican Drug cartels have nabbed several dozen cell phone technicians (at least) for work on their private networks. And while North Korean kidnappings (of which there are regrettably many), have generally been very discreet, the intent here seems to have been for the plane to vanish over the ocean, leaving the victims presumed dead. And they wouldn't need to train a pilot if they could bribe or coerce one. It still looks crazy --- but if the pilots deliberately shut down the radios at a change of control and then disabled the passengers, crazy is all that's left. (Though North Koreans are far from the only possible suspects for such an operation, even among sketchy regional governments!)

As to the heist scenarios: one of the odd coincidences feeding the rumor mill was trouble with X-Ray cargo inspection at Kuala Lumpur. They were having trouble with the units all day --- but MH370 may have been the only plane to depart without any X-Ray cargo screening whatever.

One last note: there are a lot more places to ditch a 777 if you don't care whether either the plane or the runway is ever in shape for a subsequent takeoff.


Whoever did this has royally pissed-off both the USA & the PRC - was this a wise move?
Which suggests it is not N Korea.

Well, the best evidence against North Korean involvement is probably just that the plane's last satellite ping put it at least 1500 miles from Korea, possibly much more. (The closest spot to Korea along the northern arc of possible ping positions is pretty close to Hanoi.)

That said, the North Korean regime is not exactly known for its sagacity or concern for superpower opinion. The North Korean nuclear program, for example, has deeply vexed both the US and China in the very recent past.

In any case, as I noted above, there are plenty of other sketchy governments in the area that might want to mount this sort of operation, to say nothing of intelligence agencies with little, if any, respect for their nominally superior civilian authority. Both Pakistan and Iran come to mind there. The eastern tip of the northern arc of final ping positions is over Kazakhstan, with those fun-loving crazies in Uzbekistan not far south, and Afghanistan and Pakistan a bit further on.


I don't buy the $X of valuables to some dude with a white cat.

Stuff like that could be transferred any number of ways which would not cause the massive retribution this is going to.

No, it has to be something that can only be acquired this way for some damn good reason or other.

The only reasons I can come up with is that A) somebody doesn't want you to have it, and B) they would stop you if you tried.

That implies that it's not something you could smuggle about your person or in a car. We're talking something so high value and so bulky and/or heavy, that all normal transportation methods are sealed because people would be looking for it and find it.

On the other hand, something that cannot be taken out of Malaysia to where it is wanted, but which can without too much trouble be scheduled on air-freight to China.

By packing the goods sufficiently bulky and requiring express delivery, you can pretty much control what plane your cargo is going to be on in many cases, and the airline will typically tell you, once they've reserved your slot.

So getting N tons of forbidden toys on the plane is not the problem.

The problem is the good old: How you get control of the plane once in the air, and this, no matter what, implies some kind of breach of regulations by the flight crew.

My money is still on Iran doing a bit of embargo-circumventionist shopping, facing a strict deadline due to the currently non-progressing negotiations having to get serious RSN (Or Else!)

You can move a LOT of FPGAs or motherboards for a cluster on a 777, and there are quite a few high quality alloys that might be relevant too.


One thing to point out is that it wasn't necessarily the original pilots flying that plane. It's possible someone found a "Day Zero" exploit against the cockpit doors of teh 777 and used it to get in and replace the pilots with someone. This trick only works so long as the airlines don't know what happened, of course, which may be one reason it's secret.

I personally think ransom is a better motive than the cargo (and unlike Charlie, I don't think that feeding 200 people for a week is an unsupportable expense), but either way, I don't know who flew the plane to wherever it is now.


If it was intruders bursting into the cockpit, they managed to surprise and overwhelm the flight crew sufficiently that they didn't have time to raise any alarm, which would have taken only a few seconds. By the time whoever was flying the plane said "Good Night" to Malaysian Air Traffic Control (who thought they were handing off control to the Vietnamese) some of the radios were already getting shut down.

By the way, I've heard nothing about voice analysis indicating whether the person communicating with Malaysian ATC was a member of the original flight crew, but you'd think there would be recordings.


First off, there's a big problem with the 250-ton cruise missile scenario: getting the thing to its target without it being detected by radar, interdicted, and shot down.

There's a dirty trick: you charter a bizjet from Heathrow to La Guardia or Newark. It takes off on schedule. You also file a flight plan from, say, Khazakstan to Algeria, identifying your 777 as a freighter.

The 777 doesn't go to Algeria; it turns its transponder off and heads out across the Atlantic with full fuel tanks and 60 tons of ANFO or similar as cargo.

Over the Atlantic, the bizjet passenger pulls a gun or a knife on the pilot and nose-dives into the drink. Meanwhile, the 777 which is in roughly the same area picks up the bizjet's flight path and carries on, now squawking the bizjet's identity.

(Yes, having a satphone on each plane would really help coordinate this.)

As far as the target -- New York in this scenario -- is concerned, a perfectly legitimate plane that is expected is picked up on radar at the right altitude, right time, on the right course. Nobody will be able to see that it's a 777 rather than a Gulfstream until the very last minute, by which time it's way too late to mount an intercept unless there's an F-15 or F-16 actually patrolling the sky over Manhattan at the time. Which doesn't routinely happen because those suckers are prohibitively expensive to keep in the air 24x7.

Reason for La Guardia -- or Newark, or maybe JFK -- is that they have final approach paths that skirt Manhattan. A minute or two short of short final, your kamikaze 777 pilot pulls in the flaps, powers up the engines to full throttle, and takes aim at a skyscraper. It's 9/11 all over again, this time with added high explosives and a bigger airliner.

Note about bizjets: passengers for business aviation bypass all the annoying security theatre that we proles have to put up with -- they drive right up to the bizjet's stairs and go straight aboard. At most, there's a passport check. So closing the zero day exploit on this nasty surprise will royally fuck the 0.1% who don't currently have to put up with civil aviation security. So at least there's a silver lining ...


There's a dirty trick: you charter a bizjet from Heathrow to La Guardia or Newark. It takes off on schedule. You also file a flight plan from, say, Khazakstan to Algeria, identifying your 777 as a freighter.

Which should have occurred to me; one of the possibilities being bandied about in the rumor mill is that MH370 itself evaded radar detection over some of its flight path by shadowing a legitimate flight in exactly this manner, close enough to look like a single plane on radar --- and, obviously, with its own transponder off.

Your scenario does set up a situation in which the 777 squawking the bizjet's identity has a primary radar return that's way larger than any bizjet has any right to emit --- but it's not clear that that would raise any alarms. (And it's not the sort of thing that a controller at JFK or La Guardia would be likely to notice on their own; they are phenomenally busy and distracted on a good day. Though having the plane come in as a bizjet gives you more options for the fake flight plan --- Teterboro is actually closer to the southern tip of Manhattan than JFK.)


I know (of) people who do sanctions busting stuff with respect to Iran. Unless you are shipping hundreds of tonnnes then getting it into Iran is not a problem - just an expense.

I find the US obsession with Iran to be at best, hypocritical and at worst plain war mongering. That people here swallow the US propaganda uncritically is disturbing.


There's a dirty trick...

Wouldn't it be easier to just grab a Gulfstream in the first place? With an improvised warhead it would do damage comparable to the jetliners of 9/11, it would be much easier to grab, easier to repurpose (smaller airfields, simpler to hide, etc), and would strike directly at the plutocratic elite who currently don't get groped by the Thousands Standing Around.


According to latest reports, the pilot's last words appear to have been a code signal ...
The Malays are now claiming plane was under "other" control when pilot sent his "good night" message.
So the Malays screw-up AGAIN! (Or so it seems) & this get murkier & nastier by the hour...

Charlie @ 161
Won't work if plane has INMARSAT (or equivalent) ID & ping transmitters ...
And, after this, you can bet your boots they all will, in very short order.
INMARSAT are going to be even wealtheir, very quickly, as a result of this.

Saying from detective fiction: "When you know how, you know who"
At present, we don't know how, do we?
Which means that who is an open problem.
Which is what "they" want - because they can do it again (assuming this one's gone tits-up)
How nice!


Have you got a cite on the "coded message" reports? I've been on flights which put the radio on the passenger entertainment system, so I've heard a whole bunch of air traffic control handoffs, and having the pilot say "goodbye", "see you later", or some such thing to the ATC whose space they are leaving is very much the usual thing. "All right, good night" would not be out of the ordinary for a handoff in the wee hours of the morning.


I think the probability of it not being the pilot or co-pilot on the final "goodbye" hand-over is low - one of the first things they would have done would be to listen to the final ATC data. Whoever it was would have had to sound exactly like the pilot or co-pilot to not get picked up on the initial analysis. You'll note all the attention has been directed at the pilot, not co-pilot. I think they have the pilot's voice on tape giving the handover.

Nope, sorry Charlie, but I think this is suicide situation. As I said up top, the noticeable thing is that they took the fastest route to no primary radar coverage, using a route that doesn't draw attention to itself (via waypoints). They wanted to disappear.

If they went north they would have to have expected to be picked up again on someone's primary radar. Thus I think they went south, in the expanse of the Indian Ocean. More than that, I think the entire flight from the transponders being turned off was programmed into the autopilot - which explains the excursion to a high altitude early on, everyone was being put to sleep via hypoxia, probably including the pilot. From there it was a Marie Celeste to the point it ran out of fuel.

I also think that final waypoint put into the computer was Perth. Malaysia Airlines flies there, so it would be in the computer, but it's beyond range for this flight. That ties in with the final ping data.


"looks like a mix of the old kleptocracy and neoNazis."

-- dang, Radio Moscow on repeat...8-).


"So it's OK for the West to overthrow governments as long as we can come up with a good excuse, but if Putin does it he's the New Hitler?"

-- yup, pretty much. Ask a Pole about it.


"I find the US obsession with Iran to be at best, hypocritical and at worst plain war mongering."

-- 'cause the mullahs are such lovely peaceful people, always so cooperative...


There is really only one man on the planet with the diabolical mind and feline affinity necessary to pull off a crime of this magnitude. Yes friends, here is your culprit:


Err, I guess most Poles wouldn't have been that happy if a Western power had ousted the Kaczyński brothers. Not that the ones I met were that happy with the two (now one) of them either...


Nice idea, but first of, that is the wrong cat, Menhit might object. Second of, I am not that sure OGH likes Nehru suits.

Third of, err, I guess the position of caring for the sharks with implanted laser beams has already gone to Peter Watts, right? Otherwise, might I apply?


That posting has vanished, when I tried to re-look for it - AND I may have misinterpreted what was in front of me - easy to do in these circumstances.


And apparently Ernst Stavro Blofeld's, biggest gripe is that Sir James Goldsmith got an knighthood, but all he got was James Bond and the sharp end of a license to kill. That said I suspect the Catnda is the brains of the operation, what with all that propaganda its been feeding us on you tube et al.


I don't buy the suicide theory ....
If only because there appears no reason for this.

On radio4 this AM, they had an ext-senior ATC bod, now running his own consultancy (Try "listen again", between 07.10 & 07.25 this morning) - who basically callled the Malaysians (without naming them) as useless, at least ...
Paraphrasing: "If this had been in/near Europe, the momnet the ACARS went off, alerts would have been sounded, a greater watch would have been kept... the moment it deviated from course, the military & Air/sea rescue would have been alerted, & 5 minutes after that, planes would have gopne out..."
Now, of course, a detailed, much-too late search will have to be mounted along the arcs shown up my INMARSAT.
Which, as said elesewhere ... err ... "involves the viewing of sensitive radar & comms & Surveillance data over some delicate areas" And, of course we're going to get the same mulish foot-dragging that we've already had.
I suggest an emergency Security Council Rresolution, sponsored by CHina, US I wonder.
But, we can't afford to have this happen again, can we?


The Inmarsat data is only examined post-facto, not realtime by ADIZ or ATC folks.

It will tip off the scenario the next day, as the dust settles, but not during.


Oops something went worng there ...
Got truncated at the end... it should have said:
"an emergency Security Council Resolution, sponsored by China, US, Britain France, (Russia will abstain) - damanding: For this one emergency, for a limited period (one month?) military surveillance overflight & observation will be permitted - you WILL hand over all relevant observational data & give unlimted access to ground-search teams, if/when needed." - I wonder.
But, we can't afford to have this happen again, can we?


" 'cause the mullahs are such lovely peaceful people, always so cooperative..."

'cause the USA is so friendly and freedom loving, apart from the kidnappings, executions, murders and torture..."


And just to cut off the obvious moronic response, allow me to print it first:
Putin = Russians = Commies = Left Wing = Guardian


.. Terrorism has political goals; as a political goal, "make everyone very angry with you" serves no obvious purpose.
One necessary prerequisite for torching off a violent uprising is "The Massacre".

The end goal of "making everyone angry" is simply to make the state or it's security apparatus angry enough to overreact and murder lots of people, who preferably didn't really have anything to do with the armed struggle to begin with and probably did not even care for "The Cause".

Even is the state does not "loose it" and just bolster it's defences, it is still weakened if normal people, who peripherally might share your race / religion / political identity, are consistently singled out for a special attention, grope-down (or beatings) by "Security". Some of them might with time get pissed off enough to forget the procedure and "Do Something" about it!


Err, and then the facebook site of the pro-Russian Ukrainian units has some pictures that make me ask if the whole site is a false flag, but the number of lapses is somewhat low for black propaganda. Of course, if it's good black propaganda...

*starts looking for the mixed D2/5-HT2a antagonist...


You missed the bit about the UK, and then the USA, overthrowing governments and installing a dynasty of bloody-handed dictators?

There's a reason for the Iranian grudge-match against the west. Believe it or not, we started it. The emergence of a vile theocracy is also our fault: our foreign policy apparat systematically undermined any domestic democratic opposition to the Shah (because they threatened the arrangement by which the Shah hated on the USSR while doing what he was told to do by the west with his oil fields), until only the religious opposition was left.

Frankly, the UK and US governments owe Iran a grovelling apology for the events of 1953-79. Only then can we maybe start talking about bridge-building.


Here's a pilot with a boringly mundane but tragic hypothesis. Heavy plane, hot night, long take-off roll ... an under-inflated nose gear tyre catches fire. It's burning under the avionics bay, putting out smoke and heat. One of the first symptoms is it damages the ACARS transponder before the pilot's last VHF radio check-in.

The turn the aircraft makes subsequently points it straight at a huge long emergency runway with an approach over water. Returning to KL would have taken MH370 across mountains, adding extra complexity to an in-flight emergency -- in event of fire the goal is to get the plane on the ground ASAP.

However a pilot's smoke hood is only good for a few minutes. The speculation is that the pilots were overcome by smoke from the fire before they could land, and the plane continued on autopilot until it crashed -- altitude variations possibly being caused by the fire screwing with the on-board avionics (e.g. altimeter) providing inputs to the autopilot.


And, of course, even though the barometer and pitot are analogue instruments in themselves, all that actually means is that they both need ADCs to supply readings to the computer autopilot.


Further on this - Radar CSA (or signal to noise) isn't always measured by air traffic radars, and almost certainly isn't reported to ATC (unless the radar is part of an air defence network, and the ATC is milirary rather than civil).


Responding the couple of posts about landing the plane in Australia.

I used to live in Australia and spent about six months living in Darwin when I was a kid. So please take the following with a pinch of salt large enough to cover a mis-remembered youth from 20 years ago.

There’s a lot of empty space up there. So much so that it’s conceivable that someone once set off a small nuclear bomb and nobody noticed.

When I was a kid there were reports of Chinese fishermen regularly landing on the north coast of Australia for a bbq. Photos of old campfire surrounded with empty cans of Chinese lager.

There are parts of Australia about the same size as a European country that are so empty that, statistically, if you are there then no one else is.

I guess it’s conceivable that you could get hold of some heavy equipment and build a long flat bit of dirt without anyone noticing. There are quite a few abandoned WWII airfields in the Top End that you might use as a starting point. You could probably cover with tarmac without anyone noticing. Building one that is strong enough to cope with the weight of a 777 would create a lot more attention. I think this might get spotted. Some earth moving equipment moving west of Darwin might not create any comment. Enough to build a suitable runway might. It’s a small population and that sort of activity might provoke questions like “What are they doing with all that stuff?” and “I wonder if they are hiring?”

I don’t know, but I think the Australian military keep quite a good eye on the airspace around the north coast. Most of the people who might try to invade Australia are to the north. There was, when I lived in Darwin, quite a large RAAF base there. I think they would spot a 777. Pretty embarrassing for them if they didn’t spot a jumbo jet flying across the coash – for values of Defence Minister, Chief of Staff and possibly PM resigning embarrassing.

So, I could just about believe that someone could get away with building a runway in northern Australia without anyone noticing. I don’t think you could fly a jumbo jet there without the RAAF seeing it.


Thanks for the local insight!

I was originally thinking somewhere in the northwestern parts of Australia. If you flew in off the Indian Ocean below a certain altitude then a straight stretch of road would do as a landing strip.

As for the noise/sight of a 777 ... if the selected landing area is about 10-15 miles away from active mining, the nearby population might not ever notice because mining is usually (so I understand) a very noisy business, with everyone looking down - not up.

Wonder if there are any bloggers in those mining camps ...


The guvmint has spent so much on this anti-refugee tech here in Lostralia, I doubt even a dinghy would get near nowadays... As was detailed in the JORN responses above - but it is hard for people to see just how tight it is. That's all. It is tight enough that we consider it cruel, well, some of us.

Oh, and on the subject of Malaysia, similarly to the previous topic with the UK having subjects or citizens, the place is Malaysia, and the ethnic groups include Tamil, Chinese, Malay etc etc, the very small point here is that the word Malay only means that race now it is post empire. Nothing more. Just a small niggle... ;)


Here's a pilot with a boringly mundane but tragic hypothesis.

Which, to summarize, is that the plane suffered an electrical fire, which caused the radios to fail, and the pilot to turn back towards Malaysia. And then the pilot was overcome by fumes and the aircraft continued on autopilot.

However, if I'm reading the maps right, then having the plane continue straight on that course would put it quite a bit due east of the "southern arc" of possible final positions, from the satellite pings. So if that's right then there were, at least, subsequent course changes.

(I'm not sure that straight flight in any direction puts you on either the northern or southern arc of possible positions for the satellite pings.)


Just checked whether airplane electronics get salvaged and resold - they are.

So another scenario is for someone to bring on board a recycled 'pinger' that could be set-up and restarted just as the air tower change-over occurred and the original 'pinger' was shut off.
If this pinger is not part of some other gear that's necessary for safe flight, then the craft could fly off in relative safety. I'm assuming that pingers do not identify/transmit the mass of the aircraft, and 'mass/size' is also not something that any radar/satellite normally picks up.

No idea how large a 'pinger' is and whether someone can carry it on-board? Alternatively, could some other electronics, say on a standard laptop, mimic it?


I see where you're coming from, and there is an issue you've missed. Irrespective of the size of the electronics and control pack, the IFF has to be connected to an external aerial on the underside of the aircraft to work.

You're correct that most of the metadata about airline and callsign is added by the ATC synthetic video computer based on the IFF identity. Speed and heading can be derived from a series of 2 or more timed plots of a single Id.


Australia's coastline is 25,760 km (16,006 miles) long ... that's a lot of radar stations and/or jets flying patrols and checking every aircraft's electronic (mass?) signature.


Okay it is possible to cover this area as per a Bloomberg report that ...

"Australia’s radar network includes a long-range system capable of detecting air targets as small as the BAE Systems Hawk, a single-engine, two-seater jet. A base station in Laverton, Western Australia state has a range of about 3,000 kilometers (1,864 miles) covering most of the ocean south of Java and west from Perth, according to the Defense Ministry’s website"


You'd still need one of those about every 40 miles from Perth round the North coast to Surfers' Paradise to guarantee detection of machines flying knap of the earth, but that would substantially degrade their flight range. If we say that realistically they want to fly more like 30kfeet (pressurised cabin jet) for best range, you only need about 4 or 5 stations for full coverage at altitude.


I just tried to estimate the actual area to be searched based on the Inmarsat ping measurements.

My estimate is given the undertainties, Inmarsats thin red line is actually a band 800km across.

So the total area to search is something like 11 million km²

A B777 is about 0.005 km²

I'm sure people are looking at better algorithms than brute force right now...


198 and 199 - depending on what you're searching with, you can actually cover an 800km wie front with as few as 1 aircraft.


Sorry, I don't think that this matches the available data. Random malfunction of the autopilot would not account for the plane following air corridors, using waypoints and avoiding radar. The route that was observed by Malaysian military is optimized to get lost in the Indian ocean: first leg, aim at the nearest airport at land, then use existing civil corridor to reach Straits of Malacca, then switch North to reach open sea. Just the timing of the "disappearance" is suspicious in itself: right after saying goodbye to Malaysian ATC and then never contacting Vietnamese ATC.
Malaysian ATC would see noting amiss and Vietnamese ATC would just start asking questions - in fact it appears that they asked Malaysian ATC why MH370 turned back...

As for military radar:
It's late at night, civil airplanes are just slow moving blibs that move along well known air corridors, if you don't follow this particular blib you wouldn't notice anything strange - I doubt that they would contact civil ATC to make sure MH370 sticks to its flight plan. And there are dozens of other planes in the air.

In fact, one theory in the net says that the route of MH370 after turning of the transponder makes perfect sense if the pilot tried (and succeeded?) to match the course of another civil flight from Kuala Lumpur to Europe. Without transponder at night the other plane wouldn't notice MH370 and Indian military would see just one radar blib. MH370 piggy-backs across India to Turkemistan or whereever and lands at a secret place.


Accident scenario still on the table ... with 2 possible impact locations.

IBTimes article reported last Friday that seismic activity was detected ...

"According to the Wen Lianxing research team of the University of Science and Technology of China, the event suggests it could be related to the plane plunging into sea.

"The incident happened at 2.55am on 8 March, about one-and-a-half hours after MH370 lost contact at 1.30am. One of the two possible locations is (an area) about 116km to the northeast of MH370's last confirmed location," the research group said."


Something I heard on the radio ...
It was noted that the plane was flying not at (say) 27 000 or 28 000 but at 27500 - so as to avoid collision with other planes, because its transponders were turned off ....
Which makes it look deliberate & planned (again)
Please note, It was just an halfway point between a whole number of thousands - not necessarily the two I've quoted.

Oh, and THIS graphic may be of some use.


Andreas Vox @ 201 "if the pilot tried (and succeeded?) to match the course of another civil flight"

Here's a worked out example (with maps and photos) by someone called Keith Ledgerwood of how that might have worked, with a specific flight in mind: Singapore Airlines SIA68 from Singapore to Barcelona, which he figures MH370 could have shadowed for a long while and then departed from later.

"It became apparent as I inspected SIA68’s flight path history that MH370 had maneuvered itself directly behind SIA68 at approximately 18:00UTC and over the next 15 minutes had been following SIA68.  [...]
"It is my belief that MH370 likely flew in the shadow of SIA68 through India and Afghanistan airspace.  As MH370 was flying “dark” without transponder / ADS-B output, SIA68 would have had no knowledge that MH370 was anywhere around and as it entered Indian airspace, it would have shown up as one single blip on the radar with only the transponder information of SIA68 lighting up ATC and military radar screens."


One further piece of information, from the New York Times:

As of the aircraft's last ACARS ping, at 1:07 AM local time, the flight plan had already been altered in the plane's flight management system. This was while the crew was still in contact with Malaysian air traffic control, and giving no indication of anything wrong.

It is, of course, reasonable to suppose that the pilots might alter the flight path in response to some emergency --- but if they had, then why was there no hint of it in their radio communications with air traffic control. (Or someone's radio communications ... but the Malaysians are now saying that it was the copilot's voice on the last transmission.)

Like everything else that's been reported about this flight, it has to be taken with a grain of salt: the official story has changed more than once in significant ways. (It's no longer considered established fact that ACARS was disabled before the plane ceased voice communications; all we really know is that it did its regularly scheduled update at 1:07, and missed the next one, at 1:37.) But if this holds up, it's really hard to see how this was anything other than a deliberate choice by whoever was flying the airplane to take it off course.



With the Australian Maritime Safety Authority running the southern search, a lot more info is now available.
Links to their media packs in the comments to this post by Aussie aviation journalist Ben Sandilands (a useful source and filter).

BTW, the RNZAF Orion allocated to the search is a recently upgraded P-3K2.


- & to c ddodgson @ 205 as well
OK, I'll bite - that search area shown in the NY Times piece is scarily large & the "shadowing" thing shows (possibly) how a normal civilian ATC radar coud not see MH370.
Also Mr Ledgerwood's displayd flight-path for SIA68 is remarkably close to the "arc of probability" from the INMARSAT stallite pings.
Oh dear.
If this hypothesis, which fits, as far as we can see, all the supposedly-known "facts" then when & where did MH370 come down.
And, of course, in one piece or lots?


What if "we" did it?

Those Freescale engineers were perhaps going to China with the 'sploits they engineered for NSA wichs are now built into about 60% of the western IT infrastucture. The "assisted suicides" of the Indian BAE employees would also have done the trick (kill the bloke, tell the other blokes what could happen, show that "we" will get away with it) but --- this would take time and it sounds like it could be hard, so why not just crash a plane? It's only foreigners anyway and the plane itself is insured?

How? The 777 is a new plane, what if - as a "security precaution" after 9/11 - there is a hidden lockout on the controls so the plane can be piloted remotely by "the proper authorities"?


Ooh, I just remembered something - isn't the number 7500 some kind of airline code for "O halp I has been hijacked!", and in which case maybe that was why the plane flew at 27500 for a while? Someone had (mostly) hacked the plane, but the pilots still had (mostly) command?


Thought has just occurred.

How about making IFF transponders permanently powered when the "weight on wheels" sensor says "we're airborne"? One of the few reasons for manual control of IFF power is so that pilots can shut IFF down when taxiing at busy airfields.


It's the transponder code for that, yes. And the transponder was turned off.

However, though you may think of it as 27500 feet altitude, to a pilot that's flight level 275. So I think the association between FL 275 and transponder code 7500 is stretching it a lot.

(Mind you, the most recent episode of Jonathan Creek stretched even further.)


If this hypothesis, which fits, as far as we can see, all the supposedly-known "facts" then when & where did MH370 come down.
And, of course, in one piece or lots?

Well, the when should be reasonably clear and the where is somewhere around Turkmenistan / Uzbekistan / Kyrgyzstan / Tajikistan.
And I'm pretty sure that they landed in one piece; otherwise this stunt would be a waste of time and resources.

So now, somewhere in central Asia, there's an unknown group with a plane that has a reach of ca. 15.000 km and just needs refueling and a new payload. Probably in an area with lousy primary radar coverage so they can take off again and shadow another civilian airliner.

Oh dear, indeed.


How about making IFF transponders permanently powered when the "weight on wheels" sensor says "we're airborne"?

You still will need one or more circuit breakers somewhere. And you really want them where someone can get to them while in flight. Maybe not in the cockpit but don't most modern plains have a space full of circuit breakers and other things that are useful to get to if needed while in flight but not in the cockpit?


This is becoming pretty silly speculation for a case explainable by a depressurization or electrical fire followed by random flight profile changes as if flew around for a while before crashing.

We have nowhere near enough evidence that is holding up to scrutiny to support the hijack hypothesis.

Can't disprove it absent the plane. But the default hypothesis should be accident.


Unless, of course, it all went worng & crashed on or near to landing.
In which case the perpetrators will be keeping very quiet, until they can pull it off again, only more successfully.


Where on earth did you get that idea?

The aircraft apparently flew under autopilot control, between waypoints, out into the Bay of Bengal. In doing so it did everything to not appear out of the ordinary, excepting the altitude changes. Not random at all - pretty much the opposite of random.

The default hypothesis has to be malevolent take over of the aircraft - and frankly the attempts to say this was some kind of depressurisation or fire cause no longer stack up with the facts.


Accident? There's not a single shred of evidence for an accident:

# pieces of wreckage recovered after 10 days: 0

# of mid-air explosions monitored by satellites: 0

# of seismic events monitored that could indicate a major plane crash: 0

# of distress calls received: 0

Instead you need an accident scenario that explains why neither crew or passengers sent a distress call, and that disabled all communications (radio, cell phone, sat) but still allowed the plane to fly unattended for another 7 hours on a complicated course that flips between commercial air corridors in a way that makes it difficult to track.

Hey, for me and you it's all fun and games; we can speculate all we want. But security agencies should be very busy now to make sure that tomorrow or next week a passenger plane filled with explosives does NOT fall out of the blue air on NATO HQ Brussels, or the Vatican, or London City, or Tel Aviv, or Moscow.


This is becoming pretty silly speculation for a case explainable by a depressurization or electrical fire followed by random flight profile changes as if flew around for a while before crashing.

So, a programmed change in the flight path hard right of the plane's expected route, with no notice to air traffic control in repeated voice communications, is "explainable by depressurization or electrical fire"?

Please connect the dots...


How about making IFF transponders permanently powered when the "weight on wheels" sensor says "we're airborne"? One of the few reasons for manual control of IFF power is so that pilots can shut IFF down when taxiing at busy airfields.

In pilots' forums, I've seen them mention other conditions that happen at altitude. The two most salient are broken equipment screwing out garbage that's confusing ATC (and shut down at their request), and a transponder that's literally on fire. This stuff does actually happen --- and so far, rather more often than, well... whatever happened here.

(BTW, minor correction to prior comment: it was a programmed change hard left of the plane's expected route. Can't edit. Grump.)


Re: "# of seismic events monitored that could indicate a major plane crash: 0"

See my post 202 - two such events were reported.


Ok, but that's only one source. It's also unlikely that MH370 first plunged into the South China Sea northeast of its last position and then turned southwest to be observed on Malaysian military radar flying at different altitudes (although that would explain why it didn't leave any wreckage in the South China Sea).


You're right ... Post Thailand December 2004 and Japan 2011 tsunamis, one would expect several different sources of reliable seismic data available for comparison/cross-checking for that region.


Accident? There's not a single shred of evidence for an accident:

# pieces of wreckage recovered after 10 days: 0
# of mid-air explosions monitored by satellites: 0
# of seismic events monitored that could indicate a major plane crash: 0
# of distress calls received: 0

Same as for the Air France plane that went down over the Atlantic. Except there was wreckage found after 5 days. But that was due to searchers being able to find it on the known flight path. We don't have that here.


A plane crashing into the ocean might not produce noticeable seismic data, though. (Consider, again, the Air France crash in 2009.)

Here's the most recent report of an event from the tsunami warning buoy system.

No earthquakes greater than 2.5, and no meteorological reports from any ship or other observer. A plane hitting the water is going to produce some ripples that probably wouldn't be noticed, and it's not going to shake the seafloor noticeably. The seafloor is not thoroughly instrumented, especially away from known major faults.

The global seismometer network is pretty good, but it's mostly land-based, which makes sense both in terms of ease of installation and maintenance, and because it's designed to detect underground nuclear bomb tests.

I don't know what happened to that airplane, but this particular lack of evidence doesn't tell us much of anything.


Sorry if I'm repeating, but I don't have time to read all the earlier entries at the moment.

A: last known position on original flight path.
B: arc showing distance from satellite at last known signal from the aircraft.
T: time elapsed between A and B events.

Assume normal cruising speed.
Draw an arc from A with radius at distance the plane would have travelled in time T.

The arcs should intersect at two points. From those two points draw an arc with radius equal to the maximum remaining flight time. You could just assume the aircraft flew straight to establish a most-distant point.

Those two points would be prime locations to search. If the aircraft flew straight past A, it would change the intersects.

Again, apologies if I'm repeating, but none of the TV coverage seems to have analyzed the flight this way.


Assume normal cruising speed.
Draw an arc from A with radius at distance the plane would have travelled in time T.

This is where it breaks down:
a) speed could vary a lot
b) you only get a fixed distance if you assume that the plane traveled on a straight line.


I find it hard to give much credence to any of the heist/theft theories bouncing around -- they all seem overly complex with relatively poor payoff (even for 9-figure values) against the risk of things going wrong, or the level of attention the act will (and is) drawing from major national powers.

Hijacking gone wrong seems a strong contender (if it hadn't gone I would have expected someone to step forward and claim it by now), although the complex course changes may count against this theory too. Although, if you just want to engage in pure "terrorism" and force air travel to become even more fraught and inconvenient, disappearing an entire plane could be very effective (still would expect someone to claim responsibility though).

Mechanical failure/fire seems to be receding as an option as more and more details come to light. Not complete out yet, but at the lower end of the proability scale now (in my opinion).

One theory that is surging forward is pilot suicide. The elaborate course changes could either be seen as counting for or against this theory -- suppose the pilot wrestled with the thought for a while before eventually deciding to go through with his suicide? Could the reluctance of Malaysian authorities to allow outside investigators or media access to all details be an indication that they realised that they badly screwed up, missed warning signs, and effectively allowed 239 people to be murdered (including 150+ Chinese citizens -- is China likely to be a bit pissed about this?)

Although, if you just want to engage in pure "terrorism" and force air travel to become even more fraught and inconvenient, disappearing an entire plane could be very effective (still would expect someone to claim responsibility though).
I can think of one type of group who wouldn't: real eco-terrorists (as opposed to those who usually get the label). Reducing miles flown per year would be their actual aim, and not claiming responsibility gets you fear of the unexplained event as well as fear of scary people doing things to your plane.

Two more snippets ....
It is reported that a supposed low-flying plane was seen in the Maldives (but not near their main air-port.
The Thai authorities ONLY NOW ADMIT that they had the plane, breifly on ther radar-screens & have only now decided to share this data.


Certainly there are many variables. The plane could have flown longer before turning, the speed could have changed, the course may have been erratic, and many other factors could have been at play.

This was an exercise in "Kentucky windage": an approximation to focus on more likely locations than "somewhere on a great arc".

Perhaps some military or spy agency already knows the location of the aircraft and are busy writing a cover story to explain how they found it without revealing their capabilities.

Where's Sherlock Holmes when we need him?


The first snipped would only be interesting if that plane can not be matched against any known planes in that area. Maledives are quite busy with tourist planes and have more than one airport.

The second only proves that military doesnt like to publish their radar data. Lets wait when Australia, India, Iran and US show us theirs.


It's easier to look at the places that are covered by the two arcs and check if there is a possible flight route to these places. The southern arc is easy: only Christmas Island and coast of Indonesia make sense; Cocos Islands and NW Australia less so. All places would likely register an UFO in their radar.
That's even more so for all countries on the Northern arc, so one should check the shadowing possibilities. Flight routes for most of the flights of that night are available on, military should have even more complete data. Then you just go through all possibilities and look for areas with weak primary radar coverage where it could have landed.


Err, just on the way to bed, so somewhat short...

One thing that occurred to me is we don't know the aircraft, we just have an unlabelled point on some military radars. In an area with quite some military operations going one, even if the CIA was not just shipping some prisoners. And it seems unlikely the Malaysians are briefed on all US etc. military flights. So...

What if some of the reported positions are in fact other planes mistaken for our Boeing. That might even explain the proximity to other planes, since military aircrafts might not want to draw too much attention. Might be an AWACS, or a C-130, or...


Even if it landed "very hard" I assume?

I'm going with the "successful heist gorn worng at the last gasp" hypothesis ... at present.


As I understand it the Malaysian army tracked MH370 as long as it was in Malaysian airspace. And there won't be any unannounced flights - that would be an UFO.
If you start from a known airport you have to register with ATC; if you don't you'll be suspicious on military radar. If you don't want to draw attention you may use a misleading call sign, but you need to register with ATC.


That's of course possible, but then the situation would have solved itself to a certain extent. If you accept that MH370 was abducted by an experienced pilot and that the action was well-planned, it would be careless to ignore the possibility that the plane could be used in a second stage for a terror act. Always expect the worst and you'll only have pleasant surprises.


You just beat me to that suggestion.

If it's one of the ex-Soviet countries separatist organisations, then it unfortunately makes a certain amount of sense as a precursor to a terrorist attack. That would also mean that the passengers lives would be completely irrelevant to the perpetrators.

I hope this is not the case.

What is the current alert status of Russian air defence?


I find this all quite chilling. Much has been said about this I won't recap a thing except to add:

Someone goofed and they got pinged by satellites. It wasn't meticulously planned enough. Signature of a independent plot not a well resourced state level actor perhaps?

Chilling conclusion is that there's a rogue airliner out there that can now sneak about flight corridors by assuming any identity and a false flight plan and get close to any major city you can think of.

That is if it didn't lawn dart in to remote part of the ocean and sink quickly without any ELTs being triggered.

My pet wacky theory is the target is Moscow. It's the most recent state pissing people off that you might want to fly a plane in to.

Although Israel has tightened it's air security. I wonder what is going around intellegence community channels that isn't public knowledge.

If they failed and there's a smoking hole or a oil slick somewhere and if they are going to pull this stunt again to make an airliner disappear it's going to happen very soon.

Always expect the worst and you'll only have pleasant surprises.
That is where you are so wrong.

There is a related principle in engineering that is called a "margin of error". But what you are describing is paranoia. Paranoia consumes energy and leads to absurd acts; there is such a thing as being too paranoid. Paranoia is a pathological behaviour, not a synonym for cautiousness.

Example: faced with the question of whether Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, the US administration assumes the worst and invades. Reality ensues. How is that for a "pleasant surprise"?


Example: faced with the question of whether Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, the US administration assumes the worst and invades. Reality ensues. How is that for a "pleasant surprise"?

I'm convinced that nobody in the high levels of the Bush administration truly believed the WMD nonsense. It was a propaganda pretext manufactured to generate public support for an invasion, pure and simple, just like the Gliewitz incident.

If you read Shirer's "Rise and Fall of the Third Reich", and the section on the Nazi propaganda build-up to the invasion of Poland -- and indeed to their earlier invasions -- it followed a pattern. The build-up to the Iraq war followed the exact same play-book; start with "realist" hard talk in the press, accuse the target of some sort of atrocity, if/when the press start questioning the truth of your accusation don't respond -- move on to a new and different accusation, meanwhile denouncing the skeptics as weaklings and traitors.

It was a deliberate war of aggression. (And the propaganda campaign was successful enough that some people still seem to think Saddam was a threat to the west ...)

TL:DR; your example isn't.

I'm convinced that nobody in the high levels of the Bush administration truly believed the WMD nonsense. It was a propaganda pretext manufactured to generate public support for an invasion

Well that's my point. Iraq was not invaded by a dozen elderly white men, but by hundred of thousands of gullible young people, supported by a public opinion, who thought they were "expecting the worst and to have pleasant surprises".

I agree that they were fed the urge to think in this way by others, but I don't think that this is central to the issue.

If you want to see people deluding themselves, you can think of French officers in Algeria torturing against the prospect of a "Soviet naval base in Mers-el-Kébir" which never materialised (they thought that the FLN were allied to the Soviet Union; in fact they were just Algerian nationalists, not internationalist Communists). The US "Domino theory" works along the same lines.

I concede that you will always have a degree of suspicion as to whether these fears are genuine of mere propaganda instruments. Nevertheless, when people start talking of "planning for the worst", it's obvious that there is a strong tendency go very deep into sexy scenarios (Terrorists! International communist conspiracies! Satanist pedophiles!) and not quite as far deep into much more mundane and plausible scenarios (freak accidents, global warming, social inequalities).


Like Putin's claims against Ukraine, you mean?
[ NOT excusing the ghastly fact that some of the Ukrainians are not helping themselves, by being in an ultra-rightist political party, that appears to be anti-semitic ]
I'm really scared Putin will try the same trick (As used in Moldova, Georgia, Crimea) in say Königsberg / Lithuania, or Latvia or Estonia - the latter being where there are large Russian-speaking minorities.
Putin appears to be using the Sudeten playbook, incidentally.

Meanwhile, on-topic.
Reuters are suggesting the plane flew South - which means it went down in a vast ocean, & if that is the case, I think it will never be found.

OTOH, if pandemik @ 238's last sentence is correct, we need to continue to worry.


I agree that it's wrong when taken as a general motto for life. In this case I'm assuming a security agency's point of view. Since those waste energy in stupid stuff all the time anyway, I expect them in this case to

1) work out all possible scenarios and assess their threat level

2) check if there are enough safeguards against such a scenario

3) if not, implement new safeguards

If any dummy on the internet can work it out and it later happens that way, then you might as well disband NSA and CIA and just put all the radar and satellite data online for the public.

If any dummy on the internet can work it out and it later happens that way

Thing is, a dummy like that will appear to be right be reaching a correct answer from wrong premices and reasoning. It's a generalisation of the broken clock that gives the right time twice a day.

Thinking of the "abducted plane taking off with tones of explosives aboard" scenario, I think that it is both implausible (sounds like straight out of a Buck Danny or Dan Cooper album), but is also a funny scenario for wargaming exercises for an Air Force. I suspect that far from gaining the advantage of surprise from the implausibility of it, that trick would be mostly impossibly hard to pull out and would tip off air defences.


What if some government really wanted to find out how good other governments' radar coverage etc were in that area?

They all try to be cagey about revealing what they know, but over time they do release stuff, and they release stuff.

Is there a government that would sacrifice somebody else's airliner and somebody else's civilians to find that out? Is that area important enough to anybody to justify the level of expense etc required to bring it off?



The recommended way to test radar coverage is to use drones or small planes.


Chilling conclusion is that there's a rogue airliner out there that can now sneak about flight corridors
All planes "out there" can do that. Why go through with all the grim work of murder, piracy and sneaking past RADAR stations if all one need is a plane to drop on something?

One can hire a plane. It probably involves setting up a shell company to sign the leasing agreement, some money and paperwork - but hardly more work than is needed to successfully steal a plane and a lot less risky; one is "legal" all the way up to "the terrorist atrocity(tm)"

There has to be a specific and desperate need for exactly that plane to even bother with hijacking. Of course the high-jackers might be some retarded outfit, who just got lucky.


Yes, they do and that process is why we are totally screwed in terms of budgets, scope creep and actual security provided!

There will *always* exist possible scenarios, requiring more safeguards put in place. Until *nothing*, not even Brownian Motion, can be allowed to exist:

"Them particles could possible conspire to all go in the same direction at the same time, suddenly converting latent heat to movement with 100% efficiency. That's a pretty big BOMB right there. We need to find a way to stop time immediately to prevent that from happening"!

Effective security is not the absence- or the active removal of- all possible surprises, it is having the resources, skills and procedures in place to ensure that those surprises that do happen can be mitigated.

The principle works too; we see that people in countries with poor infrastructure are decimated by catastrophes that have single-digit casualties when they happen in 1'st world countries. This is not because we stopped hurricanes, tsunamis and earthquakes but because we have organisations in place to mitigate their effects.


That's a good argument. Reasons for this specific type of aircraft could be range (17000 km) or payload capacity (70 tons).
Reasons against hiring could be: fear of NSA screening for unusual money transfers or aircraft leases, pesky regulations regarding customs and insurance, difficulty to get the explosives to a place where they can get loaded onto the plane, need for anonymity even after the act, ...
whatever. I've never tried to set up an air cargo company, but I can imagine that it's more complicated than setting up a secret airfield in Turkmenistan and convincing a commercial pilot to abduct his plane to that place.


I'm convinced that nobody in the high levels of the Bush administration truly believed the WMD nonsense. It was a propaganda pretext manufactured to generate public support for an invasion, pure and simple, just like the Gliewitz incident.

I believe a slight variant of that.
1. WMD's were a nonsense pretext, agreed.
2. They were convinced Saddam had chemical weapons. Not that that's worth an invasion.
3. We conflate chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, even though I would say they are orders of magnitude apart.
4. Bush admin counted on saying "we found WMD's" with crappy, unusable mustard gas from 20 years ago.
5. Opponents sound ridiculous saying yes, you found WMD's, technically, but you said mushroom clouds, not mustard clouds.

Because if they really didn't think he had something, surely they would have planted it?


Ok, for what value of a "straight line"?
1) Along a line of Latitude or Longitude.
2) A "great circle" from point to point.
3) A rhumbline.


The post was an attempt to suggest a process of analysis based on the limited "facts" that were presented. The values of lines, radii, cruising speed, maximum flying time, and times can be filled in by one more informed than I am.

The post was a thought experiment/operational research problem. People with more specific data might use the approach to "fill in the blanks" to come up with areas to search.

No warranties expressed or implied.


One can buy or hire several large aircraft for not much money, put together a legitimate-front air cargo organisation, fly planes in and out of various airports to get a track record of being a second-string Fedex and then launch your surprise attacks when you decide the time is right. There is a thriving third-hand market for 747s, for example and several older models have been retasked as air cargo transports (one crashed in Afghanistan about a year ago when the cargo shifted during takeoff) and other uses like a firefighting water bomber and even a rocket launcher (Paul Allen's dual-hulled monster aircraft being built by Rutan is using the engines and other bits from a couple of junkyard 747s).

Or one can spectacularly abduct a single large airliner which requires a massive secret "Tracy Island" style runway to land it on and a giant hangar complex to hide it in while the world intensively searches a large area of the entire planet with many sophisticated instruments for the missing plane and its passengers. At that point if anything breaks or goes wrong with this white elephant (blown tyres, engine damage etc.) getting hold of spare parts surreptitiously will be very difficult to impossible never mind finding trained technicians and engineers who can actually fix the damn thing.

If I, God forbid, wanted to deliver 70 tonnes of explosive into a city centre somewhere I'd call up Eddie Stobart or Ryder and get a quote for delivery of several TEU containers to a rented warehouse in the heart of the city in question. A lot cheaper and less likely to attract any attention before things go boom.


Far-fetched scenarios have their place: they distinguish between what people could and would not do (or expect).

Most expert articles and newscast interviews I've seen harp on what normal pilot procedure is. This is missing the point: this disappearance isn't "normal". The salient point is: What is this craft's extreme capability.

Because if they really didn't think he had something, surely they would have planted it?
You're forgetting, this was the government who acted on the theory that they created their own reality. I firmly believe they didn't think they'd have to plant anything - and considering some polls say 1/3 of Americans still believe Iraq had WMDs, they had a point.

The trouble is, you can't really do it. You can paint a circle for maximum range given estimated fuel in tanks at the point they vanished and optimal flying. If you do that it's a huge area.

We can now cross some of that area off for various reasons. But yesterday's commentary on the BBC News is a good indicator of how bad that big circle is. They've narrowed the search area to a couple of likely areas. In total they're searching for a big plane - the size of 3 football pitches (it doesn't matter much what sort of football given the next bit) in a search space roughly the size of Australia! That's the new, "smaller" area remember.

And you're in a part of the world where most of the countries really don't like each other and a lot don't like the rest of the world much and they won't willing share what they know. If it had happened around Europe we know pretty much what everyone's radar can see, we train troops and air forces together too much not to have a pretty good idea, and we're all in a lot of treaties together. We also have much more powerful press. There'd be a lot more sharing and openness, a lot faster. A lot less squabbling about flying over my airspace and so on. And there's still a lot of ocean that a plane flying to the continent of North or South America could vanish into.


Um, gullible young people--some of them, the ones who joined up out of patriotism. Rather more of them were already in the Army and decided to follow orders rather than go to prison, and still more went in because their communities offered few other job prospects. Still others (a rather large amount) went in as mercenaries, and were paid handsomely for taking over functions that were previously done by soldiers.

As for Andreas' idea, I learned it as pessimism: if you're a pessimist, you're either right or you're pleasantly surprised. Whereas if you're an optimist, the world at best meets your expectations, and generally is worse. It's a good way to foster delusional thinking.

That's why I prefer pessimism: the world unexpectedly but fairly frequently turns out to be much better than I expected, and my day is made better thereby. Whereas if I'm right in my pessimism, I've prepped as best as possible for the problems I face. I realize this doesn't go over well with the "everything is fine" crowd, but it works for me.


Circling back to the original topic:

Look like Australian forces may have found a debris field in the Southern Ocean, 2500km off Perth. Largest object appears to be awash and is around 25m long -- too big to be a container washed overboard, but in the right range to be wing or fuselage debris from a crashed 777.

(Let's hope they found MH370 and can provide some closure for the families of the deceased. Then tell us -- the peanut gallery -- what happened.)


If the debris in the Southern Ocean is bits of the plane - then we will know where it ended up.
However, we still don't ( & probably never will know ) how & why that was so.
Unfortunately, that is important.


Also, unlike in Europe, we don't have situations where nation1's ATC (and ADGE if exists) coverage overlaps nation2's coverage. For instance, the UK coverage overlaps Ireland, Spain, France and Benelux. You can apply the same argument to pretty much any other nation in Europe and its neighbours.


and next post...

Those pictures certainly could be bits of aeroplane IMDecidedlyNonExpertO. If so, and then if they're parts of MH370, the good news is that we've a rough idea where to look for the FDRs; the bad news is that they're about 3 miles down.


The other thing is that it's pretty close to where the southern satellite-predicted track crosses the maximum range circle.


My personal feeling is that while this may be the most likely sign yet, I'm not sure it's even a 50:50, let alone a certainty. There's an awful lot of junk out there in the world's oceans. But definite kudos to the Aussies for finding this.


Though that would make the whole thing even stranger, since somewhat after the last contact the plane turned south again for a long time.

Makes some sense with the "go west to the coast line, then turn south for KL", though not much.


As authorities haven't completed their background checks on all of the crew and passengers, I wonder what they would be looking for.

Barring the stereotypical terrorist link, one item that really sticks out for me is:

If the climb to 45,000 feet was planned, say to extend the distance the craft would be able to cover, then high-altitude training or access to drugs that increase available red blood cells would be a clue. Deep sea diving is another possibility.


A question: Any idea where in the plane the Data Recorders are?
Are they buried in the main structure, or near the skin? I'm thinking that if they were near the skin they could be made to, possibly, break away on impact, and have airbags for flotation or protection on land. Not that that would guarantee them not being caught in the wreckage. Just a thought.

Also, if it is debris that has been spotted west of Australia, that seems to argue against hijacking or theft.


Also, if it is debris that has been spotted west of Australia, that seems to argue against hijacking or theft.

A previous airliner ditching was due to hijackers not believing that an aircraft has a finite range, so that's not a watertight argument. On the other hand, a set of hijackers knowledgeable enough to have the transponders turned off is probably not that stupid.

The transponder being disabled does imply either active and malign intent, or some interesting electrical failure mode. Crashing into the ocean a thousand miles from nowhere (sorry Perth, you're a lovely city and I like you, but I have to speak the truth) does make me downgrade the former possibility somewhat, but not entirely.

I'm going on one of two possibilities.

a) Hijack after all. Doing it during the ATC handover is a non-stupid time to do so. Figure the turn to the west, followed by (once past the west coast) a SW turn. At some point after that, the hijackers lose control again, but nobody else takes control and it just flies on till it crashes.

b) An electrical fire in the cockpit followed by the crew pulling every circuit breaker they dare. Manual turn back and navigation, following much the same route, but then the crew is overcome by smoke and that same SW course is followed, again till fuel depletion brings the flight down.

I don't reckon either of those particularly highly though.


@Bellingham: if the objects are 1500 west of Australia, then saying they are 1,000 miles EAST of nowhere is less prejudicial.

Oddly enough, when I fed "nowhere" into Google Maps, all of the locations given by Google were in the northern hemisphere. Technically, that means the plane seems to have crashed somewhere. That shows how Google sees the world, I guess.


But 1000 miles East of nowhere is in the middle of the outback though ... oh wait, sorry.

(The only person I know who regularly goes to Perth is a Malaysian (not a Malay, he's ethnic Chinese) who flies down from KL on Malaysian)


If you Google satellite coverage, you'll see that the place they're now searching has the least satellite coverage. So the plan to-date has been the high-tech equivalent of looking for one's lost keys near the streetlamp.


Whatever works. I was standing up for Perth, for no particular reason.

So the idea du jour is that the pilot ditched the plane where there's no satellite coverage in the southern ocean? Assuming they do actually find plane debris, and it's not another false alarm...

Time to dust of the R'lyeh* hypothesis again. This looks like something out of the Laundryverse at the moment.

*By the way, if Cthulhu has something resembling a cephalopodian mouth, how does he pronounce r's and l's? Inquiring minds want to know.


I guess the thing that surprises me - bearing in mind I have 0 experience in the field - is that regardless of the country involved it seems to take about 4 days from satellites taking pictures to the country releasing the information. China, Malaysia, Australia. I'm not sure about the US, don't remember hearing any satellite data from them.

Obviously something looking for explosions (or missile launches) would have to be a damn sight faster than this but I'd have expected a shorter turn around for significant wreckage in the search areas at the moment, even if 4 days (or longer) is the norm.

I guess I also wonder how useful satellite surveillance is in a battlefield situation. You can see that building site, sure. But a mobile launcher? It was there... but where is it now guys?


Right. I realised I wasn't too clear, and hadn't intended to imply any sort of accident--see my comment @149. I consider a pilot suicide type scenario as different from hijacking/theft. It's hard to imagine hijackers taking a plane to crash into the ocean without issuing a statement. Someone stealing it to repurpose it isn't going to crash it. And I think the idea of a cargo heist, ditching it to be met by a ship is near ludicrous. I think that would take too much coordination and so too many people involved, and probably some good navigation skills for the pilot with the nav equipment turned off.


Well, the only hijacking scenario with an ocean ditch that makes sense is if they ditched in the ocean and offloaded the passengers onto a waiting ship, from whence they could be ransomed in due course. The southern Indian Ocean is not one of the places that one associates with "soft landing." There's something about big waves and cold water that comes to mind with that body of water.

As it sounds, IF the wreckage found is from the plane, then perhaps the pilot wanted to disappear in a particularly senseless and horrific way. Personally, I'd prefer to look for some logic in this whole mess, but you know, there might not be a meaning beyond "they all died, and the pilot(s) worked hard to make sure we'd never figure out where or why." What an evil way to go.


Suicides usually don't take 7 hours - too much time to reconsider.


The BBC is reporting that British satellite company Inmarsat said there were very strong indications 10 days ago that the plane would be found either in the southern part of the Indian Ocean or in Central Asia, and not in the South China Sea or the Malacca Straits where Malaysian authorities continued to search.

Inmarsat says it learned on 11 March that the plane had continued to fly for seven hours or more but Malaysian authorities continued to search in the South China Sea and Malacca Strait. The company has gone public with the information because of concerns over the way the search operation has been handled.

Total incompetence, or conspiracy?
I'll go with the former, so far


And AFAIK planning an ocean ditch at night *is* suicide.


Did the plane ditch at night? I'm not sure of the time zone map, but the ocean site they're searching is at most one time zone west of where the plane took off. It's also a lot closer to the pole.

They took off at 00:41 (12:41 AM local), flew for seven hours, and (perhaps) hit the ocean. They would have ditched around 7-8 am local time, and sunrise in Perth (one timezone east of the ditch site) was 6:11 a.m.

So in the worst case, they landed at dawn or an hour after. I'd say that weather and wave height would be the problem, not darkness, aside from the whole insanity of ditching (or crashing) a plane in the ocean in the first place.


Suicides usually don't take 7 hours - too much time to reconsider.

Autopilot. Kill off the passengers, other pilot and crew, set course, kill yourself, and plane flies on until it's on vapors.


Total incompetence, or conspiracy?
I'll go with the former, so far

I would go with "reflexive hoarding of data"


Your theory lines up well with Chris Goodfellow's.

The possible ghost plane wreckage appears to be where Goodfellow predicted it should be.


Um, at this time of year, proximity to the poles makes very little difference - today being the equinox and all. 10 days ago too, just about everywhere would have had pretty close to 12 hours of day and night.

OK, there would be some variance, and closer to the poles its at it maximum, but it's measured in minutes at this time of year.


What are the odds searching an area of the ocean in the million square kilometer range that you won't find some sort of junk bobbing around? 24M is in the range of a boat or a piece of one.

It's not exactly the north pacific gyre but the search area is roughly latitude 45 S. The southern ocean is largely unobstructed by landmass such that your capsized yacht or message in a bottle could float for months, years and even do laps of the planet.


To go somewhat off-topic; I'm not that sure about that being a sign of Putin going there deliberately.

Every Middle and Eastern European country with more than 3 Russians living in some part will turn even closer to NATO. I guess they'll also look quite closely at the way they treat said Russian minorities, and if I had to bet it'd mean more minority rights or even more problematic treatment with regards to human rights, I'd guess the latter one; AFAIR the Russians in the Baltic have it quite bad already, guess it won't become better. It would also mean even more of the polite political door slamming Russia is already facing, leading to even less influence, which is likely to strengthen more extreme forces in Russia, undermining Putin's grip on power or forcing him to become even more hardline.

In the long run, all of this is going to lessen Russia's influence and Putin's power security. And the situation in Crimea has been going on for some time, so why can't he wait a little longer? Which leaves us with two options:

a) the guy is a political idiot and just got carried away.

b) Putin saw no other way to save face than staging the secession of the Crimea, he dealt not so much with external than with internal enemies. Or he had some other very good reason to do it.

If it was Putin at all, yes, I admit I watched "Sum of all Fears". Oh, and when we are at media consumption to be somewhat embarrassed of, AFAIR Huntington thought Ukraine one of his "clashes of civilizations", though he thought a situation there somewhat unlikely. Personally, I always thought Huntington had it somewhat backwards; cultures don't clash where they meet, the clashes are at the limit of power centres extending their influence.


El wrote:

I guess the thing that surprises me - bearing in mind I have 0 experience in the field - is that regardless of the country involved it seems to take about 4 days from satellites taking pictures to the country releasing the information. China, Malaysia, Australia. I'm not sure about the US, don't remember hearing any satellite data from them.
I guess I also wonder how useful satellite surveillance is in a battlefield situation. You can see that building site, sure. But a mobile launcher? It was there... but where is it now guys?

The expensive military/intelligence observation satellites often can't transmit in real time, you have to wait for the next time the satellite passes over your ground station for it to download all the images collected in the last orbit. (Unlike TV broadcasters, the CIA etc don't like sharing facilities.)

Then there's a LOT of data to go through, and even Google don't AFAIK have really good automated tools for this kind of searching. You'd have to set the sensitivity so high that there will be many false positives, so added time for manual checking.

And lastly there's the clearance process which probably accounts for more of the four days than everything else. There are passages in the Merchant Princes where Mike is working for the CIA and amazed by all the steps before he can talk to anyone or release anything, and most people agree that it really is like that.

A big reason for the ever-increasing use of drones by the US military is that they can finally get close to continuous surveillance without having to go through the various three letter agencies.


Ok first pilots always test the crew oxygen before flight. Also coms and transponder are VHF not sat. 3rd if there was a pilot incapacitation you don't instantly die, if the aircraft was set to 5000' there is a good chance the crew would wake up below 20k altitude. Also why would by fluke the aircraft flew a path that would evade most radar sigs? I think you may have to come up with a new hypothesis. Just speaking from over 10,000 hours of flight experience. This whole situation is way to fishy to be mechanical failure Even if in the end this is what they want us to believe. I have 2 thoughts 1) it was taken for its cargo an the capt May or maynot have been in on it. Or it is or was for at least some days in a hanger at Diego Garcia for a reason we will probably never know. Which is the only location that makes any sense at all. I'm not a conspiracy theorist in any way. But the way the media is being fed conflicting info constantly and broadcasting contradicting stories really seem like its intentional from their sources. I would look at tomnod images of Garcia for the entire morning of the disappearance starting a half hour before sunrise if these images exist. ( hope I'm wrong)


Problem with that idea is that then you've got to get rid of all the people. The US seems to have issues with keeping that many foreign detainees quietly, and there are (according to Wikipedia) 3,000 to 5,000 people on Diego Garcia at any one time. I'm not sure what the chances are of keeping something like this from leaking out. Perhaps I'm naive, but within the population who would have seen the plane come in around dawn and helped to hide it, no one got cold feet and screamed about it?

Additionally, Diego Garcia is under UK control, with a big American military base. That adds another layer of secrecy control.

Anyway, it's already in Wikipedia. To wit:
"The airstrip in Diego Garcia was among the top five locations with at least 1,000 meters of runway that were investigated as possible landing sites of the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. The other airstrips were located in the Maldives, Sri Lanka and India. These locations were based on data obtained from the flight simulator software discovered in the residence of Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, the pilot of the missing flight." The whiff of bovine excrement floats around the original report (link here)


If it landed at Diego Garcia it would habe been with knowledge and support of US military + spooks. And it doesnt mean it would have been noticed by anyone who was not in on it: how many plane spotters would be awake early morning before dawn? As a military base everyone would be used to plane landings at odd hours, no need to look out of the window. Only the personnel at work would know. If they gave an unsuspicous new transponder code to MH370 even ATC might have no idea. And of course they would force INMARSAT to publish fake satellite data that would place the missing plane at a safe distance away from DG.
Still, I cant imagine a reason that would make US spooks murder/disappear 239 innocents.


murder 239 innocents

Err, make that ' murdering 239 innocents without using a missile and with bringing their bodies to a US base.'


If the wreckage of the plane is in the Southern Ocean, and it's a big if, then there is a possible connection with the reported low overflight of the Maldives heading south. Consider the heist scenario with nearly a billion dollars being stolen from the Chinese and their friends. You fly to central Asia, unload the plane, remove black box, refuel, get it back in the air and set the autopilot for the Southern Ocean at the lowest possible flying altitude. Then you parachute out, leaving plane with an open hatch flying at low altitude to a crash on the other side of the world. Everybody thinks tragic accident and you walk away undetected with close to a billion dollars.


Slight problem with your Diego Garcia theory is there are no hangars at the airfield in question. There's an aircraft hardstand and some administration buildings and workshops but nothing remotely big enough for a 777 to fit into.

Google Earth will show you what the airfield there looks like in some detail, search for the Diego Garcia postcode which is BBND 1ZZ -- the current snapshot shows the hardstand is half-full of B-52s and 4-engined tankers; I've seen B-2s there in older snapshots. A 777 is noticeably larger than a B-52 and If MH370 was parked in the open there someone would have blabbed by now.


I don't think the times sum up. Refueling and flying Central Asia -> Maledives would take several hours; then the reported time of the sighting at the Maledives wouldn't match any more.


I'm not a conspiracy theorist in any way. But the way the media is being fed conflicting info constantly and broadcasting contradicting stories really seem like its intentional from their sources

Be careful: "I'm not a [...] but" is too frequently the self introduction of someone who is trying to deny something.

What we've been seeing is what we should expect when there's an almost total lack of information, and nobody actually knows what has happened. This happens every time we get a big breaking news story — the difference here is that we still have almost no facts, and a huge demand for them. It's really really difficult in such circumstances to give out any information. If you say "Well, we think it may have gone down here" when you're not yet sure, then when you discover it's a floating cable drum you've not helped anyone. But just repeating "We just don't know" doesn't satisfy people either. And when you've got multiple agencies, in multiple countries, in multiple languages, well, I would be astounded by any consistency in the near total lack of actual facts. And actual facts, if achievable at all, take time. Time to check radar logs for your entire country. Time to check satellite images for huge tracts of empty ocean. Time.

So, while it's not impossible for your scenario to be right (and if so, possibly arse-covering on someone's part), simpler explanations suffice.


No hangers? Check you imaging again my friend.


Ah no. He's said there isn't one. For you to disprove that, all you need do is to point to a single hanger remotely big enough to get a 777 into.

(Don't forget that a B777 is appreciable larger than those B52s.)


ELTs ...

Last night on CNN, one of their aviation experts commented how these newer model 777s all had anywhere from 2 to 10 built-in ELTs. While Malaysia did not explicitly order these devices, the manufacturer installs them anyways ... and possibly just doesn't bother to tell the client that they're there and transmitting.

ELTs are programmed to automatically ping under specific conditions, i.e., abrupt change in air speed, water, etc. Basically, this is yet another layer of redundancy to the black-box. This aviation expert had brought an ELT device to the set and demonstrated how it could be manually turned off. So again -- the safety devices' defaults are to transmit, requiring human agency (or a freakishly high set of coincidences) for all these devices to fail/stop transmitting at the same time.


Some other questions:

Who physically verifies the number and types of planes that take off and land (globally)? Codeshare usually applies to smaller craft, but I've been on a mid-size commercial flight where the flight number for that plane changed during a stop-over midway to my destination. As per Wikipedia "Thus, XX123, flight 123 operated by the airline XX, might also be sold by airline YY as YY456 and by ZZ as ZZ9876."

Where was this plane last checked/had a complete maintenance? (The various transmitters, particularly ELTs,could have been compromised at this point.)


Codeshares can get a bit ridiculous. While waiting for our plane a couple of weeks ago at LHR T5, I noted one flight shortly before ours that had six different flight numbers (BA1336/AB/CX/IB/JL/RJ). It's an internal flight from London to Newcastle being sold as part of a multi-hop route from all sorts of places.


There is one hangar on the hardstand area to the north-west side of the airbase at Diego Garcia. It measures 40 metres front to back, using the ruler function in Google Earth. A 777-200ER measures 63 metres nose to tail. Not going to fit.


Yes - codeshare flight numbers can be a pain.

I was wondering whether a flight codeshare could be used to make a flight seem to disappear. Hence my question re: physical count.


The 777-200ER in question isn't that new, it was delivered (I think) in 2002, twelve years ago.


Even if that hanger were long enough, it was probably not built with a tail 6 metres higher than that of a B52 in mind. So again, you'd have to leave the tail sticking out.


Codesharing doesn't actually matter in those terms though.

The flight board shows x numbers, but the flight takes off with one code, flies one leg with that code and lands with that code. Even in SFReader's example (296) the change of flight code happened during a mid-flight layover - so it had one code per flight leg.

I think you're confusing the passenger-facing coding with the ATC-facing coding.

As long as the ATC-facing coding has got a 1:1 match per flight: one plane number (transponder code/tail number) to one flight number then they're got a good tracking and auditing system (at least in general). If the passenger-facing side has 20 flight numbers filing one one plane, that doesn't matter. The carrier agrees that all these flight codes will fit onto this particular aircraft and it's flying under this umbrella code.

It's really not rocket science - lots of people do it in lots of fields.


I think you're confusing the passenger-facing coding with the ATC-facing coding.

Ah, no. I was merely pointing out that code sharing can get a bit ridiculous, not maintaining that any actual flight has more that one flight number as far as ATC is concerned. I expect each flight to have a single actual operator, even though occasionally a different operator's plane may be substituted (yes, I've flown an EasyJet non-codeshare flight on a Monarch plane).

Anyway, I'm under the impression it'd be Speedbird 1 contacting Heathrow, not BA001. Or Penguin 1 were it one of our local operators flying in, though I don't expect the BAS operates in the Northern Hemisphere even if it's run from here. But that's a one-to-one mapping, so it makes no real difference.

(For the sake of sanity, let's ignore cases like the X-15 when one aircraft takes off and two land. Or Branson's Virgin Galactic which will be a civilian equivalent.)


I don't think that hangar would even take a B-52, not completely at least.

Diego Garcia is one of those bits of Empire that Britain would have happily returned to its original owners (the Portugese?) or the natives after WWII but for the fact it makes an excellent unsinkable aircraft carrier for US military purposes. However it is basically a satellite bomber strip with only basic maintenance facilities rather than a real air base.

There's a tank farm to the west for aviation fuel and if you follow the road down the archipelago from the runway you'll spot the bomb magazines with blast walls between them to prevent fratricide if something goes boom prematurely. There's some radio arrays to the east and that's about it. It's no Edwards Air Force base, not even a Lakenheath.


What you're ignoring is the lagoon. Or what purports to be a lagoon: it's actually a Dr No style covered secret base operated by the lizard people. That's @joepilot's hanger.


It really needs a volcano. With a skull on the side. Or a cliff with a hangar inside that opens onto a grove of fold-down palm trees forming a runway. Then again I remember reading somewhere that the highest point on Diego Garcia was the berm around a swimming pool, seven metres ASL so sorry, no cliffs.


Re: "As long as the ATC-facing coding has got a 1:1 match per flight: one plane number (transponder code/tail number) to one flight number then they're got a good tracking and auditing system (at least in general)."

That's really the intent of my question: is the passcode system ever physically audited? Otherwise it's like any accounting system, i.e., subject to human error (fraud).


Err, may I remind you of David Icke's ideas about British royalty...



(Oh, OK. But I don't think too many people here need reminding. That's why I mentioned them.)


Just for those who want to do something somewhat more active, there's a crowdsourcing website where you can scan through satellite images of the southern ocean and look for debris. It's rather peaceful, all that ocean and cloud.


So let me get this straight.Pilot on toilet,Co-pilot locks cabin door and dies and that's it..for everyone!


You mean: Pilot in toilet, co-pilot locks cabin door and kills everyone be depressurizing plane, then steals aircraft?


What about information from various nations' sonar networks? It should be possible to get quite good position data if the aircraft hit the water. Am I completely wrong on this?


Again I've zero experience, but inverse-square law has to come into effect surely?

The place they're searching "with hope" according to the latest news is a long way from anywhere, 1,500 miles or so. That's a lot of distance to attenuate the signal. Also, given it's the Southern Ocean, it's a lot of big sloppy waves to chop around and make noise and obscure it on top as well.

It's obviously hard to get good data, but one site suggested surveillance sonar has a reliable range of 300-500 nautical miles and shows how by plugging the numbers into the equation for detection range. That might be an underestimate but to triple the range and therefore be 10x more sensitive seems like quite a stretch. Although I'm again not an expert, most navies have more submarines whose job is to try and follow the enemy's subs with nukes on them than nuke carrying subs of their own. The Royal Navy for example has 7 Fleet Submarines (the old Hunter-Killers) with 4 more on the way, and 4 Ballistic Submarines, 1 of which is always at sea. Thanks to BCSD syndrome, those 4 Ballistic Subs will be swapped out for 4 more, or the missile systems swapped around or whatever it is. If sonar detection worked reliably over nice long ranges out to mid-ocean we wouldn't play tag with them (them being the Russians again it seems) we'd just sit here and listen to where they were. Equally, no one would have invested so much in submarine delivery systems if they weren't so good at hiding.

This Real-time Long-Range Detection Sonar offers a maximum detection range of 250 metres (although it is offering much higher resolution than 'boss there was an anomalous splash over there').


I dont think the question was about military sonar but civil tsunami warning sonars. If the plane came down in one piece and at a steep enough angle, it would have made a splash big enough that it might have registered on those sonars.


Ok. I think they have a greater range but there's quite a few ifs in there...


France has passed along some new satellite imagery - same general area of the south Indian ocean.


Actually I was thinking of systems similar to the SOSUS hydrophones that are mounted throughout the oceans to track submarines. These are fixed systems designed to pick up mechanical sounds of submarines at great distance. A 777 crashing into the ocean should produce a rather unique, loud and wide signal. As it sinks there should still be enough violent processes going on at depth for recognizable artificial signals to propagate through the deep sound channel even if the crash area is not a primary surveillance zone.

Does anyone know if such a system is set up in that part of the world?


Nothing is certain in terms of ultra-secret military surveillance systems, but I'm fairly sure there isn't one in the region. My masters was on security issues in South-East Asia, and although there's a certain amount of cannoning-up going on there (including a handful of diesel subs) no-one really has the resources or need for anything like a SOSUS sytem. I'm not a submariner, but I also suspect that it would be a lousy place for a SOSUS system. Shallow water, lots of little islands, huge amounts of traffic, and short ranges; by the time your network detects a sub they're already near a target. It's not impossible people have thought about it - the arrival of modern attack subs in the region is something of a concern - but I'm not aware of any moves in that direction.

There's also a jurisdictional problem, as has been mentioned earlier in this thread: many of the SEA nations are very prickly about sovereignty, and even coordinating anti-piracy patrols has been an exercise in frustration because of that. It seems a bit unlikely that the geostrategic core of ASEAN - Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore - would be happy with anyone setting up such a sensor network unless they were involved, and even if they were it would still be difficult to agree on what to do about anything the network detected. My information is a few years out of date, but there's been no sign of any work being done on the organisational measures that would be necessary for such a system (I'd be looking for something like the IADS arrangement). Someone with more expertise might be able to offer a more professional opinion, however.


Does anyone know if such a system is set up in that part of the world?

Those systems were/are expensive to deploy and use. Very much so.

And as I understand it the US ones were basically deployed between Greenland and the UK to detect Soviet subs going out into the N. Atlantic. So that we (US/UK) could then track them. Similar I think setup was/is in Pacific in the area of Japan.

These are much more like picket lines than wide area coverage.

The southern Indian Ocean, and Pacific and Atlantic are so empty and the weather so bad that for the most part no one cares if you want to go there.


318 - 320 inc

SOSUS was designed and built to detect nuclear-powered submarines that stay submerged for literally months on end. By comparison diesel-electrics are trivial, because they have to surface for several hours out of an given day.


Not any more they don't -- Google for type 212 submarine. They're not as capable as a nuclear submarine but they're a third the size and cheaper to build and operate as long as the navy in question wants to use them protect their own coastlines, so-called "brown water" operations. The weapons carried and sensor suite fitout can be as good as the bigger nuke boats, typically. the British Astute nuclear boats are over 7000 tonnes compared to the 212's 2000 tonnes. Because of that and their all-up cost we'll only ever have a handful of them and at least one of them spends its time as a minder to the duty V-boat that's always on patrol leaving the rest to cover all necessary duties.

My suggestion for the Chinese Navy would be for them to churn out copies of the 212 or the Russian Lada (unfortunate connotations in that name, not helped by the fact the nameplate Lada sub has been a bit of a dog under test) and relearn wolfpack techniques as practiced by the Germans during the Last Unpleasantness. Having an American CVBG become the object of interest of a dozen or so competently-handled brown-water subs off the shores of, say, the rebel province of Formosa/Republic of Taiwan would be... interesting.


Unfortunately, it looks like "R'lyeh Option" turned out to be the most likely one: the plane senselessly headed for the depths of the Southern Indian Ocean.

We'll see if this report is correct. Right now it's based on a novel data analysis technique of the IMMARSAT data, plus the debris that's been sighted but not recovered. Turns out a cyclone is about to hit the search area, so the search will get that much more difficult.

That may be the ultimate story: a horror that makes no sense.

That may be the ultimate story: a horror that makes no sense.

In my experience life is, sometimes, there is nothing you can do to relieve the pain and suffering you see, except be there, and sometimes not even that.

makes no sense

Little does, as far as I can see. Were I a Mind as Banks postulated it might, but not in terms I could as I am now, understand. If I could understand, would I be me?


I believe the cockpit voice recorder should be able to store >6 hours of audio on 777-200ER. And it will have stopped recording on impact. So we may have an audio track from the cockpit, eventually.

I'm guessing our options are: (1) hijacking, (2) suicide by pilot (but why take 7 hours rather than nose-diving at the ocean?), (3) unprecedented avionics error, (4) pilots incapacitated (e.g. by smoke) and autopilot does the rest, and (4) Rumsfeldian "unknown unknowns".

But we won't know until they retrieve the CVR/FDR.

So I'm just hoping Boeing have as much influence over the US government and the NTSB as Airbus had over the French government in the wake of the AF447 loss. (The French government sent an SSN to the South Atlantic for six months to search for the missing Airbus 330; by some estimates the search/retrieval operation cost over €60M, but per government policy, Cost Was No Object: they wanted to know what had taken down an airliner are by their (part-owned) aircraft manufacturer and operated by their flag carrier; national pride was at stake.)


"(but why take 7 hours rather than nose-diving at the ocean?)"
There are often reasons for disguising a suicide, e.g. insurance or cultural reasons. Also, if the perpetrator died of anoxia then it wasn't 7 hours for them.
A big issue I see with the suicide theory is that while suicide is fairly common, mass murder/suicide is much less common.


47°9′S 126°43 47°9′S 126°43′W ?


Well, I'm very interested in that new data analysis technique that allows Inmarsat to separate pings from the southern hemisphere from pings from the Northern hemisphere.


Assuming that the current Malaysian statement is correct, I think there are two sad possibilities here that you nailed with your original post.

The making of two sharp turns aimed specifically to avoid as much ground detection as possible rules out simple failure IMHO.

1. Hijacking - possibly with an incompetent hijacker, or a pilot who chose to mislead the hijacker and sacrifice everyone.

2. Suicide or failed hijacking, where the people inside the cabin died and nobody could get inside the cabin as you suggested.

Certainly in the later case, and likely in the former case, everyone on that flight had six hours to make peace with themselves or whatever they believe. That's one long, long, lonely flight. Even if you are surrounded by your family and friends, it's a long stretch of horror.


There was a moderately long interview with the people that did the analysis on PM on Radio 4 yesterday between 5 and 5:15 UK time. Depending on where you live you may find it easy or hard to get access to it.

From what they said, they didn't distinguish between the Northern and Southern hemisphere, they did some analysis that gave them two possible routes. One went over the Southern Indian Ocean and the other flew over a load of very sensitive and highly radar and other covered airspace in the Northern hemisphere. They suggested that the chances of a 777 flying the Northern route without being detected and reported approached zero.

I'm guessing from what they said that they're looking at microsecond or lower level timestamps on the transmission and reception times at the satellite and using that to determine distance between the transmitter (and thus the plane) and the satellite. It will be a clever bit of maths to join the dots and plot those distance numbers onto a globe and so on but there's plenty of other data from planes that haven't gone missing you can check the code against first, then do the analysis on MH370's data to give your routes. It will have been helped by the fact it seems that MH370 turned onto this course, stayed at a steady height, direction and speed and just kept going once it was done. Apparently they sent the information on the 11th March.


Thanks for that. I note that the sources I checked were reticent (for whatever reasons) on the regeneration time of the fuel cells. Since some of them were pure commercial sources talking about civilian uses of the technology I'm left with a naggign suspicion that they're not a big leap forward in energy density or charge rates from "wet cells" or LiOn?


Bill: the list of aircraft accidents caused by pilot suicide is not as short as one would want.

See in particular Silk Air flight 185 and LAM flight 470.


The people justifyably feeling the heat, now are the Malaysian "authorities"
It seems INMARSAT told them, within 36 hours of the plnae going missing, approximately where to look (The two arcs ) - they went on "searching the S China Sea for another 2 or three DAYS.
From the Daily Telegraph whose news coverage of this has been very good.
Also this quote:Malaysian authorities have come under intense criticism for their handling of the ordeal, including claims they hid information and bungled the search
Total bureaucratic incompetence, or something to hiose (including said incompetence, of course) ??
INMARSAT are coming out of this smelling of roses - AIUI, that data-analysis involved creaful doppler-sampling of the signals & comparison against other similar, but "normal" flights, to give a null against which to compare their results.

Horrid prediction, corrupt Malaysian guvmint try to blame Imwar Ibrahim .....


Thanks for that info, El.

I just listened to the CNN interview with INMARSAT VP and it sounds quite fishy. "Doppler effect ruled out the Northern path" ?? The Doppler effect only gives you a measure of the relative speed toward the satellite; how's that supposed to be different on the symmetrical Northern and Southern paths? He also acknowledges Keith Ledger's thinking but never discusses his shadow theory. In fact, I've heard noone official explaining why the shadow theory was ruled out, except for quoting INMARSAT data. But they only know distance to satellite and relative speed towards satellite. Then the INMARSAT guys quote military radar of India and others as a reason why it's not the Northern path.


All but one of those seem to include a rapid descent or a direct crash. The exception is a pilot with no crew or passengers who killed himself and let the autopilot on. If MH370 was a suicide, then the pilot/copilot would have to kill his colleague and all others before activating the autopilot, otherwise they'd break into the cockpit and take back the aircraft. I'm not a psychologist, but that doesn't ring true to me.


Suicide theory speculation:
Pilot or co-pilot wants to die, but in a way that they can justify to themselves as not being suicide (don't forget, someone comtemplating suicide can be be irrational but highly logical). They decide that flying the plane until it runs out of fuel and crashes is the perfect way to do this, but there are two problems: passengers or other crew intervening, and ground control. The characteristics of the MH370 course changes address these: High level flight with cabin de-pressurised to incapacitate/kill passengers and crew (this assumes that the perpetrator has been able to gain time alone on flight-deck), and flying a course that avoids any landfall and radar coverage areas with the transponder off.


But why turn off the transponder? It's not as though it makes any difference whatsoever to the outcome. Ground control can only watch whatever happens.

Oh, OK, irrationality. Problem is that that can explain almost anything.

So far, the transponder being turned off implies either an attempt to evade detection, or a case where all the circuit breakers have been pulled because of a fire and the minimum required to keep the plane flying then replaced.


Not trying to wave irrationality as a get-out card for anything inexplicable, I just mean that the mindset of someone contemplating, planning or in the process of committing suicide can be very hard to understand. It could be that the perpetrator felt that they had to disappear as part of their suicide, maybe they thought that the plane might be intercepted if it could still be tracked (why would be shot down be different to crashing? -- I don't know, but it's conceivable that this is an important distinction in a disturbed mind).

All that being said, I personally believe that without further data, it's still a 50/50 call between pilot suicide and failed hijacking -- there are arguments to be made for and against both.


"Still, I cant imagine a reason that would make US spooks murder/disappear 239 innocents."

I can't imagine the US going any month without killing >239 innocents! They're not exactly noted for worrying about civilian casualties. If someone they wanted dead was on that plane, what's 238 innocents? Rather better-than-usual target to collateral ratio, for them.


Hey, didn't you read me addition about not using missiles and bringing the bodies to a US base?

Anyway, I don't think a rate of > 239/month is realistic. Apparently they used to kill 1000 civilians/year in Afghanistan, mostly by air strikes. Since the US don't do regular air strikes anywhere else nowadays, my estimate would be one order of magnitude lower than yours.


Well, if we could assume that the Malaysian air force combined multiple hits on unnamed aircraft into what they originally released of MH370's path, but that those weren't all one plane. Perhaps a US spy plane or something else illicit was transiting the area at the same time.

At that point, the story would be that MH370 had a major malfunction. The pilot turned left to try to get to the nearest runway he could land on. The plane then, somewhat out of control, went up to 45,000 feet and killed everyone, then wandered off on its new course on autopilot until it ran out of fuel and crashed into the sea.

Unfortunately, if the black box only records six hours of material, the seven hour death flight will be very silent.


As the maximum endurance of a B777-200ER -- without in-flight refuelling (a military option) -- is around 22 hours, I find it implausible that the flight data recorder will only store 6-7 hours of data.

The cockpit sound recorder might be more limited (AIUI in event of an incident the pilots are supposed to pop the breaker on it after landing so that it can be downloaded -- it records on a loop) but even so ...

(Wikipedia suggests they typically record 17-25 hours of data in a continuous loop.)


After some digging I found that INMARSAT used the satellite's variance in orbit position to match the combined Doppler shift of satellite movement and aircraft movement. Sounds just about plausible but I'm not convinced of the accuracy.


I can't imagine the US going any month without killing >239 innocents! They're not exactly noted for worrying about civilian casualties. If someone they wanted dead was on that plane, what's 238 innocents? Rather better-than-usual target to collateral ratio, for them.

That's either a rather flippant comment, or you're operating well into tinfoil hat territory.

A more realistic example is that of the US patrol base that was nearly overrun in Afghanistan a couple of years ago, while the watchkeepers at the nearby HQ were unwilling to release artillery support due to concerns about civilian casualties in the nearby village.

Yes, there have been tragedies, but assuming that western nations operate on a "deliberately kill 200 innocents to get a bad guy" basis is well into paranoia. After all, Edward Snowden and Julian Assange are still breathing having flown civil aviation...


Hope you're right. I'd heard a talking head saying six hours somewhere, but I haven't gone digging to find out.


I've read in pilots forums quite doubt as to whether a 777-200ER loaded with 7 hours fuel, passengers and cargo could reach anywhere near it's rated service ceiling let alone 45,000 feet. At least not without deliberate heroic effort and full take off power for an extended period of time, which more likely see it only approach it's rated service ceiling. Enormously wasteful of fuel, shortening the range of the rest of the flight.

Wikipedia defines the service ceiling as a maximum altitude where a given rate of climb can be achieved, such as 100-500 feet per minute for a jet aircraft (I suspect that higher number is for a military jet).

So you get some idea of how long it would take to climb the last stretch to that flight level.

Or it's just a mistake.


plausible but I'm not convinced of the accuracy.

It wasn't all THAT accurate. But it did let them know when it as headed toward the sat, tangent to the range arc, and away from the sat. That gives a fairly narrow path assuming they were not zig zagging. And by narrow I mean multiple miles wide path.


This just gets wierder Final Ping to satellite detected
I suppose, as is now usual, INMARSAT will have to go public with the data, because the gross incompetents in Malaysia still don't seem to get the message?


Conspiracy theory time
Probably, it's actually just yet another demonstration of the gross incompetence of the Malaysian "authorities". They all too claerly haven't leanrt yet about public information in the information age.
There has also been a reminder of a similar event 37 years ago ....


Conspiracy theory time

When isn't? ;-)

But I'm not surprised that some of the stuff is sealed: we already know that military doesn't like to give radar data away, and airport security recordings would need to be protected for privacy reasons (and/or security reasons - you don't want everyone to know exactly what is recorded by airport security when and where and how). Similar might be true for flight traffic transcripts, although I think the MH370 relevant parts should be released.


Oh dear...
Anwar Ibrahim has spoken out Shit-hits-fan time methinks.

...he had personally authorised the installation of “one of the most sophisticated radar” systems in the world, based near the South China Sea and covering Malaysia’s mainland and east and west coastlines, when he was the country’s finance minister in 1994.
He knew the pilot, personally & has called for ... an international commitee to take over the Malaysian-led operation, because the "integrity of the whole nation is at stake"

Should stir the pot, just a little?



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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on March 12, 2014 11:51 AM.

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