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Circumstantial connections

Until a couple of days ago, Malaysian Airlines owned or operated seventeen extended range Boeing 777s. Then, on the 8th, the 777-200ER operating flight MH370 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing was lost in flight with 239 souls on board. Wreckage has not yet been found.

(Tangential connection: Malaysian Airlines operates flights between Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur using 777-200ERs. Indeed, my wife and I flew KUL-AMS last April—there's a non-zero chance that I've flown on the aircraft that was lost, although we didn't make a note of the tail number at the time.)

I am now about to engage in baseless conspiracy-theorizing, which as you know has an almost zero probability of being an accurate reflection of the actual cause of the tragedy.

It has emerged that at least two passports used by passengers who booked tickets on MH370 were stolen—one Austrian and one Italian—in Thailand. The persons using these passports bought consecutive ticket numbers the day before MH370 departed, paying Thai Bhat to a China Southern rep: their tickets would have been issued by China Southern but the flight was operated by Malaysian as a code-share.

There are quite a lot of stolen and forged passports out there, and the probability of one being held by a passenger on a downed flight is non-zero: but the issue of consecutive-numbered tickets to two people with stolen passports suggests they were colluding or travelling together, for whatever purpose.

Per The Guardian

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

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

This routing should have raised concern at the time. Malaysian Airlines planes fly direct from KUL-AMS every day: why pay extra to spend ten hours in the transit lounge in Beijing?

However, if their objective was to get on a China Southern airliner bound for Beijing without having to fill out a Chinese visa application and thereby coming to the attention of the Chinese authorities—and if they didn't know about codeshares—this would be one way to do it.

Note: EU citizens transiting Beijing can obtain a 72-hour transit visa without applying in advance. It doesn't let them into the country, but it means they don't have to fill out any paperwork before they arrive, unlike the USA's advance passenger information requirement (which must be filed at least 72 hours before arrival).

It's fairly clear that China Southern were not checking the passport numbers presented at the point of sale against lists of stolen or cancelled passports.

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

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

I will be a lot happier if it is determined that this tragedy was the result of operator errors or a catastrophic mechanical failure, and the forged passports turn out to have been related to drug smuggling or human trafficking, or some other mundane crime. Because we can fix problems with aircraft and prevent this from happening again, and in the grand scheme of things petty crime does not signify. But the kind of human malice that would kill 240 random strangers to make a political point is something else, and if this was an act of terrorism then it is on a scale with the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie or of Air India 182 over the Atlantic. And I hope whoever planned it died in the act, or is sleeping very uneasily tonight.

127 Comments

1:

Due to the anniversary earlier in the week, The capsizing of the Herald of Free Enterprise has been on my mind. People who ought to know about this have said that of the 193 people who died, 4 were travelling on passports that weren't under their real names; 2 of them had not been identified at the time I talked with them about this (probably 15 years ago now; unless it came out for some other reason I assume they have never been identified). They had, of course, nothing to do with the accident.

As might be expected identification checks on cross-channel ferries have been improved since then, and are certainly more stringent on current air travel than on 80s passenger ships.

I suppose the question is - how many people travel on stolen, false or otherwise dodgy passports and are never caught because nothing happens on the journey? Which would help give an indication over if this is likely to be a coincidence or an outrageous coincidence (and hence possibly a conspiracy).

2:

how many people travel on stolen, false or otherwise dodgy passports

According to one report via PPRUNE, on aircraft it was in the region of 5% before 9/11. In other word, on an arbitrary aircraft in that era, of 200 aboard you'd expect 10 with incorrect ID.

Anyway, I'm about to go sit on an A319 for an hour and a half, so won't be following this thread for the next few hours.

3:

The same thought had crossed my mind.
This report on the BBC site mentions a crash in 2010 of an Air India flight where around 10 passengers had dodgy passports. That was a runway overshoot - tragic, but not an act of terrorism. Could just be illegal immigration.

4:

Another terrorism possibility is that the intended target was Europe but the explosives detonated prematurely.

5:

I've flown in and out of KL dozens of times on several airlines, usually MAS.

I've always noticed how easy customs,immigration, and security are there, even by regional standards. If this is in fact a terror incident (and given the known circumstances to date, I have a hard time seeing how it could not be) I gotta say I am just not surprised it happened from that airport on that airline.

6:

A very interesting airworthiness directive was issued by the FAA a few days ago, and comes into force on 9th April:

"SUMMARY: We are adopting a new airworthiness directive (AD) for certain The Boeing Company Model 777 airplanes. This AD was prompted by a report of cracking in the fuselage skin underneath the satellite communication (SATCOM) antenna adapter. This AD requires repetitive inspections of the visible fuselage skin and doubler if installed, for cracking, corrosion, and any indication of contact of a certain fastener to a bonding jumper, and repair if necessary. We are issuing this AD to detect and correct cracking and corrosion in the fuselage skin, which could lead to rapid decompression and loss of structural integrity of the airplane."

The first thing to be taken out in such a failure would be the comms. (with credit to the "Yacht Pilot" commenting on the Aviation Herald, who spotted this)

7:

Note: "incorrect ID" != "dodgy passports", for most of these numbers. IIRC, it also included a lot of "traded" airline tickets on domestic flights in the US.

That is, anyone who couldn't make a flight might sell on or pass on the ticket to someone else. As you didn't need ID for internal travel, you'd board as whoever you got the ticket from.

For airlines depending on overbooking flights for their profit margin this was becoming increasingly untenable, especially with the Internet, Craigslist and eBay appearing. Airlines took the opportunity to lobby, and it's now illegal.

8:

How did this happen? ... Worst of both worlds?

Assange is saying that we're being increasingly surveilled, yet the security at major international airports resembles Swiss cheese.

9:

Assange is saying that we're being increasingly surveilled, yet the security at major international airports resembles Swiss cheese.

The one does not preclude the other.

In fact, efficient, effective security at airports would remove a lot of the justification for ubiquitous surveillance.

Inefficiency is profitable.

10:

Actually, it seems Rupert Murdoch has similar ideas, for what it's worth...

https://twitter.com/rupertmurdoch/statuses/442680012630945792

Come to think about it, if he thinks it's Islamists, it most likely ain't islamists, err, or similar...

12:

I am of one mind with you on the subject of "anything Rupe believes".

13:

I don't want to end up too far afield by going on about Murdoch, but if you accept that he /believes/ everything he /says/ then you've already fallen for it.

15:

Let's do this the easy way: ask the rwlevant questions, hope that crowdsourcing the research gives us useful answers.

1: How many airliners have been brought down by terrorists, ever?

2: How many airliners have been brought down by catastrophic structural, mechanical, or control failure in the last 40 years?

3: I read somewhere (and can't pin down a source) that half of all onboard explosions on civil airliners are followed by a controlled landing. Bombs are dangerous, but less effective than you think. Guess a probability that a detonated device would generate *no* emergency radio traffic.

4: How much do airlines spend on media advertising? Is it possible that someone might ask their advertisers very, very nicely before speculating that airliners are less than absolutely safe, when other explanations for a missing aircraft are available?

5: How much would you have to spend to have the media influence of people who want you to be so afraid of terrorism that you'll tolerate the persecution of religious minorities and ubiquitious surveillance of the majority?

5: How much media coverage - if there is a meaningful percentage measure - will focus on terrorism rather than failure of the aircraft?


16:

Aircraft disappearing without any transmissions doesn't have to be a bomb or a sudden failure. Air France Flight 447 is a perfect example of crashing with full (perceived) control with no outside communications and a bomb was suspected until the black box was found and finally the finger was correctly pointed to human error (which was not responding to the situation correctly and making incorrect assumptions, eventually causing a stall all the way to the ocean surface).

17:

It just seems more likely you'd find stolen passports in use along routes known to have such lax security. Such I'd be surprised if a plane crashed and the passenger manifest was squeaky clean. So we're hearing the background noise of criminals and illegal immigrants. Which is the margin where a terrorist would hide of course.

Therefore I propose that a terror plot was foiled when human error caused a airliner to plummet out of control into the ocean.

18:

Hairyears: see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_aircraft_accidents_and_incidents_resulting_in_at_least_50_fatalities

You can sort the table by flight phase, you want "ENR" for en route at cruise altitude.

Most losses in that phase are normal accidents, but a fair number of bombs, hijackings, or external attacks (SAM, AA gunfire, air-to-air attack).

Btw, one can detonate medium sized bombs harmlessly in many aircraft, but well placed surprisingly small ones can blow the fuselage into separate pieces immediately. The people who insinuate bombs aren't that high risk are making a lot of assumptions.

19:

<Utter_Conspiracy_Theory>
China intelligence discovered the presence of Bad People on the plane, after it had taken off. They then dispatched the plane through military means.
</Utter_Conspiracy_Theory>

20:

A point that (at this point in time!) speaks against a terrorist attack is the lack of anyone claiming responsibility.

21:

Having just read Max Barry's _Jennifer Government_ and in very bad taste I propose that the aircraft was shot down by a major shoe manufacturer.

22:

The stolen passports belonged to an Austrian and an Italian, so perhaps we can rule out Uighurs. Even the sleepiest passport inspector might sit up and take notice if someone of Central Asian appearance presented a passport with a European name and possibly a photo (the passport could have been altered, but I think the name at least would need to remain the same).

So it's likely that the passport holders looked broadly like what a Malaysian inspector might expect an Italian and an Austrian to look like, i.e. Caucasian. Al-Qaeda is said to be desperate to recruit 'clean skins' - people who have European or other Western passports and no links to terrorism. If they had managed to recruit two European-looking wannabe martyrs, wouldn't they be more likely to deploy them somewhere in Europe, rather than squandering them in an attack in China?

Of course, the ultimate destination of these people was supposedly Europe, so maybe they were taking a roundabout route in order to avoid airports with known good security checks. Still, my recollection of KUL is that security wasn't particularly lax. Moreover, if either of the two had had anything nasty in their luggage, they'd have had it scanned twice before it got anywhere near European airspace. That seems like a significant risk to take.

Any of my stated or unstated assumptions could be wrong. Nevertheless, for the reasons stated I'd need a lot more evidence (which may surface in due course) to convince me that this was necessarily a terrorist attack.

23:

Well, first of you might assume that the old joke by European people not that acquainted with East Asians, e.g. "they look all the same to me", also known as the cross-race effect

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cross-race_effect

works both ways. So the usual Central Asian and the usual Danish might look different to you, but not necessarily for Malaysian airport personal.

Second of, both Austria and Italy have sizable immigration from all around the world, and in the case of Austria/Germany there are ethnic Germans from the former UdSSR who got deported to Central Asia under Stalin and somewhat mixed with the locals before returning into "die alte Heimat", so explaining it away as "my mother is from Kasachstan" is quite easy.

Third of, just look at some pictures of Uighurs:

https://www.google.de/search?q=uighurs&source=lnms&tbm=isch

Central Asia has been something of a melting-pot for different ethnic groups and has been for some time; remember the "redhead mummies" from Tarim? That's in Xinjiang actually:

http://www.biomedcentral.com/1741-7007/8/15#IDAH0OBH

The usual Uighur might look somewhat different from the usual Austrian, but I guess there is going to be quite an overlap between the two populations; the same goes for Italy.

So while personally I tend to think the Uighur scenario is somewhat improbable, ruling it out because of phenotypic differences between Europeans and Uighurs is not possible.

24:

Thailand to Europe via a non-obvious route (since the tickets were bought in Thailand, but the flight took off from KL, I'm assuming another local hop) using stolen passports. Got to say, that sounds much more drug smuggling than anything else - particularly since no terrorist group has claimed it.

The correlation between the point all contact was lost and the point at which the aircraft was expected to make a heading change seems to be the most indicative to date.

25:

When I was in Xinjiang a few years ago the Uighurs wouldn't have looked out of place in rural Italy or Greece. I had a Uighur boy in one of my classes and he looked Caucasian: white skin, round eyes, curly brown hair. So I wouldn't rule out Uighurs. (I don't want it to be, but I don't see it as impossible on the basis of looks.)

26:

"Got to say, that sounds much more drug smuggling than anything else.."
Continuing down this line of wild speculation, perhaps the drug mules thought they were carrying concealed drugs, but they were carrying something else.

27:

Explosive pellets in their intestines? With a detonator? Unlikely, I think.

Still nobody has claimed responsibility. Most terrorist groups aren't that shy, usually. So in my view an accident is becoming more likely, as more time passes.

Or, to open up an unrelated line of wild speculation, if it was a bomb, there are other possible culprits than terrorists: an assassination carried out by a spook agency, or an insurance fraud.

28:

Monday morning, and the BBC slips into a report that the focus of a search has moved from the South China Sea to the Malacca Strait, which looks bizarre on the map.

But the BBC can get thoroughly messed up with English geography—don't trust there traffic news map of roadworks locations—so I give it little significance.

Though, when they say a plane has vanished from radar, the blip they usually refer to is a signal broadcast by a transponder on the plane, with an identity code and such data as the altitude. Depending where it happens, there might not be any radar which can pick up the plane directly.

29:

Precisely
IF "Terrrst attack" THEN one would expect a claim that
WE DID IT
to strike against the evvvul Chinese/Kaffir/Thai/Malay [Insert$NAME_here]adjective ....

Also the US have publicly admitted that they "watch" all aircraft & there wasn't an explosion - or so they claim.

Also the err, "tension" between the Han chinese & the Uighurs isn't (principally) about relgion, even though most Uighurs are muslims. It's about the relentless racism of the Han & they way they treat people (ask the Tibetans) not from the Central Kingdom.

30:

IF "Terrrst attack" THEN one would expect a claim that WE DID IT

Nope, not necessarily: for example, whoever bombed Air India flight 182 didn't claim responsibility (it's generally blamed on a Sikh militant group). If the hypothetical attackers got the wrong target (if they'd wanted to hit China Southern and got Malaysian instead) this might be sufficiently embarrassing to shut them up.

And as often as not imposter groups claim responsibility for major outrages to big up their own reputation.

31:

Coincidental with the Air India 182 bombing was the Narita Airport bombing which occurred during handling of luggage from Air India flight 301. Presumably, the timing device on that bomb experienced partial failure and detonated later than when the flight was over the Pacific Ocean.

Or, it could simply be a domestic murder with multiple bystanders as was one of the first in-flight bombing of an airliner.

32:

Any military or piratical 'sea exercises' going on in that area? Was this a case of someone using Bondian-villain laser light or magnetic interference tech?

The Malacca Strait apparently has a history of pirates, ship-wrecks, is a major shipping lane for oil, etc. That's a longish list of very deep pockets.

33:

Also look at who would benefit financially from this airline's drop in stock prices which currently exceed any drop in bookings, cancellations.

34:

On another note, to tell a funny story, yours truly's brother spent some days in Turkey a few years ago and was busy explaining he was not Turkish for quite some time; after that, they mainly asked him which of his parents were Turkish. And when that one was also denied, one of them took him by the side, said he understood he didn't want it to be known, but he could tell him, he was Greek, right?

Actually, he takes more like his and yours truly's mother in looks, so we could argue if his, err, ethnic look takes from Westphalia or Silesia. Actually, they have nice stories to tell when they both go by car and police stops them...

Yours truly's stories, OTOH, usually concern people somewhat closer to the Baltic Sea or east of it, though he has been said to look like a Mexican, err:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_C.K.

So much for physical anthropology...

35:

From the Wiki, concerning the sinking of the Herald of Free Enterprise:

In October 1987, a coroner's inquest jury into the capsizing returned verdicts of unlawful killing. Seven individuals involved at the company were charged with gross negligence manslaughter, and the operating company, P&O European Ferries (Dover) Ltd, was charged with corporate manslaughter, but the case collapsed after Justice Turner directed the jury to acquit the company and the five most senior individual defendants.[13] It did, however, set a precedent that corporate manslaughter is legally admissible in English courts. The disaster was one of a number that influenced thinking leading to the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998.[14]

Thoughts:
1. The Herald of Free Enterprise, never a more apt name for a ship that sinks due to corporate negligence. The irony would be delicious if not for all the victims.
2. How the hell can a judge tell the jury what to decide? British law?

36:

No "black Box signal" atrikes me as very odd indeed ...
Even noting the comment #6 from Feorag.
Unless it's down in Malasia itself (the peninsula still hs cansiderable areas of jungly thick growth) though one would expect a "new hole" to be instantly vivinle from the air/satellite.
Maybe it's gone (Laundry) extradimensional?

37:

Belly bombs are not really workable, from what I've heard. The human body muffles the explosion too much. I did hear about an attack allegedly carried out with a bomber using a bit of plastique crafted into an oblong shape and inserted into a specific body cavity. Abdullah al-Asiri was the bomber. It's unclear whether he tried to employ the device in situ or after removal. He tried to assassinate Muhammad bin Nayef. It did not go well.

The suicide vests aren't really killing from explosive force so much as from shrapnel. Well, the bomber is killed by it, often times the head is explosively decoupled from the body, but it's the fast-moving bits of metal that cause most of the casualties.

38:

Point 2.
A judge can always direct a jury to find not guilty, at almost any time.
One of the better points, actually - especially in the case of malicious prosecutions by other sections of "the authorities".

39:

Personally, I hope we learn quite a lot about the politics of the Gulf of Thailand, which is (theoretically at least) where the plane went down. All I know right now is that it's bordered by Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Malaysia, that it's fairly shallow (average 45 m), and that there are oil slicks floating in it which have no known source.

One comment from the Wikipedia article is that the Gulf of Thailand is "rich in sediments." This makes me wonder whether we have here the blue-water equivalent of the 1996 crash of ValuJet Flight 592, which came down fairly vertically as the result of a fire and buried itself in the Everglades. Add 45 meters of water on top of thick sediments that entomb the crash, and it might turn out to be very hard to find the wreck, much less recover anything.

40:

The Guay bombing was the second hull-loss of an aircraft due to an inflight bomb explosion, apparently.

I always thought the first was an attempt to assassinate Zhou Enlai on an Air India Constellation in 1955 [which killed sixteen people, none of whom were Zhou Enlai], but I'm wrong too.

I'm of the opinion that any modern passenger airliner that disintegrates at 30000ft was deliberately sabotaged or shot down, until proved otherwise.

So far I've only been wrong once with AFR447

The chances of any exotic, unconventional weapon being used is also remote, with more reliable alternatives namely, AAMs, SAMs, 20mm cannon shells and IEDs [or "infernal devices" as they used to call 'em] being the most likely cause of explosive decompression.

41:

2. How the hell can a judge tell the jury what to decide? British law?

What Greg said. A judge can order a jury to find the accused not guilty, if there's some procedural or legal reason why the entire foundation of the prosecution case is flawed -- that is, that the charge is inapplicable.

(Judges can't order a jury to find the accused guilty, although I believe Judge Jeffreys tried, and sentenced the jury to death for contempt of court when they refused to play ball. Spoiler: they weren't hanged, and JJ's odious track record is a major reason why English judges don't get to dictate to juries these days).

42:

Literally order a jury to find not guilty?

To me, on this side of the Atlantic, that's weird; what we get here is a judge ruling that, as a matter of law, not fact, the verdict is such-and-such. (I'm not familiar enough with criminal law here to know if a judge can decide a defendant is guilty this way; I know that "not guilty" happens moderately often with that justification. In civil cases, judges ruling for either party happens moderately often.)

43:

From the update in the Torygraph:
{BEGIN QUOTE:
Here's a look at some recent crashes and how long it took to recover the two parts of the black box, the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) and the flight data recorder (FDR).
Asiana Air 991 - Jul 28, 2011
FDR: never found
CVR: never found
Air France 447 - Jun 1, 2009
FDR: 1 year 11 months
CVR: 1 year 11 months 2 days
Adam Air KI 574 - Jan. 1, 2007
FDR: 7 months 27 days
CVR: 7 months 28 days
Gol Airlines 190 - Sept. 29, 2006
FDR: 3 days
CVR: 26 days
Armavia Air 967 - May 3, 2006
FDR: 20 days
CVR: 19 days
Flash Airlines 504 - Jan. 3, 2004
FDR: 14 days
CVR: 15 days
{ENDQUOTE

Which should tell us something?


44:

I'm of the opinion that any modern passenger airliner that disintegrates at 30000ft was deliberately sabotaged or shot down, until proved otherwise.

Except, I would think, the more complex they get the more potential points of failure. I can see the satellite antenna problem mentioned @6 causing a catastrophic failure accompanied with loss of communications. Hopefully it won't take as long to find the flight recorder as it did for Air France 447.

45:

A judge can order a jury to find the accused not guilty, if there's some procedural or legal reason why the entire foundation of the prosecution case is flawed -- that is, that the charge is inapplicable.

I suspect that in the US, under those circumstances, a judge would rule a mistrial.

46:

Also, nothing I've seen about this mentions what the weather conditions were.

47:

Everyone is missing the obvious that accounts for all the details. Specifically, the Austrian and the Spaniard didn't have real passports because they were from the future. Having procured passports, they were able to transport the entire plane back to 2427. Hence no explosion or and no outgoing distress signals. In 2427 the fertile passengers will be used to repopulate the planet because all the 2427 native have become sterile due to radiation poisoning.

48:

A mistrial permits a re-trial to take place. "Judge instructs jury to return not guilty" typically happens when a trial was set up and the Crown Prosecution Service declined to present any evidence against the accused because [insert massive prosecution fuck-up here]. In this case a trial on the evidence available (none) has been held and, surprise, a guilty verdict would be utterly perverse, so the accused is by definition not guilty.

50:

A directed verdict of acquittal is uncommon but hardly unheard of in these here United States. Here's a discussion of the situation.

51:

ADMINISTRATIVE NOTE to von.hitchofen:

Please test your hyperlinks by previewing before you hit "submit", m'kay?

(That's the second one I've had to troubleshoot today.)

52:

ooops, sorry, old chap...I thought I had....%_%

I'll just put the bare url in next time

53:

I should add that the 777 is 63.7 to 73.9 meters long, so it crashed into water that is LESS THAN ONE PLANE-LENGTH DEEP!. Yes, it almost certainly disintegrated on impact, but I'm really getting curious about the bottom under the Gulf of Thailand. Like the Everglades, could it swallow the debris from a jet impact?

54:

@45:
I suspect that in the US, under those circumstances, a judge would rule a mistrial.
---
It depends on the jurisdiction; the 50 states plus various Federal courts, and whether it's a civil or criminal court. They're all descendants of British Common Law, but the details have diverged somewhat over the centuries, and the BCL has evolved as well.

Specifically, the use and powers of grand juries and of jury nullification vary widely among the states.

55:

9M-MRO was a Boeing 777-200ER so 199 ft 11 in (60.9 m) wingspan and 209 ft 1 in (63.7 m) fuselage length

Even depending on speed of descent/ angle of impact only the engines would have enough mass to sink into the sediment.

I know nothing about the peculiarities of the sea bed in the Gulf of Thailand, but the HMS Prince of Wales [displacement 43,786 tons] still hasn't sunk into the seabed and it's been there seventy-two years.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Prince_of_Wales_%2853%29#The_wreck

56:

Even depending on speed of descent/ angle of impact only the engines would have enough mass to sink into the sediment.

Probably only the engines would be intact and recognizable after it hit the water, unless the pilots managed to make a controlled ditching (extremely rare and difficult: AIUI never successfully done at sea in a wide-body airliner).

Stall speed for a 777-200ER is on the order of 156mph, higher if it has more fuel on board or depending on ambient temperature and pressure. If it drops below that speed it noses down and loses altitude rapidly: it only goes slower on landing because of ground effect cushioning (the layer of air trapped between wings and surface).

So unless it made a very good controlled ditching, it probably got turned to shrapnel on impact (at around 150mph, with the wave tops). As for a nose-first entry ... aircraft aren't built to survive ramming water at 500-650mph; at that speed, it might as well be ramming a granite mountain side.

57:

Yes, but remember that ValuJet Flight 592 managed to bury itself in the Everglades (in pieces, so far as I understand), and it was a real mess to extract. I'm just trying to understand why a bunch of boats searching an apparently shallow sea aren't seeing a darned thing so far.

58:

Does the UK have the "double jeopardy" provision against being tried twice for the same offense?

59:

flightradar24.com's view of MH370's flightpath X 12

www.youtube.com/watch?v=XnfXwyh-8KY

There's no evidence to suggest that the point at 3.23 was necessarily the point where it came down, only when its transponder ceased broadcasting

It could have broken up in mid-air, dived into the sea or been flown on by persons unknown into...the Twilight Zone...or Gruinmarkt...

Even once the transponder has ceased return altitude, velocity, and bearing information, Traffic Control would still have a radar return from the airliner or multiple radar returns if it broke up, as per PA103 at Lockerbie.

It hasn't been reported that ATC operators saw anything like this, to my knowledge

If it did hit the sea in one piece, or in many, it would have broken into parts small enough and light enough to that would float.

61:

The point about judges directing juries to acquit is that once a defendant has been charged (at least, in English law) then either there must be a verdict, or the charges must be formally withdrawn. My understanding is that if this happens in the course of a trial it is traditional that rather than discharge the jury and withdraw the charges the jury is directed to return a Not Guilty verdict.

Two common reasons for this:

- Something emerges in trial (e.g. that crucial evidence is actually inadmissible) which renders the prosecution case fatally flawed. If it becomes clear that a conviction is legally impossible then a Not Guilty verdict will be directed.

- At the end of the prosecution case the defence seeks a ruling of 'no case to answer', i.e. a ruling from the judge that on the evidence put by the prosecution, no properly-directed jury could possibly find the defendant guilty to the criminal standard of proof. This happens where no fatal flaw has emerged in the prosecution case but it has come out weak enough - typically through prosecution witnesses doing badly under cross-examination - that it's clear that the charge won't be made out.

I saw the latter happen as a pupil barrister. At the close of the prosecution case, the defence counsel asked if he could raise a legal point, so the jury was sent out. He then went through all the flaws he'd exposed in the prosecution case - and it was full of holes - and put it to the judge that they jury could not possibly reach a guilty verdict on such evidence, even before the defence case had been put against it. The judge agreed, called the jury back in, and told the foreperson of the jury that as a legal formality she was to return a not guilty verdict on behalf of the jury there and then.

62:

It's not quite that simple, as the Wikipedia article explains. A second trial after an acquittal requires compelling new evidence, and it has to be evidence that could not reasonably have been obtained and used at the first trial (e.g. where forensic techniques have advanced in the mean time.) Simply finding another witness isn't good enough.

This only applies to the most serious offences, and I believe it has been used twice (at least, in respect of murder charges) in the decade since it came in.

63:

"Judge instructs jury to return not guilty" typically happens when a trial was set up and the Crown Prosecution Service declined to present any evidence against the accused because [insert massive prosecution fuck-up here].

I did jury service on a trial where 2 of the three defendants had exactly this happen. We were told to vote them not guilty, and we did.

The third defendant got something else and remembering that would probably violate the sanctity of the jury room.

Interesting to do, though, and you get out early enough every day that if you work flexible hours you can still get a reasonable day's work done afterwards on a 2-week trial.

64:

von.hitchofen wrote in part:
Even once the transponder has ceased return altitude, velocity, and bearing information, Traffic Control would still have a radar return from the airliner or multiple radar returns if it broke up, as per PA103 at Lockerbie.

For what it's worth -

Different types of radar are used in different locations. Primary radar - what most people think of, is what militaries and high-precision civilian applications use. It bounces radio off the plane, receives the reflected signal, knows where plane is. Additionally, it probably triggers transponders to verify what reflection is which plane.

Secondary radar is very commonly in use for long distance air traffic control, which just triggers transponders and listens for the responses. It can't usually see the direct reflections from the aircraft skin.

The newest secondary radar is ADS-B, which automatically is transmitting flight information more in a datalink mode than transponder ping replies, and can exchange data between aircraft as well.

Without technical details of the radar sets in Vietnam and Malaysia, we can't be sure that either of them was a primary radar that would have seen debris, or a power-completely-out aircraft.

Modern aircraft have redundant engine generators, the auxiliary power unit in the tail, batteries, and in the last case a little Ram Air Turbine that drops down from the bottom of the plane and powers hydraulics and enough electricals for radio, transponder, and minimum navigation at least. A catastropic power loss almost certainly has to happen because of a catastrophic event that will cause the plane to crash anyways, though one can hypothesize some extreme case.

So... we seem to have lost the transponder signals, the cockpit radio, the automated plane maintenance signals, and all roughly at the same time. The plane was at 35,000 feet to start with; even if it nosed straight down at maximum velocity it would take nearly a minute to hit the water. If the power was not completely out you'd get at least one transponder return on the way down, showing airspeed max and horizontal velocity low, showing it was diving. We didn't get one.

Admittedly, if it broke up, you would expect a big debris pattern. Much of a plane's parts will float unless they are broken to bits, and breaking up in midair means that a bunch of parts with lots of surface area will come down very slowly. With the number of search aircraft and ships we should have been finding stuff. But we should have been finding stuff even with a dive straight in.

So, it's all weird, so far. Expert communities are whispering "crazy ideas" and low probability events that might fit the lack of evidence, but not comfortable talking about them in public yet. We won't know until it's found, and the condition of the wreckage is analyzed.

65:
There's no evidence to suggest that the point at 3.23 was necessarily the point where it came down, only when its transponder ceased broadcasting

I think we can assume a degree of stuff-up here.

Given the ADS-B track disappearance point it's pretty simple to be able to calculate where a catastrophic airframe failure would put the debris, even with a manoeuvre taking place. By now they have covered that area pretty completely, yet no info. In theory if the aircraft did a powered dive into the sea, it could bury the bits such that it's hard to find and still be in the area, but it would be hard to miss in such shallow water.

However, we have some very tentative comments from the bemedalled military type that "it may have turned back". Now, any military radar worth it's salt should be able to tell that with some degree of accuracy - unless it wasn't very good or was degraded in some way.

I'm guessing that the radar in that area either wasn't working, or wasn't up to snuff. That's embarrassing for the military - and something they might wish to keep quiet.

Thus we end up with an electrically dead aircraft, continuing to fly/glide - putting it both some distance away from the known point, and in a slow speed impact - so where's the debris?

I think they might now be looking along a rough track for Sultan Mahmud Airport - the most obvious emergency destination for an aircraft in trouble, and almost directly back down the track it had just flown.

66:

AH, useful information:

http://www.vatm.vn/ProductsServices/tabid/175/aid/175/language/en-US/Default.aspx

This is the Vietnamese air traffic control system's english language description page.

The radar they have over the Gulf of Thailand is secondary L-band radar, supplementing ADS-B datalink data.

I haven't found the manufacturer / model number for that radar yet.

Nor have I found the Vietnamese military / primary air search radar system data, which may have collected data closer in to land.

67:

Just to add to the weirdness, AFAIK (and I may have the geography wrong), that jet was flying over an active oil field that was shared by Malaysia and Vietnam, and there have been disputes over who owns what.

In that situation, I'm a little puzzled about why any military involved wouldn't have good radar out over those waters. Perhaps part of the problem is that they don't want to admit that they weren't actually watching.

One question for the experts, though, is if the plane turned off its transponder, would it have been picked up as an unidentified plane somewhere?

So far as truly insane ideas, how about the plane being hijacked and aimed at Mindanao, whether or not it actually made it? There is an active insurgency there, with both communist and Al Qaeda elements. Or perhaps the Riau Archipelago, with its history of piracy?

68:

Maybe the military don't want to admit how much they actually can see? All output from military radar is classified, presumably, because you don't want the others to know how well you can see, even if it is quite well indeed.

As for the hijack possibility... yeah, unidentified plane somewhere, plus passengers would use their mobiles when in range, plus it's a 777 — you can't just land it in a field.

The plane's remaining range probably covers about half the human population, but where would you take it so that some defence force doesn't notice it, mobiles are out of range and there's a place to land that won't be immediately noticed?

Hijacking a modern airliner so that no sign of it leaves the aircraft would have to be a tricky operation, too.

69:

Here's a decent article from NPR about various possibilities.

How An Aircraft Can Fall From The Sky Midflight

70:

Don't forget about... The Langoliers...

71:

Actually, the area being somewhat disputed and the military not talking makes for some naughty ideas, like radio transmission stopping, military radar taking the aircraft for an unidentified intruder and some SAMs getting ready...

OTOH, when you play around with the formulas on

http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sichtweite#Geometrische_Sichtweite

and use an altitude of 10,000 metres, I get a range of visibility of just 400 km; if we assume the radar was about 100 metres above ground, that'd make 440 km, still, and if we assume the MH 370 was somewhat below 10,000 metres, that's mean "we lost contact about 300 km souuth of that island" means "it just left the range of our radar". Of course, in this case Thailand should have picked them up, any ideas how stressed Thai military is at the moment?

73:

The Gulf of Thailand is about 400 km wide at the point the plane was crossing. Assuming the radars are at sea level (wrong, but not too wrong), the plane is below the horizon from 200 km away at altitudes below about 20,000 feet.

They got two returns after the transponder stopped reporting altitude. These were 30 seconds apart, I understand. So, the plane had up to two minutes to descend 15,000 feet. That would require a fairly steep dive, but doesn't seem out of the question for a hijacked plane.

If the two stolen passports were in the hands of miscreants responsible for this, that would argue against a bomb. Why sacrifice two assets when one would do? But more than one would be useful for a hijacking.

Now, what might terrorists do with a stolen plane? They could rip out the insides and turn it into a giant flying bomb. It might even be a good way to deliver a nuke, if they have one. Perhaps they could reprogram the transponder with the code of another legitimate plane, and switch with that plane in midflight (say, blow up that other plane over the ocean with a bomb, then take its place.)

74:

Maybe the military don't want to admit how much they actually can see? All output from military radar is classified, presumably, because you don't want the others to know how well you can see, even if it is quite well indeed.

That was certainly my thought. Every military in the world has legitimate reason to be candid about just how much it can see and how much it knows. (Being over-estimated can work in your favor too, if it makes your rivals excessively cautious.) So getting very little from the various national defense organizations in the area doesn't surprise me.

75:

Well, there are talks the two guys have been identified:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iran/10688861/Mystery-fake-passport-holders-on-flight-MH370-were-Iranian.html

So it seems more like a case of illegal immigration. OTOH, it could also be a operation to insert some Iranian agents, maybe detected and dealt with in a catastrophal way.

Or Shia Iran could sponsor Islamistic terrorism against China with regards to the Uighurs, though Sunni Uighurs are mainly supported by Turkey.

BTW, including Burma and Laos in the search makes for interesting possibilities, given the stance of both countries in years past.

Oh, to top it of with bizarre ideas, what about an Iranian liason to the Tcho-Tcho gone horribly wrong?

76:

Meanwhile, over in another part of what we laughingly call "reality" It would appear that the Lockerbie bombing was the work of Iran & Syria oh dear ... & was that a surprise (?)
Al-Jazeera will be broadcasting this, soon.
And Dr Swire & those others who have claimed this was the case, all along, & got sneered at by the public authorities for their efforts, were lied to, as were all the rest of us.
Oh how jolly!

77:

"Double jeopardy" was abolished in England/Wales (and separately in Scotland -- different legal system) in the Justice Act, 2003, with some constraints: "the court of appeal must order a re-trial if there is new and compelling evidence and it is in the interests of justice for an order to be made."

The proximate cause was the failed private prosecution for murder of someone who had in fact clearly gotten away with murder. (The case in question is still generating headlines about institutional police racism to this day.)

78:

It might even be a good way to deliver a nuke, if they have one.

That's ridiculous.

777-200ER maximum payload is on the order of 130,000 of those quaint American pound thingies (or about 59 metric tons). A compact modern H-bomb weighs on the order of 300-500Kg; Tsar Bomba, the biggest bomb ever detonated, weighed only 27 metric tons (it was dialed back to 52 megatons but could -- with some of the lead bricks replaced by 238U -- have gone all the way to 100Mt).

You don't need a 777-200ER to deliver a nuke, unless you want to deliver it at a range of nearly 11,000 nautical miles (in a package that's glaringly visible on radar and can't dodge if you send fighters to intercept it). A single-engine Cessna would do ...

79:

From the Aviation Herald today, a WTF?!? moment:

On Mar 11th 2014 Malaysia's Air Force reported their primary radar data suggest, the aircraft may have turned west over the Gulf of Thailand at about 1000 meters/3000 feet below the original flight level and flown past the east coast near Khota Baru and the west coast of Malaysia near Kedah, the radar return was last seen at 02:40L near Pulau Perak in the Straits of Malacca, about 285nm westsouthwest of the last known (secondary) radar position.
Meanwhile, one of the false passport holders is now identified:
On Mar 11th 2014 Malay investigators reported a 19 year old Iranian was travelling on one of the false passports to join his family waiting for him in Germany. They were contacted by his mother admitting she knew her son was using a false passport.
So it looks like that passport holder was indeed an illegal immigrant, but the plane may have been hijacked; those folks suggesting the military were being less than candid can have a gold star.

80:

Having read Charlie's take on this, I might tentatively hypothesise that the military in that area were _supposed_ to have good radar cover, but for some reason did not have anywhere near as good a cover as they thought. Under these circumstances the military reaction would be to shut up, find out what they did and did not know and the reasons why not, and assign blame accordingly.

In the case of a hijack, I seem to remember actual film footage of an airliner crashing into the sea after running out of fuel. In that case (somewhere near Africa, I think) the hijackers either didn't know what the fuel load on the aircraft was, didn't know how far it could fly or were simply ignoramuses incapable of understanding fuel ranges. For whatever reason, they ordered the pilot to fly in a set direction, and to keep flying; a gun aimed at one's head is a tremendous motivator in such circumstances.

The aircraft in that case flew the route the hijackers wanted, until it ran out of fuel and crashed into the sea, killing all on board.

Perhaps a similar thing has happened here?

81:

The police proximally involved in the Lawrence case were, indeed, racist morons. They were also on the take from the local crime ganglord, whose thugs actually did the kiiing.
The Met PREFERRED to be thought "institutionally racist" rather than admitting that some of [ And, in the light of other recent news ] , oops, correction, quite a lot of its' coppers were corrupt & on the take.
Yes, there was & still is a lot of racism in police forces here, but my opinion is that this is a symptom, not a cause.
The corruption runs deep.
For non-UK readers:
At least two very senior policemen have resigned over corruption recently, one of them being virtually in chage of the Met.
Policemen also conspired to give false eveidence to frame up a cabinet minister, & it also is now known that corrupt coppers were hand-in-glove with so-called "journalistic practices" that were both criminal & immoral.
Not that it was anything at all to do personally with the big boss, Murdoch, oh dearie me, perish the thought that one with so much power could be involved in anything shady, illegal &/or immoral. Particularly as he appeared to be on such good terms with the living saint Anthony Charles Lynton Blair.

82:

I've nothing to add; I'm just going to independantly confirm the replied to post as being correct data.

83:

The only problem with this Charlie, is exemplified in this mapping service :

http://www.marinetraffic.com/en/

Take a look at the density of shipping traversing the Malacca Strait.

First, if the military had radar coverage that demonstrated that this aircraft had turned around, flown across northern Malaysia (and it would have had to be at height so as to not be noticed on the ground) and had last been tracked near the middle of the Malacca Strait - why wouldn't we have heard about it? What would they have had to gain by keeping quiet?

Second, if the last track they have is here, then why didn't the shipping in this region (which has radar up the wazoo) notice it? And why didn't they immediately start asking them to look?

And if it was flying AOK, with the range it had, why would they be looking at the Malacca Strait, and not, say, Sri Lanka ?

The implication being made is hijacking, but this still isn't passing the sniff test.

84:

The aircraft in that case flew the route the hijackers wanted, until it ran out of fuel and crashed into the sea, killing all on board. ... Perhaps a similar thing has happened here?

Unlikely: it was a Malaysian 777-200ER -- the model and airline that holds the world record for the longest commercial unrefueled flight (10,800 nautical miles in the air with an emergency reserve -- over 21 hours). It wouldn't have been fully loaded with fuel, but it was loaded for a 6 hour flight to Beijing, and probably a couple of hours of extra fuel for diversions/emergency reserve.

Also, the cockpit doors on Malaysian's 777s have the reinforced locks and are kept shut during flight. (Been on one, far enough forward in business class to see the cockpit door.)

85:

Take a look at the density of shipping traversing the Malacca Strait.

1. MH370 disappeared in the early hours of the morning -- at night. Contrails are visible by day, but if the flight deck turned off the navigation lights and turned down the cabin lights, an airliner flying above 30,000 feet would be pretty much invisible to the naked eyeball unless you knew exactly where to look for it.

2. Ships carry radar, sure: but it's aimed at the surface, designed to be used for navigation and avoiding collisions with other surface vessels. Civilian surface ships don't keep an eye on air traffic seven miles overhead because the risk of colliding with an airliner is about the same as the probability of being sat on by an elephant.

Military vessels with air defence capability are another matter, and they would indeed have radar and a watch officer keeping an eye open for unidentified aircraft, but then you run into range issues: the sea is a big place, and if, say, a Singaporean Navy Frigate that happened to be the area spotted and tracked a brief radar contact at night, it might take quite a while for them to trawl through their data afterwards, confirm that it was in fact consistent with a Boeing 777 flying where no B777 was supposed to be, and then decide whether they could release that information publicly. And it's open to question whether they'd be emitting in the first place -- if you're emitting you're lighting a sign saying TARGET HERE, so ships like the Singaporean Navy's Formidable Class stealth frigates don't do that if they can avoid it: they sit and listen passively, which won't help if whoever's in the cockpit has switched off the transponder. Or if a catastrophic failure has ripped the transponder's antenna housing right off the plane.

Random new conspiracy theory: it was hijacked by the North Koreans, who specifically wanted a bunch of Freescale Semi engineers to build CPUs for Glorious Leader's new Juche smartphone.

86:

My implication on the Malacca Strait is if you were looking for wreckage there, then you should have some information that it didn't stay at 30,000 feet - and maritime radar would then come into play.

If you think it's flying AOK, then why would you be looking anywhere close at hand, rather you'd be looking at air defence radars from India and Sri Lanka.

Of course, if you were embarrassed as hell that you didn't have any track or info, you'd be looking to deflect attention....

Even more random new conspiracy theory - it was nazis, capturing the plane and flying it to their secret base at the south pole.

87:

I'm surprised it wasn't aliens. After all they did supply the Nazi tech. Mind you aliens are allergic to camera phones, hence the decrease in sightings since they became popular. Same as ghosts.

88:

Military vessels with air defence capability are another matter, and they would indeed have radar and a watch officer ...

Military systems, who are not in an active state of alert, will not be running at full performance, for various reasons.

These systems are all prototypes to some significant degree, and finicky, all about performance, designs.

They are always surrounded by techies; calibrating, upgrading, training of new operators and maintaining them.

They can use parts with stupidly short service life that one does not want to deplete the stock of for silly reasons.

Some systems are smart, a bit out-of-control and have their own scripts, which makes them dangerous - like AEGIS. AEGIS can call up weapons and target them, this can go wrong rapidly so "Full-On AEGIS" is used sparingly!

Finally, running military RADAR at their full capability reveals a good deal of what those capabilities might be to people who are specialising in signals analysis.

The military practice systems transitions from "standby" to "ready to fire" often and thoroughly - because it is complicated and they want it to work.

One probably could see tiny things moving very fast on a military system running as-designed, but, if there was no particular reason for this, the operators would be busy polishing the screens and try not to run into any lighthouses.

89:

of those quaint American pound thingies

I'm fairly certain we got those "pound thingies" from the British. Just because the British abandoned them doesn't make them "ours".

90:

You also took our pints and then had an immediate 20% off sale.

91:

There's an old saying in military circles, "If you can be seen you will be killed." More and more military sensor suites are going passive, listening hard for the Other Guy making a noise rather than actively pinging them with your own Loud Noisemaker. It's starting to get a bit like the old joke about the lesbian sheep...

Militaries cheat a lot -- ATC radars and civilian ship radars can be used as "not-us" sources of radiative energy to cover an area of interest. It takes a lot more processing power to figure out what's happening if you're not the actual source of the Loud Noise but processing power is cheap these days. There are even rumours that whalesong and other naturally occurring noises in the sea can be used in modern sonar processing suites to detect underwater and surface threats to submarines.

92:

Two interesting snippets from the updating news ...
"Last seen on radar over Pulau Perak, island, Malaysia
5.700000N,98.933296E"
Which knocks the theory that they were trying to get back to KL by following the coast.
And ...
"One distraught man shouts: "I just called my kid's cellphone. It was not turned off. My kid's phone is still on"
If true, then WTF?

93:

Seems a bit odd to be over Perak, non? I lived in Penang for a while (25 yrs back now, eek!), so/even though I had to look up that island, but directionally-speaking it is seemingly heading off toward Medan... which leads me to once taking a flight to Medan, and the only time I ever sat on a plane and heard the bits that make it go forward go silent; then we started to tilt downwards and the staff were peggin it up the aisle. Was scary-ish, but amusing now that I'm older... Still, there was a volcano going off way back then, so perhaps they went that way... then managed to land in some absurd James Bond scene (volcano, magnets, sliding doors that sort of thing) a la Moonraker was it?.../

94:

"One distraught man shouts: "I just called my kid's cellphone. It was not turned off. My kid's phone is still on" -- If true, then WTF?

Options:

a. How does he know the phone was switched on? Has he mistaken a voicemail message for evidence? (Not all cell networks give you a "this number is unreachable" message instantly if a phone is switched off.)

b. Phone was stolen at the airport, has not yet been noticed/reported stolen.

c. Wrong number.

d. ... Insert option here ...

95:

There is an airway there; waypoints IGARI and BITOD are around where the MH370 dissapearance was.

A "sudden descent and turn" better matches a bizjet running with no transponder on headed the other way on the airway at lower altitude than MH 370 actually pulling off that maneuver.

GOL 1907 springs to mind.

However, that still does not explain lack of debris field.

I am beginning to wonder if they crashed into an uninhabited island in the Gulf of Thailand, and all the debris stayed on land...

96:

19 phones dialled, though? Doesn't disclude option (a) but still, it wouldn't be the only part of the story that doesn't add up...

http://www.news24.com/Travel/Flights/Bizarre-Flight-MH370-passengers-phones-ring-but-no-one-answers-20140310

97:

19 Cell phones dialled?

Different code for a cellphone last seen vanishing into international roaming territory to actually turned off, because your typical cellco charges a damn sight more for the former.

98:

That should be 19 dialled and still "on" in some sense.

99:

The phones; I'm tending towards hysteria and the forgiveable need to believe.

100:

"I am beginning to wonder if they crashed into an uninhabited island in the Gulf of Thailand, and all the debris stayed on land..."

Would it be in poor taste to start speculating about wandering clouds of black smoke, sightings of wild animals not normally native to the area, and mysterious underground installations...?

101:

I was wondering when we'd hear about when/where the last pings were recorded from the various cellphones, tablets, laptops, etc. that surely were on board ... of which at least a couple were never completely turned off.

102:

You also took our pints and then had an immediate 20% off sale.

So who doesn't like a sale? :)

103:

Would it be in poor taste to start speculating about wandering clouds of black smoke, sightings of wild animals not normally native to the area, and mysterious underground installations...?

At least it wouldn't be a purgatory then.

More seriously, this thing seems strange. I hope they find the plane and find out what happened to it.

104:

As to pings from the actual devices. Likely not useful. Cell phones and such radio technology is limited to under 10 miles for all practical purposes. Under 5 in many cases. So unless the plane is flying low near a tower there would be no connection. And remember they are in a metal tube with tiny holes along the sides. Not good for connecting to a cell town below.

Now what would be interesting is internet connections. If this plane had in flight sat internet service then there are likely lots of log entries between the hosting provider and the router on the plane. But that's IF there was such a setup on the plane and it was in the coverage area of a sat at the time.

105:

I'd be more worried about islands newly risen from the deep with strange Cyclopean architecture and non-Euclidian angles.

As for mobile phone signals and the like there aren't many cellphone towers in the middle of the ocean so even if the passengers were holding their iPhones in the approved Jobsian manner (to return to the idea of world-dominating eldrich undying horrors for a moment) it's unlikely they'd get any signal strength bars ten kilometres up in a metal tube travelling at about 500 knots.

106:

Some time back, a 707 came in for a landing too low over Lake Victoria, hit the water, ripped the engines off, and floated for a long time, weeks. You can get a widebody down on water intact.

If the flight in question here *almost* ditched successfully after having had an inflight emergency, came down over water, *almost* made it, and sank substantially intact, there won't be a debris field and there may not be any useful black box ping, they may not be designed to be audible if the black box is still in its clamps in a relatively intact aircraft.

Not too hard to imagine losing the satellite transmitter followed by a ditching attempt followed by a nearly intact aircraft sinking.

Water's not deep enough to crush any fuel tanks, it could be quite some time before the plane is found.

107:

There was reputed to be 20 billion Euro, cash, flown into Moscow from Iraq, which is sitting in an airport warehouse.

This is likely in standard air-freight containers, secure from casual pilfering and relatively anonymous.

There are many secure bonded warehouse complexes around the world. Goods are always being transferred from one to another. Most of this boodle is unique, things such as high-value art.

But if a few containers stuffed with 500-Euro notes were on that plane, according to the manifest, there are all sorts of things which can be done.

1: The labeled containers put on the plane were not the containers the labels claimed they were. Several air-freight consignments from KL, instead of being ordinarily valuable cargo, each contain 300 Million Euro, consigned to an assortment of shell companies which will vanish after they take delivery.

2: Whatever the claimed contents of the containers on MH370 were, it won't be cash. The label-swapping trick might have been done in Moscow.

3: Those containers could carry a lot of explosive.

So somebody has just lifted a few billion Euro from Russian warehouse, and the trail is a very dead end.

108:

The phones thing came up on Reddit, and some (claimed) cellphone system experts explained what was probably going on: Because it can take a while to go through all the searching and routing involved in contacting a phone on the other side of the world, it's common for the network to feed the caller a fake ring tone for the duration, until it either contacts the phone and can give you the real one, or gives up. So calling a nonfunctional phone will often give you 10-20 seconds of ringtone before it cuts off, switches to voicemail, or whatever.

109:

In most modern phone systems it has been a long time since the ringing the caller hears is the the actually ringing of the phone being called. Cell phones or not.

110:

If all of these thousands-to-one shots came off, I would expect at least a few survivors in liferafts, which I assume would at least have radar corners installed.

Secondary thought: with no power for radio, transponders and so on, would there be any for aircraft controls? Can these big planes be flown without power?

111:

707's aren't wide-bodies; we tend to forget because they were the biggest jet airliner flying at the time, but they're only about the size of a modern 737 or an Airbus A320 like the one a certain Captain Sullenberger managed to ditch safely in the Hudson River. Nor is the Hudson River really comparable to open ocean. (Lake Victoria maybe -- if it wasn't in the shallows.)

I will grant you the "almost made it" scenario is plausible -- Ethiopian Airlines flight 961 springs to mind -- but it seems likely that if they were trying to get the plane on the ground the crew would be aiming for land; a 777 at altitude has a glide ratio of between 15:1 and 20:1, so if it lost both engines simultaneously in cruise flight it would be good for 100-200 miles if the pilots retained control -- the problem in this situation is, why didn't they call for help?

112:

Yes, they're designed to be flown without engine power. Even modern fly-by-wire airliners like a certain Captain Sullenberger's A320. See also the case of Air Transat Flight 236, an Airbus 330 (comparable in size to a Boeing 767; fully fly-by-wire) which ran out of fuel over the Atlantic. (And made an unpowered touchdown from altitude with no engines from 65 nautical miles out on a military airfield in the Azores.)

113:

The 777 is basically a fly-by-wire type, but apparently has a mechanical backup system, so yes you can move the control surfaces without power. I'm not sufficiently familiar with the type to know if it has a "basic 6" instruments that aren't part of the "glass cockpit".

114:

AIUI all fly by wire airliners have a "basic six" instrument set, just for emergencies that take out the glass cockpit. Because airliners don't come with ejection seats ...

115:

Here's a weird new hypothesis that doesn't require human malice -- just a terrible coincidence (like 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 a Helios 552 like incident.

Chain of events:

* Fuselage ruptures under the SATCOM antenna housing, damaging the SATCOM antenna connections and causing rapid decompression.

* At the same time, a previously undetected fault in the gas supply to the pilots' oxygen masks starves them of oxygen. (Plane underwent maintenance 12 days prior to the flight; what if an empty O2 bottle was installed by mistake for a full one, or a valve was jammed, or ...?)

The crew would not succumb to hypoxia immediately. They probably had enough conscious-but-confused time to dial a course change into the autopilot, reduce altitude by 5000 feet, and broadcast a Mayday that nobody hears because it never gets out of the airframe (antenna is disconnected).

Then they lose consciousness.

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

We might not find it for years.

If this turns out to be what happened, expect the airline industry to start pushing back hard against the reinforced cockpit door requirement.

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 many times more people than have died as a result of hijackings since 9/11.

116:

"they're only about the size of a modern 737 or an Airbus A320 like the one a certain Captain Sullenberger managed to ditch safely in the Hudson River. Nor is the Hudson River really comparable to open ocean. (Lake Victoria maybe -- if it wasn't in the shallows.)"

Ditching in a lake, river, or conveniently sheltered bay seems like an altogether different situation to ditching at sea regardless of aircraft type. Open ocean is never going to be as smooth as inland water and everything might go perfectly well right up until the point where a wingtip or engine nacelle encounters the crest of a wave sending 200 tons of fragile airplane into a messy disintegrating 150 MPH cartwheel...

117:

While I can't really think of any airline crash scenario that's good, I do think that this one would be the worst: drawn out hours of knowing that you aren't getting out of this, knowing the crash is coming, knowing that there's nothing you can do about it. At least the usual crash scenarios are mercifully quick. At least Air France 447 was minutes of terror as the plane plummeted into the ocean. Lesser of two evils, I'd take minutes over hours any day of the week.

What do you call the guy who graduated at the bottom of his class in med school? Doctor. What do you call the guy who graduated bottom of his class from flight school? A pilot. Captain, if you're unlucky. And even the good ones with lots of experience can still be caught in a pickle and crash.

118:

OK, tall story:
Greek coast guard learned about the two Iranians entering Schengen on false passports. Now we all know these stories about the Greek being somewhat to enthusiastic when defending the EU border from immigrants, whatever. Using one of their Zubr-class hovercrafts

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zubr-class_LCAC

was not practical, so they leased an experimental nuclear-powered ekranoplan from the Ukrainian gouvernment (you really thought Crimea was only bout ethnic minorities and naval ports?). Problem is, the captain was ordered to intercept the plane, but he heard engage...

On another note, any incidences of people sending e-mails about salvaged cargo, most likely from the Nigerian embassy to KL, and actually, if you send in 1000 dollars..?

119:

If I had my propeller-topped hat on while doing an investigation, my first step would be to determine that the "missing flight" actually existed.

Not that many people actually see an aircraft - the control tower people go by radar and radio, passengers board through covered walkways. The only people you really need to fool or suborn are the ground crew.

Then all you need is a drone with a properly-coded transponder and a radio to make the right signals for the ATC... assuming you can't just insert the data directly into a hacked ATC infrastructure. Turn the electronics off, and the phantom plane vanishes.

Yeah, some holes, but they could be plastered over with a bit of work.

120:

passengers board through covered walkways

Windows, sir[1], windows. I'm not sure I've ever boarded a plane without first seeing it from the boarding lounge or the walkway. I like to try to see what the registration of an aircraft is as I board. (OK, so I usually fail.)

[1] Or Ma'am should that be appropriate

121:

And the control tower also has windows, come to think of it. Even at a busy airport (and KL is busy), I imagine that the ATC people will glance up at 'their' aircraft just as confirmation. Any plan that assumes that none do is a bit too fragile for my liking.

No, easier to have the right aircraft take off and then do a handover to a drone as it climbs out.

122:

If you look at an airport like DFW And I assume other non small airports are similar. you have separate ATC and ground control. Separate ground control for each airline or groups of airlines most of the time. The ground control guys direct the planes around between the gates and runways. Mostly visual. Even RDU (the one near me) has a group for each airline to handle ground traffic.

And at DFW it's easy to get in a plane you can't see. Some of those ramps go out a ways, turn a corner, then split into 3 gates before you get to the plan.

123:

No windows at any point? I wonder why.

In which case, I suppose it depends on what KL is like. Charlie's been through there but he's away, and the person I know who goes to KL a lot is actually currently flying Malaysian from Perth up to KL so he's also out of contact, but either of them would be able to clarify what KL's air bridges are like.

As for ground control and ATC, you might well be right. So it might be possible at some airports, we don't know about KL.

124:

At DFW windows all over the terminal gate areas. Panoramic. But the actual ramps to the plane, no. And unless look closely at some of the areas where they've had to expand with no space it isn't obvious which plane you might be getting on.

And then you have areas like Boston a decade or few back where you got on a special bus that drove out to the plane and then raised itself up so you could exit from the bus directly onto the plane. I guess the airport/airline does what they have to do to add flights when there's no physical gates left. Basically a gate ramp on wheels.

125:

I hadn't read this I think (well not for a while) but forgive me if I wonder why no-one would notice that a typical bizjet or even an Embraer EJ145 (needed for reported performance) won't fit an airbridge.

126:

I think the idea was that

a) A big mobile tube connected to the airbridge, and took away the passengers. Obviously, this tube is effectively a fully fitted out fuselage with wings visible through its windows from inside to lull the passengers, because otherwise a ruckus would be raised. Either that, or the airbridge itself was faked, and none of the passengers had ever used that gate before.

b) The Bizjet sneaks out from behind a hanger to do the flight and does the whole transponder thing. It need never have gone near the airbridge.

In the detective story, this one appears to be lacking both motive and opportunity, but it might be usable for a particularly wild conspiracy thriller.

127:

I think this requires connivence in the tower. Not onl is there my job which gives me an idea of airfield operations, but I've talked with tower controllers, and someone there would have to know about the swap.

At this point I'm not wondering "What happened to the passengers?" because finding 300ish people who "want to disappear" isn't that much of a stretch compared with finding several ground staff and ATC who are sufficiently corrupt to support the airfield operations required. Once you're wheels up with the right squack and pilots who're controlling the performance to match the type they're impersonating you're golden.

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on March 9, 2014 12:35 PM.

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