Journalism

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370: is it doomed to be one of history’s greatest unsolved mysteries?

The case of the missing plane is confounding all my attempts to construct a plausible theory, and it’s driving me crazy.

We all love a good mystery. But only if it comes with a resolution. If we can figure it out, that’s ideal. If not, we need somebody else to figure it out and tell us.

Books and TV shows and movies are perfect if you have the mystery Jones because the case is always solved in the end. In real life, we’ve gotten pretty good at investigating and when all is said and done, we usually walk away with at least a strong suspicion as to whodunnit.

But not always. We still don’t know who killed JonBenet Ramsey, for instance. Theories abound, but we don’t know the identity of Jack the Ripper. What happened to DB Cooper? What caused the “Wow signal”? What happened to Jimmy Hoffa? (Okay, we probably know the what here, just not so much the who and where.) What about Amelia Earhart? (Again, this is probably more a case of where than what.) Roswell. The Taos Hum. Frederick Valentich.

We don’t know. And we probably never will. This drives us crazy.

While it’s way too early to stuff the mystery of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight into a cold case, it’s nonetheless becoming an intensely frustrating story to follow – not because it hasn’t been solved or won’t be, necessarily, but because so far it’s actively confounding our ability to envision plausible explanations.

By “us,” I don’t mean the authorities, necessarily. They have actual access to things like satellite data and may well know more than they’re letting on. No, I’m referring to all us armchair sleuths out here, the ones who can be counted on to have a reliable theory based on a couple tweets.

Okay, okay. I keep using the word “us.” Maybe you don’t care. Perhaps the better word here would be “me.” As in, it’s driving me absolutely bonkers. I mean, none of the standard narratives work.

If it were terrorists blowing the plane out of the sky, we should have debris and somebody claiming credit, right? Terrorist organizations tend to like dramatic, immediate evidence of how ruthless they are. If it were a hijacking, shouldn’t the plane have turned up somewhere with the jacker requesting asylum? It doesn’t seem like it could have been a massive mechanical failure in light of new evidence showing the plane’s automatic systems pinging a satellite every hour, and now they’re saying that two communication systems appear to have gone off line 14 minutes apart. It couldn’t be that the pilots fell asleep and drifted off course because that wouldn’t have taken the comm systems down. Maybe somebody just wanted to steal the plane, but … why?

Folks, I got nothing. Right now I don’t have anything better than “hey, this is kinda like what happened in Lost, especially since one of the morning’s headlines suggests the flight may have landed on a remote island.

Yet another theory is taking shape about what might have happened to missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370: Maybe it landed in a remote Indian Ocean island chain.

The suggestion — and it’s only that at this point — is based on analysis of radar data revealed Friday by Reuters suggesting that the plane wasn’t just blindly flying northwest from Malaysia.

Reuters, citing unidentified sources familiar with the investigation, reported that whoever was piloting the vanished jet was following navigational waypoints that would have taken the plane over the Andaman Islands.

Granted, the source on this story is CNN, which ranks somewhere between Weekly World News and Wikipedia on the credibility scale, but this is what happens when you have a big mystery, a 24/7 news cycle and not much evidence to go on. The article goes on to note that there’s nowhere in those islands you could land a plane without attracting a lot of attention and they quote an official saying the jet is probably at the bottom of the ocean. But those kinds of data points don’t make us click the link, and fewer page views mean lower ad revenue.

I hope the authorities find the plane. I hope that, against all odds, they find it one piece and with everyone alive and safe.

And I hope that they find it soon, because I’m starting to feel like Rick Castle in the first half-hour of a weird murder case. I know “aliens” seems far-fetched, and “what if an insane billionaire wanted to stage his own reality show version of Lost?” is even worse, but so far the experts don’t have anything that’s a lot better…

19 replies »

  1. A real “Who done it?” for sure Sam. I’d say it’s 49.999% to 50.001% that the flight either suffered catastrophic failure or it was the victim of air piracy. The world’s ocean’s are a lot bigger than we think and the curvature of the Earth limits RADAR’s usefulness at surprisingly short distances.

    One thing I feel is 99% certain, we will find out eventually.

    • Every bit of evidence that gets released, assuming it’s accurate, suggests there wasn’t a catastrophic failure. The piracy angle, in some manifestation, seems to be the better bet, although to what end? I can’t come up with a scenario that makes rational sense there, either.

      • Maybe Sam, and I agree there’s more circumstantial evidence to suggest mal intent than say the carbon fiber tail feathers detaching in turbulence. However, thinking like an investigator, some of the clues that seem nefarious could just be indicators of mechanical systems failing and cascading into an irreversible chain that doomed the craft.

        You craft a solid argument, I’ll give you that.

        • Well, a) the automated system kept pinging the satellite for four or five hours, and b) two comm systems went dark 14 minutes apart, suggesting that it was manual. That plus the lack of an airplane where it theoretically ought to be suggests that whatever happened, it wasn’t what we’d expect of your garden-variety catastrophic failure.

          Maybe what I’m saying is that the apparent evidence – I keep qualifying because the fact is that everything we think we know is sifted third-hand through a media that we cannot count on – strongly hints at intentionality.

  2. This morning we (my kids and I) talked about the comparison with “Lost.” Then at work everyone was saying the same thing.

    Most of all we talked of the families and friends of those on the plane. I can’t even imagine what they are going through.

    Good post. You said it better than most of us.

  3. Brings to mind Helios Airways Flight 522 (8-14-05) when cabin pressure decreased gradually as a result of the pressurization switch being set to manual instead of automatic and pilots didn’t catch it. Everyone on board passed out and the plane continued to fly on autopilot until it ran out of fuel.

  4. My considered response to this thing has been “Hmm.” It’s either a mysterious but easily explained in retrospect accident, a stunt, a fluke, or a training run for something bigger/badder. If someone somewhere would find out and report the truth, then I could have a more useful response. Bill’s note piqued my interest – reminded me of the sad end of Payne Stewart – similar loss of cabin pressure issue – led to the private jet he was aboard crashing some 1000 miles off course. May be something as tragic and simple as that….

    • Except that this wouldn’t explain the two comm systems being turned off 14 minutes apart. That’s what’s bugging the hell out of me. I have all kinds of theories that work perfectly except for one little thing.

      • You’re allowing preconception to shade facts Sam. Just because the comm systems went off line does not necessarily indicate a human hand. The signal went dead, that’s all we know as fact.

        • Well, this isn’t a case of preconceived notions dictating how I interpret facts. It’s a case of the facts informing a hypothesis. We know that two comm systems went offline. We know that they went off independently a few minutes apart. And we know that the craft still had electricity and was apparently airborne and flying.

          So I’m drawing a tentative conclusion, but it’s coming from the data, not preconceptions.

          Wendy Redal passed along the link to this from The Atlantic. VERY helpful, indeed.

          http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/03/todays-malaysia-airlines-370-news-what-it-means-that-the-plane-apparently-kept-flying/284414/

        • I’m with Frank… these were automated signals that continued after the plane was lost on radar. Not unlike any other radio transmitted signal, they were ultimately weakened and lost. If the plane crashed, signals 14 minutes apart could still have been transmitted until they died, which still makes me wonder about a gradual loss of cabin pressure on autopilot.

        • Yes – automated signals that require electricity. Had there been a catastrophic failure it seems very unlikely you’d have had power to the system. It worked properly for another four or five hours.

          The 14 minutes apart thing is separate and refers to the two comm systems. Experts are saying this could have been the result of a cascading power failure, but that seems less likely. And if there were a cascading failure, that gap was PLENTY of time for a Mayday.

          All the evidence seems to suggest that this was some kind of hijacking or maybe a pilot gone nuts. Now, that tells us nothing about WHY or where the jet is….

  5. The Malaysian plane mystery is a proof of humans weakness and limit understanding.They will never understand that they humans and not superman.Malaysia oughT to give the attention to the VICTIMS FAMILIES WHO ARE IN PAIN.Jalal

  6. I thought the same thing about how eerily similar this plane thing is to “Lost.” Good article.