Malaysia Airlines flight MH-370 and the terrorist threat – First Wrapup

UPDATE: I’ve posted the latest information in a Second Wrapup. You really should go there rather than here

So, I think we’ve found out as much as we are going to about MH-370, at least for the next year or so. We know very roughly where it went down. What we don’t know is why. All the potential terrorist links so far have turned up dry. Current theories include passenger intrusion into the cockpit, incapacitating fire on board, and pilot/crew suicide. To sort these out a theory has to deal with three sets of events:

1. the communications shutdown and departure from planned flight path at waypoint IGARI.

2. the apparent keeping to airways track through three waypoints (UPDATE: we now know this is wrong)

3. the subsequent turn south.

The original map of waypoint navigation. We now know this was not the track

UPDATE (I’m backtracking to include this here because I don’t think it needs its own entry): We shouldn’t be too hard on Malaysia for its lack of forthrightness with the press and the public. As an Australian defence official said, somewhat plaintively, “It’s just a little country.” Yes, it sprawls over the South China Sea, but its government is one of those post-colonial dens of bureaucracy and administrative rigidity so common outside the first world. It doesn’t have enough of an educated elite, in enough of the right places, to handle an international circus like the one that descended on it two weeks ago, let alone deal with a major accident investigation, terrorist investigation, and a search and rescue mission that covered a third of the globe. Yes, it could (and did) ask for help from a lot of people, but I suspect it’s not sophisticated enough to even use the help properly.

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There remain many question before we can judge what the most likely chain of events was.

One question is, if the crew was incapacitated by a fire or something similar, why did the aircraft return to waypoint navigation north of Sumatra? I can see a pilot dialing in a preplanned emergency airfield. I can’t see the system overflying that point and making two 90+ degree turns at waypoints if the pilot were incapacitated.

Another question, if it was headed northwest, via airways, why did it turn due south? Given the time and place, this strikes me as a suicide move. A capable pilot, most likely (but not certainly) the cockpit crew, flew the route indicated, set the autopilot and….then….what?

I don’t think we’ll ever know. If we find wreckage, all that will do is confirm the crash location — at sea. Our chances of finding the black box are exceedingly slim, and I doubt it will tell us anything. The cockpit recorder only runs for two hours before recycling. I suspect that tape holds two hours of silence, followed by the stall warning horn.

My worst fear is that it will contain two hours of the sound of passengers pounding on the cockpit door.

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