Saturday, March 15, 2014

A Real-Life X-File

(EDIT: as of 3/20, this is the most current finding.  The debris field IS in an area the plane could have reached...)
I have to admit the first few days I read up and chatted online about Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, it balanced between sadness - the most likely fate of a missing plane was an explosion or crash - and snark - making ill-advised comments about "aliens" or "that island from LOST".

The snark came from being a long-time aficionado of conspiracy theories and ghost stories.  Growing up, I read books in the 133 juvenile shelves rather than the standard fiction.  Getting into The X-Files TV show for me was easy, given my childhood interests in UFOs, Bigfoot, the Bell Witch, the Bermuda Triangle.

And here was Flight 370, disappearing off radar without a word.  Early searches for debris or a crash site turn up nothing.  The legendary black box(es), nowhere to be found.  Family and friends noting that their attempts to call their missing loved ones' cell phones were ringing: if the phones had been destroyed or completely cut off from cell signal, calls are known to revert immediately to voicemail.  Early research into the passengers and pilots didn't reveal warning signs outside of two illegal passports... except both passport users - Iranians - had no known terrorist ties, and one of them was following the standard behavior of someone seeking asylum.

But the last few days' revelations about what might have happened - that there was a deliberate switch-off of the plane's transponder and communications, that the plane changed course multiple times, that it avoided waypoints in such a way only a trained knowledgeable pilot could fly - has turned this mystery into a more serious and unsettling affair.  No more jokes.

There are now a ton of questions about Flight 370, above all: What the hell happened?

What was originally considered likely - mid-air explosion, or else mass decompression that froze/suffocated everyone on board - is no longer considered.  To be fair, if that had happened, we would have found wreckage by now.  That mid-flight course corrections were made, and that the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) and transponder (comm link to air traffic controllers) were turned off before the last contact makes this more deliberate than accidental.

So, if someone - someones - hijacked the plane, this unlocks these questions: Who did it, Why did they do it, and Where the hell did they think they could go?

Those Iranians seeking asylum using stolen passports are suspects again.  But if it's not them, that leaves 230 or so people (I'm subtracting the poor kids who were on-board).  Even the pilot and co-pilot are suspects, considering whoever commandeered the flight knew how to avoid certain waypoints and stuck to radar dead zones.

One thing we do know: whoever did this either could not or did not make the effort to turn off other tracking data coming from the plane.  The engines, for example, gave off signal data of a sort to satellite tracking systems (which is why we've found out there was no crash when and where we thought it would be), and those signals are not accessible from within the plane.  This was rarely reported information, so even the most highly trained hijacker might not have known...

Why did someone hijack this flight?  Usually it's done as a kind of Propaganda of the Deed, a violent act drawing attention to the person(s) committing that deed.  But there haven't been any valid claims or statements from known terror cells, no-one standing up with video evidence or otherwise.  Even if there was a vast conspiracy between nations and media outlets to not broadcast any terrorist demands or claims, there's too many sources that would have leaked by now.

Other reasons to do this would cover:

  • someone on the flight was a target, although it begs the question why was the whole plane taken to do that.
  • someone wanted a plane, any plane, for a future terror plot.
  • there was something valuable on the plane that was needed, and for some reason this was the only way someone could get to it.
  • there IS no reason: someone's doing this for kicks or a bizarre rational none of us can comprehend.

The question most confounding is the Where?  Given the location and circumstances, there's not a lot of Where to cover.  I've linked to that map above, showing an orange trail of possible plane paths after the last known satellite report from the plane's engines.

You'd think the northern path over Asia makes the most sense, considering this was a hijack and the hijackers would want a place to land.  There's places in China and central Asia past the Himalayas where that type of plane - even relatively small airports, even flattened desert - could land.  And this hijacking - with a plane full of Chinese citizens - is happening at a time of serious turmoil and mass terror attacks in West China involving Uighur separatists.

The problem with this argument is that China - as well as India and Pakistan - are tightly protected airspaces.  Military radar and alert systems would have spotted the plane even at low altitudes, and those areas are well-populated areas.  People would have reported seeing a low-flying airliner by now.  And neither of these nations - China in particular - would have kept silent on the matter even if they shot down the plane.  They'd argue with good reason that a hijacked airliner is a flying weapon, and they'd have every right to shoot it down to avoid a bigger catastrophe.

The southern path into the Indian Ocean is the other likely direction... except that's mostly water.  There are no known island or landstrip locations that way.  If the plane circled back over Australia, again that's an airspace with a solid radar net protecting it.  And why hijack a plane to fly it out into an ocean when blowing it up is just as easy, if not easier to pull off?

One other question remains: What has happened to the passengers and crew?

This is the most terrifying part.  While it wasn't a comfortable thought if there had been an explosion or crash, the best that could have been said was that the deaths would have most likely been quick.

This as a hijacking is infinitely worse.  Some passengers were families.  Some were kids.  If they're taken as hostages, why aren't we hearing demands from the party responsible (even in a massive media lockdown, someone would have leaked by now)?  If someone on that flight was a target, what is happening to that person (or persons)?  What's happened to the poor victims deemed expendable...

This is a global mystery with a ton of clues and almost no solid leads.  This is scary and wrong and I'm afraid it's not gonna end well for everyone...

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