Why MH370 probably won’t be found

The least unlikely cause for the disappearance of MH370, based on what little we know about the final flight, is that a person with a sharp mind and a plan, but who was emotionally unbalanced, took control of the aeroplane.

It could have been one of the pilots, or someone else on board who had the means to persuade the pilots to depart from official cockpit security procedures, possibly in a friendly way.

Cabin crew? Nobody knows, and there is certainly no direct evidence.

There is some circumstantial evidence for the Malaysian authorities’ belief that MH370′s disappearance was the result of  ”deliberate action by someone on board”. The most publicised bits of circumstantial evidence are the switching off of the ACARS and then the transponder, followed immediately by a marked departure from the aircraft’s planned route. And this combined with radio silence.

The “emotionally unbalanced person” theory is based on the fact that no-one can imagine the motivation for masterminding what has happened, because no obvious purpose appears to have been served by it. But somebody who is suicidal or otherwise in a disturbed state does not follow normal logic.

The other argument for this theory is historical. There have been many cases in which pilots of aeroplanes carrying passengers have committed suicide by deliberately crashing the aircraft: a Silk Air 737 pilot, an Egyptair 767 pilot, a Royal Air Maroc ATR42 pilot, and last year a LAM Mozambique Embraer 190 pilot.

There is also a history of persons – other than the pilots – with a grudge bringing aeroplanes down: a Pacific Southwest Airlines BAe 146 in 1987, and Ethiopian Airways 757 in 1996. Then there was 9/11 where the perpetrators had a grudge against an entire country.

There is no record – yet – of someone bringing down an ordinary airline flight for the purpose of killing a specific person or group on board.

Staying with the deliberate action theory, if the person responsible had a reason to want no-one ever to find out what really happened, the flight path followed by MH370 would be a brilliant plan.

Commentators have advanced many theories as to how the perpetrator kept everyone on board quiet while carrying out his plan, including incapacitating them by deliberately depressurising the aircraft at high altitude. These theories are guesses, but this particular one has the attraction of not being able to be ruled out.

But there is another way that could have been effective for some hours if the means of taking control was quietly achieved. At 02:00h the passengers would have been sleeping or trying to sleep, not worrying about which way the aeroplane was heading, and most would stay that way until dawn or beyond.

But will we find MH370?

Look at the facts: no floating wreckage has been found nearly six weeks later.

The accuracy of the satellite information on which the search area has been calculated is far from guaranteed, so we may not be looking in the right place, and all the civil and military parties to the search know this.

It is hard enough finding wreckage in the deep ocean when you know where the aircraft was when it went missing, like AF447. In that case floating wreckage was discovered within a couple of days, but it took two years to find the wreck on the sea floor even when the last known position of the aircraft was a fact in which the search teams could have confidence.

AF447 belly-flopped into the water at at a vertical speed of about 120kt (220km/h), with very low forward speed, so the wreckage parts were quite large and thus easy to detect on the surface and on the sea bed. Fortunately for the searchers the main sea-bed wreckage came to rest on a firm, flat plain among sub-sea mountains.

We have no idea how MH370 impacted the water, but if it hit the surface much faster than AF447 and with a nose-down attitude, the pieces would be smaller and thus more difficult to detect.

To add to the searchers’ difficulties, oceanographers report that this area of the sea bed is very silty, and aircraft parts, especially heavy ones like the engines, could sink into the silt making detection by sonar even more difficult.

If we ever find parts from MH370, it may be when seat-cushions or other lightweight debris washes up on the shore of Australia or Antarctica. Unfortunately I think this is the most probable scenario.

Can we do something to prevent this in future? It is not as straightforward as people think.

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21 Responses to Why MH370 probably won’t be found

  1. Kamaruzaman Jusoff 19 April, 2014 at 8:14 am #

    Dear Sir,

    Would you believe me that my theory says that the plane stayed on her FPL foor a short while before being lost in the radar, then turned to the right & finally God knows?

    At least, this had happened with the 3 local SARs of the missing helis & a fighter jet in Malaysia.

  2. usman humayoun nasir 19 April, 2014 at 8:40 am #

    The pilot over confidence is the reason of plane crash.when a pilot will put the plane on auto pilot and go to sleep with the girls and unfortunetly when the system become damage what will happen then,30 minutes are not a small time for the plane getting lost.i am sure this is the mistake of pilot and the girl is a reason for that.

  3. Jenny Y 19 April, 2014 at 9:27 am #

    If the nose was pitched down and crashed into the ocean at a high rate of speed, there would be little evidence left in the first place. Most of it would be dispersed by ocean currents or sunk beneath the sea to which we have seen by other plane crashes on water. The suspected area of the crash in the Southern Indian Ocean has no radar and is remote, therefore virtually impossible to find any evidence of a crash. But if this plot was to succeed, the passengers would be have to be incapacitated or immobilised. If this was a deliberate act, the orchestrators knew what they were doing. But they question still remains, “why.”

  4. Gianni 19 April, 2014 at 7:16 pm #

    Dear David, thanks, once again, for your analysis. But are you really sure that Egyptair 767 case and, most of all, RAM ATR42 case, were suicidal cases? I’ve a lot of doubts about that

  5. Francoise 20 April, 2014 at 12:54 pm #

    What a well written, precise, accurate, and thought out article. All you stated David is correct! I will add to your theory or theories out there. Days after they found random pieces floating in the ocean like ‘confetti’ which I will conclude for all that indeed it was high altitude. The perpetrator knew right away to sow high way high and depressurizing killed all. They all didn’t have a chance to text, call anyone. This was absolutely well planned by the perpetrator to take over and end this flight as he wanted and indeed he was successful. Just as well written as this article, the taking over of MH370 was very well planned and not even a moment of nerves to show hesitant to give away any signs that this will be carried out, no this person wanted to end his life and take all with him, period. Emotions took over MH370. Now I have a second theory, now with this sunken ferry with yet again innocent lives taken. Coincidental that just about a month ago was MH370 and now today we are trying to pull precious bodies out from yet again another carried out situation by a captain who this time didn’t care to go down with lives he took. Are we going to witness tragic huge losses as these every month is my theory. If when May comes and we see another tragic innocent lost, we better start to piece meal this as a sign to something even bigger. Like these events are little morsels being placed down upon our eyes so that we are all fixated when the true perpetrators show real pain. I do hope my theory is wrong and that these two pass months tragic events just happened because one captain had enough here on this earth (MH370) and the other captain on ferry was just negligent. Plane, Ship, what could be next. I hold my breath to see what May brings us. Hope I am stand to be corrected….

  6. lloyd 22 April, 2014 at 2:06 am #

    I myself think it is on land at Madagascar.

    • BWM 22 April, 2014 at 3:25 pm #

      That’s it! The penguins from Madagascar took over the plane!.Skipper, Kowalski, Rico and Private.

    • Chris 22 April, 2014 at 4:00 pm #

      It couldn’t have reached Madagascar !

  7. trustaviation 22 April, 2014 at 10:58 am #

    I concur that the probable cause is the deliberate action(s) of someone on board and I strongly suspect the Captain just because of the finesse of the execution. However, I do not agree that the aircraft will go un-found.

    Even if MH370 is not found as part of current orchestrated search efforts, one day the last resting place will be uncovered, perhaps as part of a routine ocean mapping exercise – and I think some effort in this discipline will be directed towards ‘suspected’ crash areas. Furthermore, as in war, technological advance is borne out of and tested in the face of a serious the challenge: solving the mystery of MH370 is critical to confidence in the integrity of aviation being insulated from deliberate harm so governments will continue to invest time, energy and resource to find the answer.

    Mine is only a theory but I can’t help feeling MH370 was a ‘dry run’ and the loss of life was deemed by the perpetrators to be collateral damage en-route to a bigger event. No-one has claimed responsibility because that would, in some way, reveal their hand. However, I believe they have watched the events following the disappearance to learn lessons and identify mistakes made. The data from satellites was unexpected / unanticipated and they will not make such a mistake next time.

    Terrorism is about disruption, not destruction. If any more flights suffer a similar fate confidence in air travel will be depleted and the world economy will be severely disrupted….. with far greater impact on governments and the public than 9/11 or similar events.

  8. Neil 22 April, 2014 at 1:55 pm #

    I dont think we will know for a very long time what truly happened on this aircraft. Whoever did it had an ingenious plan and substantive knowledge of aviation operations.

  9. Graeme Murray 22 April, 2014 at 4:15 pm #

    Interesting hypothesis David. It is indeed a baffling scenario. There has to be a way that makes the action of disabling ACARS and transponder far more difficult. For example have them wired to activate from Air / Ground systems or similar. Remove the “on off ” switch from pilots control….. One typo from your blog, I think the Ethiopian aircraft that was hijacked in 1996 was a 767.

    • Andypease 22 April, 2014 at 8:20 pm #

      I think you are probably probably right,lots of small pieces buried in silt at great depth.A great deal of thought is going have to be given to the terrorist implications of this incident,as it will undoubtedly have opened some peoples eyes to the possibilities.What do you think of the potential uses of Doppler shift analysis?It seems to me that intelligence agencies might be interested, maybe it’s not so new after all.The Chinese relatives were certainly very interested in the calculations

  10. Craig Aubrey 22 April, 2014 at 9:32 pm #

    Let us start before 370 got off the ground. There is a crew rest area on this aircraft, I have no knowledge of the configuration, it was not being used on this flight due to the shortness of the flight. The first thing I would have done was to check, video camera files, to see how many workers boarded the aircraft to service it and how many exited. Persons with bad intentions could have hidden in the crew rest area, coming out after the flight was ready to switch over to Siagon control. I believe that the avionics bay can be accessed through a hatch in the floor in the front galley, giving person access to disconnect any radios from there control heads. The best thing that could have happened to persons wanting to hide a aircraft was to change the search area to the south Indian Ocean, away from an area where it could be repainted and used for a bad incident. The lack of information from surrounding countries hurt

  11. Graeme Murray 22 April, 2014 at 9:46 pm #

    Another thing I find strange about the authorities response to this was when things started going wrong, why were the airforce not scrambled ?
    Surely if a satellite provider in the UK was tracking signals, vectors could have been provided to fighters to get to the approximate area for visual confirmation of what was happening with the aircraft even though it was dark. I would like to think if a british registered passenger airliner with a couple of hundred souls onboard just vanished, the response would be somewhat more expeditious and proactive, and not let many hours elapse without any positive contact before acting !! There is a part of me that still hopes they find this aircraft sitting on an unknown abandoned airfield on an island somewhere but unfortunately it appears all is lost but I still find it hard to believe that absolutely nothing has been found !! If it turns out the pilots have been involved somehow, the airlines really need to address their psychometric testing and screening procedures. Other crew members also have to be more aware of their colleagues and never assume that all is well and report any suspicious behaviour before this kind of scenario happens. Our families should be able to step on an aircraft safe in the knowledge that they are safe and protected and the crew can be trusted at all times to transport them safely to their destination. My heart goes out to all the relatives of those involved in this terrible mystery.

  12. sansam77 23 April, 2014 at 3:16 am #

    A couple things in the article are open to contest: there’s no assurance that every fragment of the wreck shall be so small in size to evade detection; passengers wouldn’t have gone away asleep inside an hour of take-off! State-sponsored hide-away (quite possibly by few who are party to the search efforts, feigning to be “good samaritans”) should rank among the top-most explanations.

  13. Rolando 23 April, 2014 at 7:48 am #

    Interesting theory, David. I agree with you that the wreckage and recorders may, unfortunately, never be found, which opens the arena for different theories including the conspiracy one.

    Although I am an avid follower of your blog, and although your theory is certainly a possibility, I tend have a dissenting view and go along with the one expressed in Christine Negroni’s blog. I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind sharing your thoughts on this one? Given what we know, and in the absence of more evidence supporting the theory of deliberate action, it certainly has a lot of merit.


    • Andypease 24 April, 2014 at 12:00 pm #

      Another question,if a modern long range airliner turns towards the southern ocean,can anything catch it?

  14. Eclectic1 28 April, 2014 at 8:55 pm #

    What wiring would have been affected by a slow fire in the front landing gear bay resulting from an underinflated, slow burning tire ? It may have disrupted the communications just as the copilot was signing off and other devices as it burned wiring in the wheel well. It could have built to the point of melting through the fuselage causing a non-explosive decompression, incapacitating all on board. It might be worthwhile to search for the front landing gear bay doors in the area the plane was when the copilot signed off.

  15. Rick D 27 June, 2014 at 2:42 am #

    Navigation was compromised and hence turnaround at IGARI . Veered left, lost height. The pilot tried to return to KL via Indonesia. There was no conspiracy plot or hijacking or suicide.

    There is no wreckage or aviation spill seen in the ocean as it came down on LAND.

    MH370 has come down near in a jungle ravine close to the mountain of Gunung Leuser (3400m high) north of Medan, but low populace. (see Super jet 100 crash in indonesia see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Salak_Sukhoi_Superjet_100_crash, was 50km from airport and took week to find, thats how dense the jungleis )

    One Engine computer compressor kept running for many hours as it was intact and had fuel.

    Wreckage covered by jungle, signal compromised by ravine shadow.(black box is FM signal).

    • David Learmount 27 June, 2014 at 10:04 am #

      It sounds as if you should be the leader of the expedition to find the wreckage since you know where it is

  16. Rick D 28 June, 2014 at 4:06 pm #

    I’ve recently started to follow this site. https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/mh370-is-missing-with-239-people-on-board-help-the-families-find-the-truth#activity, it has the following comment for 28 June 2104 in the updates,”………The new search area will be based on assumptive data which assumes a plane being flown on auto pilot without any change in altitude over the 5 hour period (IMARSAT tracked) would reach a certain point over the given period at a constant height and speed. All this is further based on the what the aircraft could fly at and remain airborne.” They also have made comments on 27 June as to the the lack of wreckage .

    I suggest looking in the immediate vacinity of the airport as more logical.

    The IMARSAT scientists algorithm of the course traveled by MH370 was determined indirectly based on Doppler shift. They claim they tested the algorithm on their own test cases before making the southern arc conclusion. Fair enough.
    But other direct data, such as the initially reported Malay radar heights of MH370 have since been treated with suspicion and are not being considered accurate. Malay Military radar detection of the last position of the aircraft in the Malacca straits is still being treated as accurate although the Indonesian military did not . The last position Malay reported position near the northern Malacca Straits could suggest an attempted KL flyback, in my opinion.

    In terms of the success of the four nations who detected black box pings, all detections have since been discounted, and no wreckage of any kind has been found. The plane is full of foam products such as seat cushions. Wouldn’t the high underwater pressure at 3-5km crush the plane, and allow debris to escape? Its been 100 days after all!

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