Scotland’s judicial system permits its juries a third verdict – “not proven” – and surely this is the only appropriate conclusion to reach while weighing the case for sabotage in the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.
No-one familiar with the MH370 investigation would have expected a final resolution over the loss when the inquiry published its latest findings. But its analysis that manual manoeuvring suddenly took the aircraft off its assigned route has darkened, rather than lifted, the cloud of suspicion that has loomed over the seats between the Boeing 777’s control columns and its impenetrable cockpit door.
The undeclared turn-back at an airspace boundary, where surveillance continuity is vulnerable. The abrupt loss of five systems specifically for communicating location, without any indication of technical fault. The inability to attribute the subsequent flightpath to system anomalies. The disturbingly precise course to Penang, the captain’s birthplace, and circumventing of Indonesian airspace. And the extraordinary discovery, on the captain’s home simulator, of plotted waypoints charting an uncannily similar course to that tracked by the missing aircraft.
MH370’s coincidences have become harder to explain as accidental without sacrificing a coherent narrative. Circumstantial evidence is evidence nonetheless, as is the inquiry’s failure to turn up equally compelling corroboration that the 777 vanished after an unprecedented series of malfunctions.
Scarcity of information has foxed the investigators’ efforts to build an airtight case against either man or machine.
There is no evidence that anyone other that the pilots flew the aircraft – the same pilots who, apparently, were under no lifestyle pressures, and showed no outward signs of anxiety or stress.
But the inquiry has been unable to dispel – and arguably, has reinforced – the uncomfortable notion that the destruction of MH370, and all souls on board, was a deliberate act. Exceptional claims, however, demand exceptional proof.
If MH370’s loss is, indeed, a crime, the elusive component is motive. And that, in the end, might be even more difficult to determine than the final resting place of its victims.