Why Would Anyone Fly a Plane Into the Middle of the Ocean and then Ditch it?

Seriously, why? Can anyone think of a single justification?

The plane has a fully functioning communications suite, so if your plan was to commit suicide but then you got cold feet, you could call for help. Otherwise, what you’re looking at a best-case scenario in which you wind up sitting on a slowly-sinking aircraft for a little while until you wind up treading water until you drown or get eaten by sharks.

And you’d have six hours beforehand to do nothing but sit there and think about what lay in store.

90 thoughts on “Why Would Anyone Fly a Plane Into the Middle of the Ocean and then Ditch it?”

  1. Hi Spencer,

    Thanks for your kind words. I lived and worked in Malaysia some years ago but admit that I am not particularly well informed on the subtleties of the current political situation.

    I still think quietly murdering a plane full of innocent civilians is an ineffective way to bring down an entrenched government. As you say I think we are done.

  2. I have completed an analysis of the radar data for MH370. Here is a summary:

    • After the turn back towards the Malay Peninsula, the flight path recorded by civilian primary surveillance radar (PSR), civilian secondary surveillance radar (SSR), and military radar are consistent with a flight at a Mach number (M) equal to 0.84 at a cruising level of FL340.

    • If the aircraft did fly at a steady M = 0.84, then the timestamps for some of the PSR contained in the Factual Information (FI) are offset by about 35 s.

    • After the left turn at around 17:23:38 UTC, the aircraft might have descended from FL350 to FL340 and accelerated from a ground speed of 473 kn to a ground speed of greater than 500 kn.

    • In the FI, the PSR data between 17:47:02 and 17:52:35 UTC are attributed to the radar site at Kota Bharu, but more likely were collected by another radar site. The PSR data between 17:30:37 and 17:44:52 are correctly attributed to Kota Bharu.

    • In the FI, it is stated that Indonesian military radar recorded MH370 as it traveled toward IGARI but not as it traveled back over Malaysia. One explanation is that Indonesian radar site was powered down after midnight, local time.

    • The sharp turn to the left at around 17:23:38 UTC is unexplained, and could be due to either an inaccurate graphical portrayal of the radar track, or crossing radar tracks from two aircraft.

    • The curve in the radar path close to Kota Bharu can be explained by “slant range” due to high altitudes and close distances.

    • Fuel consumption models which assume that MH370 flew near Long Range Cruise (LRC) speeds and at cruising altitudes between 17:07 and 18:22 are likely accurate.

    The full report can be found at
    https://www.dropbox.com/s/zh9rfqa6rxy582m/2015-08-18%20Radar%20Data%20for%20MH370.pdf?dl=0

  3. In my last comment I mentioned ‘acronym’. On this comment I am going the ‘full monty’ (i.e. going all out) on the acronyms that are used on this site. The following acronyms were found on this topic alone:

    IMO, SW of OZ, NW of OZ, SIO, IG, KL, ATSB, HCM, PKK, UMNO, Z, MAS, FO, FI, A/C, IOR, AES, FMT, HAARP, ACARS, CVR, FDR, ATC, OP, RMAF, pax, EE bay, AC bus, JACC

    Only one have these acronyms (JACC, thank you) had been spelled out. Folks, we need to get a handle on these acronyms.

    Here is my solution: Spell out the acronyms or Jeff can create an ‘Acronyms’ tab. You can click on the tab and it will spell out the acronym for you. And maybe it can have a definition for each acronym.

    As a newbie when I first saw ‘SIO’ it stopped me in my tracks. What was ‘SIO’? I read what came before ‘SIO’ and I read what came after ‘SIO’. By reading the tea leaves I was able to ascertain that ‘SIO’ meant Southern India Ocean.

    I do not want to go all English teacher on this site but English teachers will tell you that it is bad form to use acronyms without spelling them out.

    It will help the newbies on this site if we spell out the acronyms. Thank you.

  4. the main problem with MH370 theories is that people assume that hijacking/divert had to go as planned…while the historic success rate of those is far from perfect(is it even 50%?)

    it’s way easier to explain this whole case if you assume things didn’t go as the captain/perpetrator imagined they would, and there is very good probability they didn’t especially considering the circumstances

  5. Victor,

    Thank you for the white paper analysis of available radar data. For me, it explains several nagging questions regarding what is arguably the most documented portion of the post-turnback flight.

    I’d have to check the FI again, but I seem to recall the Indonesian military radar may have been referencing the SSR contact only.

    Peanut questions-

    Could Indo’s PSR have been recorded over on a loop before they realized the need to look at them?

    If my math is correct, 35s at 510kn is about 6 miles (10km). Would radar ‘coasting’ explain the 35s discrepancy of the first 3 tracks?

    Regarding the sharp turn, in the June 26,2014 report Fig. 2 “MH370 flight path derived from primary and secondary radar data,” there are two colors shown for the path. Upon first glance, it would appear that the yellow corresponds to the primary radar, and the pink represents the secondary radar – except that there shouldn’t be any ADS-B/SSR after 17:21. Clearly out of range for the PSR at Kota Bahru, IGARI is at a distance of less than 200km from Bukit Puteri. A turnback at 35,000 ft would have been well within range of that military installation. Frustrating there isn’t more data available from 17:21 – 17:30- especially with hints that there is a Thai detection a few minutes earlier.

    The ‘noise’ regarding flying past BITOD, in my opinion, has been lost in translation. I seem to recall was that HCM lost the SSR signal “somewhere beyond BITOD.” From their vantage point, ‘beyond BITOD’ could very well mean towards IGARI.

    I do still wonder what exactly the Kota Bahru fishermen and the villagers in Kelentan province all saw? Seems like a plane at 35,000 feet would be uneventful- especially if you were hundreds of km away, in an opposite direction, of the known flight path of a plane which was thought to have crashed out at sea? I mean- they were RIGHT underneath it at almost exactly the right time- and that wasn’t known for over a week after their police reports were filed.

    Perhaps the ‘two plane concept’ is related to these sightings. I remember a long time ago Mu was almost (halfheartedly) banned for discussing the sharp turn and this very ‘two-planes concept.’ My, how far we’ve come! I also (halfheartedly) miss Rand’s rambles!

    In all seriousness, thank you to JW for hosting us, and to all of those who have, and many who continue, to dedicate their time and energy to try and bring closure to this tragedy.

  6. @Joe: my guesses:

    IMO = “In My Opinion”
    S/NW of OZ = “South/Northwest of Australia”
    SIO = “Southern Indian Ocean”
    IG = “Independent Group”
    KL = “Kuala Lumpur”
    ATSB = “Australian Transport Safety Bureau”
    HCM = “Ho Chi Minh”
    PKK = “Pusat Khidmat Kontraktor” (Malaysian government agency; contractor regulation)
    UMNO = “United Malays National Organization”
    Z = (Captain) “Zaharie”
    MAS = “Malaysian Airlines”
    FO = “First Officer”
    FI – “Factual Information”
    A/C = “aircraft”
    IOR = “Indian Ocean Region” = alternate description of Inmarsat-3 F1 satellite (?)
    AES = “Aircraft Earth Station” (aircraft sitcom system)
    FMT = “Final Major Turn”
    HAARP = “High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program”
    ACARS = “Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System”
    CVR = “Cockpit Voice Recorder”
    FDR = “Flight Data Recorder”
    ATC = “Air Traffic Control(ler)”
    OP = “Original Post” (?)
    RMAF = “Royal Malaysian Air Force”
    pax = “passengers”
    EE bay = “Electronic and Equipment bay”
    AC bus = “Alternating Current (distribution) Bus”
    JACC = “Joint Agency Coordination Centre”

    This plus a search engine should get you home.

  7. I suspect there was a decoy aircraft or drone cloaked with MH370’s ID which then flew onward after I suspect MH370 was force down near Eastern Malaysia.. it was forced down to retrieve cargo or people on board. I think this matches a fast decent in that region and a slight disconnect with the timings of radar and pings.

  8. It was said early on that ‘a source close to the investigation’ stated that the pilot negotiated, but his demands were declined. It was not stated who the ‘pilot’ was. One of the official pilots? A pilot hijacker? It was also – briefly – reported that jets were scrambled. We learned of various altitude changes, a rise to 45,000 feet, perhaps to incapacitate crew and passengers. HH said – various news outlets reported it – that something terrible happened, something that must never be revealed to the public. All these reports have disappeared, but I remember them well.

    One theory to explain the flight to the SIO:

    The ‘pilot’ negotiated. Passengers were killed to push the claim. Whatever he wanted, his demands were declined. Jets were scrambled. The ‘pilot’ fled and instinctively chose a route that he knew well, a flight up the Malacca Strait and towards the Andaman Islands. There he realized that he would never get away with the crime. He turned the plane south, engaged the autopilot, committed suicide and let the plane fly south, hoping it would go down in the Roaring Forties and neither the murdered people nor a piece of the plane would ever be found. Authorities had no interest in finding the plane und revealing the truth to the public because back then the truth was considered shocking back. And now it’s too late to come forward with it.

    This doesn’t explain a ditch, but ditching an intact plane in the Roaring Forties is absurd, IMHO. And I don’t necessarily believe this theory.

  9. The scenario: Suicide/Revenge with an agenda.

    Explanation:

    Note: The following is pure conjecture!

    The pilot committed suicide and was out for revenge. You have two problems here. They are:
    1. There is no suicide note.
    2. There is no clear motive for revenge.

    What is the agenda? The pilot was thinking the following—Find me if you can.
    The pilot wanted to be a modern day Amelia Earhart. This could explain the hard left turns, turning off communications, the zig zag route (flying through the military radar). the reboot, possible intentional turn-off of the ‘handshake’, and the plane‘s final resting place in the southern India Ocean. The pilot was playing peek-a-boo with the authorities.

    What do I think of this scenario? Not much. You have to make too many assumptions because of the lack of hard evidence. With this scenario you are going down a rabbit hole.

    On this topic it looks like Jeff needs a ‘ditching’. I am assuming that ‘ditching’ means that the pilot wanted to make a soft landing. The pilot wanted (maybe) to save the passengers.

    I believe the ‘ditching’ scenario comes from the fact that the Reunion flaperon is intact—more or less. People in the know have suggested that since the Reunion flaperon was intact the plane could have made a soft landing (low-impact, a ditcing, etc.).

    Question: How do you work the ‘ditching’ scenario into my ‘Amelia Earhart’ scenario?

    Note: Here is my response. It is pure conjecture:

    The pilot wants to fly to the Southern India Ocean (SIO) because he wants to be like Amelia Earhart—she disappears and he wants to do the same. He does not want it to be impossible to find him, thus, he turns-on the ‘handshake’. But he does not want it to be too easy. So he turns-off the ‘handshake’. He wants to fly to “X” in the SIO. “X” is where the water is the deepest. He knows that if the plane flies itself it is a good possible that the plane will not clash in the deepest part of the ocean. So the pilot decides to fly the plane. He is going to ditch the plane as close he can to “X”. So what if the plane lands in one piece—more or less. The plane will sink in the deepest part of the ocean—Found me if you can. Does he do it? Who knows. As for the passengers and the rest of the crew they really do not enter into the picture. This is a major flaw in this scenario. I do not think the passengers/crew will be setting on their hands while the pilot flies the plane to its doom. They will be trying to knock the door down to get control of the plane.

    One has to understand that Jeff wants us to explain the unexplainable!

  10. Joe T,

    Not to beat a dead horse but you still have a misunderstanding about how the “handshakes” fit in with this overall picture. You still seem to classify the “handshakes” and the “reboot” as 2 distinct unrelated events. Additionally, it’s widely accepted that more likely than not, Shah would not have known A) that the the Inmarsat handshakes existed and B) that they would be able to deduce location. Thus, one of the major mysteries is why this reboot happened.

  11. @Joe T
    If you feel it’s “unexplainable” why do you hang out here and criticise?
    Brock McEwen
    Thank you for the acronym key

  12. @Joe T – Further to Jay’s info, the on/off switch for “Handshake Machine” is the E/E bay. It is very complicated to disable it from the flight deck.

  13. @DL

    tough chance they could negotiate without someone from nearby countries listening to the frequency, not something they could hide I think

    @Joe T.

    “What is the agenda? The pilot was thinking the following—Find me if you can.
    The pilot wanted to be a modern day Amelia Earhart.”

    1. He wouldn’t make the turn towards Australia if that was his goal.

    2. He would totally turn off satcom (and we wouldn’t get any pings) if it was his idea, it’s quite easy to do and he could obtain that information basically anywhere.

    3. I doubt Amelie Earhart wanted to disappear, and I doubt it was the case here too. It just happened so as a consequence of strange events.

    Unfortunately the intentional disappearance is the basis of most MH370 theories although we don’t know if permanent disappearance was the goal.

  14. @Jay
    That comes as a huge surprise that Captain Shah would not know the capabilities of the RR (Rolls Royce) 800 engines having ACARS integrated.

  15. @Jay

    Thank you for your comment. I did know that the ‘reboot’ and the ‘handshake’ are/is one and the same.

    Maybe we have a ‘Who is on first’ thing here.

    Let me try this: the ‘reboot’ or a turn-on of the ‘handshake’ happened sometime after (maybe before) the Final Major Turn. We then have number of ‘handshakes’. I read that the investigators believed that the plane crashed into the water and that is why there is no next ‘handshake’. My scenario is that the pilot intentionally turned-off the ‘handshake’.

    The reboot gave us the ‘handshakes’.

    Yes, the ‘reboot’ is unexplainable. Thus, my last sentence in my comment– One has to understand that Jeff wants us to explain the unexplainable!

  16. @Susie Crowe, Lauren H, StevanG

    Not to repeat myself, but…….

    Here is the only thing we know for sure about MH370:

    A plane took a very strange trip to the Southern India Ocean.

    Everything else is pure conjecture.

  17. We also know it took SE turn after getting around Indonesia, we just don’t know how much of a turn it made(otherwise it would be easy).

  18. @orion,

    Thanks for the laurels on the sharp turn. But the honour for the two planes theory goes squarely to Ron Black.

    My contribution then was a theory of a manueuvre of a single plane that could explain the sharp corner in the radar trace.

    I am glad to see that Victor now classifies that turn as unexplained and the discussion here is re-examining that conundrum.

    As I said then (many moons ago), if we cannot explain that sharp corner for a single plane, the reminder of the radar track after it would be irreconcilable with MH370.

    I am not saying it isn’t. But in saying it is MH370, we must explain how that corner was generated from a single plane’s path or dismiss it as a graphics artefact.

    Cheers

    Will

  19. It would be interesting if someone know or if someone investigate if the captain filed in the past a complain about safety in airlines or in air travel…..

    We already know that he was a great aviation enthusiast, i just realize that may be if this complains were forgotten he wanted probe his point at the most terrible way!

    Just other conjecture

  20. Brock McEwen,

    Great and here are some more:

    FMS
    GES
    ELT
    RAT
    APU
    SDU
    ISAT
    SAR
    FIR
    SID
    and one for the back up generators?

    I think there is a complete listing in the original ATSB Report.

  21. Joe T.,

    No the “Who’s On First” thing was the passing or ownership of the Inmarsat data. They have it, no you have it, no we gave it to them, it’s theirs, it’s ours, etc. way back. That is what I equated it to on Duncan Steel over a year+ ago.

    I would say that the final handshake or partial one is engine related and wasn’t there a reboot then also. I doubt if the pilot/perp is reconnecting a bus or in the EE bay yet again during the plumeting into the SIO. BUT the 18:25 reboot, the question is, is THAT engine related due to a landing and restart or a reconnect of the left AC bus or something else?

  22. Occam’s Razor on this one for sure…

    Pilot suicide and here’s why…

    You have to remember that suicide in Malaysian culture is highly taboo. So, he probably wanted to spare his family the pain and suffering as a result.

    Also, life insurance would likely be more willing to pay out if suicide could not be proven and if the plane were never found to prove suicide.

    As far as ACARS is concerned, he likely researched how to disable ACARS but didn’t realize it was still doing handshakes every 60 minutes.

    His plan to elaborately fly the plane literally in the middle of nowhere is brilliant yet part of a master plan of a suicidal mind. I think what surprised me most about this is he was awake for the 7+ hours to the very end. Or, he “dumped” the cabin, went on oxygen to give himself enough time to setup the waypoints and then took off his oxygen mask and let the plane fly itself to the end while he suffocated to death.

    I still hold to the belief that the wreckage will never be found in our lifetimes…

  23. The pilot of the Germanwings plane told his girlfriend ‘One day everyone will know my name.’ I think Zaharie would add to that ‘And I’m smarter than you. Find my plane’. Neither suicide nor mass murder stand up to the evidence. For either of them you point the aircraft straight down. The disappearing act of MH370 was performed by someone who was an expert in evasion, camouflage and concealment. Most of us live with a darker side, but I think Zaharie was able to hide his more effectively than most.
    Ever since the 4th century BC people have recognised that others will commit a criminal act to become famous. Herostratus destroyed the temple of Artemis for fame, though he was killed by the authorities to try to quiet the story.
    I think the reward for Zaharie was in the planning and execution. Suicide wasn’t the main motive, though he was prepared to die in persuit the fame of creating a mystery. And waiting the 6 hours to land the plane would be exhilerating. It doesn’t make sense to those of us who are normal. But this was not the act of a normal person.

  24. What about a scenario close to Ethiopian 961, hijackers wanting to go to Australia with not enough fuel, and plane ditched by pilots at the very end?

  25. When you use the word “ditching” I immediately think of a controlled ditch. Why are we now using this phrase? Has some flaperon evidence come to light of which I’m not aware? Has some reputable agency determined that a survivable ditching was attempted by a conscious pilot?

    I guess don’t understand the confident (yet rather cavalier) use of the term “ditching.”

    I’m firmly in the Mike Exner camp wherein the flaperon detachment (with the shattered trailing edge and the cozy, happy leading edge) was a product of high speed flutter. Maybe the flutter happened in an uncommanded spiral dive?

    Or maybe it happened when a suicidal pilot watched his fuel flow go to nothing and pushed the nose over right up to Vne? But maybe in the craziness of it all, he exceeded Vne just a little prior to hitting the water and lost a control surface? Wouldn’t really have mattered that much, just a few knots less impact speed and a little less control over the entry angle, but you’re gonna hit the water like a plummeting 777 either way and there’s a damned good chance nobody will find you for at least a year, until a piece of your airplane washes up on some obscure shoreline.

    So I guess my answer to the question in the title is, “You wouldn’t.”

    What you would do – if you were a man who wanted to make himself, his airplane, and all aboard disappear forever without a trace in a place where it would be nearly impossible to find – is you’d run right up to the vapors of your fuel load, then you’d ram the thing into the ocean as hard as you could, maybe even at the risk of losing a control surface in the final dive.

    I believe that obliteration of the aircraft in the SIO was “the objective.” Just like taking down the WTC was “the objective” for the 9/11 hijackers. However much cruising around it took before the objective was reached, well, that’s just part of the job description as I see it.

  26. @Roberta

    BTW…this is a new one on me and it really resonated for some reason:

    “2. He had been threatened and was a dead man walking. By whom and for what reason, I cannot say…”

    If you look at the Malaysian Interim Report, they almost go OUT OF THEIR WAY to downplay any aspect which might suggest Shah did it. They belabor his credentials, his “normal demeanor” on security cameras that day, his spotless record, his lack of life insurance.

    And yet, all signs point to him, including their fakakta radar track with all the turns (that none of the Goodfellow-ites want to believe).

    I’d be very interested to know exactly WHY such an otherwise corrupt government would go out of its way to NOT implicate an opposition figure and tie up an otherwise excruciating mess once and for all. They couldn’t have come up with a magic bullet theory and spun this however they wanted? Of course they could have.

    What prevented them from doing that?

    Thanks for pointing me to another bit of weirdness about this horrific saga.

  27. First time poster here. Please take it easy on me.

    In this post, Jeff asks for a reason to ditch the plane, which implies that he is looking for a scenario where the perpetrator(s) survived.

    1) That scenario implies the perpetrators are alive at 18:25, when power is switched back on and satcom comes alive.

    Since nobody uses satcom (not even a text message) after 18:25, we can safely assume that everyone else at that point is incapacitated. Thus necessarily :

    The perpetrator(s) are the only survivors at 18:25, and THEY switch the power back on, AND they have control of the plane at that point in time.

    I find that first part plausible since under any scenario where somebody else (not perpetrator) controls power to the extent where they can at least switch satcom back on at 18:25, they could at least also have USED satcom by sending a text message to inform the outside world… Even if it were the last thing they did…

    2) For the second part (after 18:25) Jeff asks why the perpetrators decided to stay in the plane for 6 more hours and then ditch the plane.

    Since the perpetrators were likely the sole survivors at 18:25, the first part of their mission was already successful (unless they intended to die at that point already).
    Either way, after 18:25 they could do whatever they wanted with that plane.
    Since the plane disappeared into the SIO, the most plausible motive would be that the perpetrators intended to make the plane disappear into the SIO.

    If you plan to make the plane disappear into the SIO, and you choose to stay aboard for 6 more hours, this suggests that you personally wanted to make sure the plane was properly “ditched”, maybe to prevent a lot of debris from showing up.

    Now the question is : do you have to stay aboard to property ditch a 777-200 ?
    This is where I lack knowledge, and thus have a question :

    Can a 777-200 be programed to fly a particular path, and be programed to self-land on water at some set time or place ?

  28. @VictorI – Excellent analysis on the radar traces. Using your conclusions helps minimize the projected LRC range.
    However, in reading your paper I found that I am confused the speeds given in Mach number versus KIAS versus KTAS. A little research showed me the formula I had been using to convert KIAS to KTAS was an approximation and not an equation. But, your paper had a KTAS of 473 prior to the diversion and 498 after the diversion. That seems to indicate the PIC put the “pedal to the metal,” but your summary indicates a constant 0.84 mach for the entire time period. Also, interpolating between 33,000 feet and 35,000 feet Table PI.21.3 gives an LRC of M=0.84 for a GW of 260,000Kg and M=0.8395 for a GW of 240,000Kg. My problem is MH370 should have been around 220,000 Kg (218,000 Kg actually) at 17:07 and around 210,000 at 18:22 with LRC speeds of 0.832 to 0.822 at 34,000 ft. I understand why the LRC speed decreases as the GW is reduced but this table seems to use different starting points. Are the different values due to your correcting for temperature? If not, can you tell me where I went wrong?

  29. Rob Posted August 20, 2015 at 4:54 AM: “Can a 777-200 be programed to fly a particular path, and be programed to self-land on water at some set time or place ? ”

    No.

  30. Some time ago I did something more primitive with the radar plots in the FI report. I measured graphically the distance between the labelled points and plotted it against time as shown in the picture below. The resulting speed is the same as VictorI’s.

    http://i.imgur.com/8zcWIG9.jpg

  31. @Orion – Until I read your recent post, I was troubled by the radar traces showing the left turn between IGARI and BITOD while HCM ATC clearly said “beyond BITOD.” Your explanation makes perfect sense. Thanks.

    @OZ – I found this tidbit in the FI regarding the APU:
    Per 1.6.2 the engines had 40,000 hours and 5,500 cycles. (But the installation dates of May 2013 for LH and June 2010 for RH don’t seem to support hours within 2% of each other.) The APU had 22,000 hours and 15,700 cycles and ran for 4 hours on the previous flight. Does this indicate that the APU is used routinely during a flight? If so, the 0019 logon might not have been in response to an APU start since it might have been already running? Or maybe the 1825 logon was caused by an APU start? Since the APU draws fuel from the Left Main fuel tank, could this cause the left Engine to flameout first?

    It also appears the IDG (main generator on each engine) can be disabled from the flight deck but I’m not sure about the backup generators on each engine. Note, the SATCOM is inoperative when the backup generators are being used. Also, if the RAT is unable to maintain its RPM, it will shed electrical loads until it does. The Standby batteries are to pick up electric loads shed by the APU.

  32. @RunnerSTL

    “His plan to elaborately fly the plane literally in the middle of nowhere is brilliant yet part of a master plan of a suicidal mind.”

    but it’s not the middle, he actually made the turn going away from the middle of IO not towards it…and into very wavy sea without chance for ditching intact

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