Well, we’ve been saying it here for a long time, but at last the ATSB has ackowledged the inevitable truth: the failure to locate any wreckage on the seabed in the southern Indian Ocean will mean that MH370 must have been piloted until the very end.
To quote today’s story in the Independent:
“the possibility that someone was at the controls of that aircraft on the flight and gliding it becomes a more significant possibility, if we eliminate all of the current search area.” [Martin Dolan, chief commissioner of the ATSB, told The Times.] “In a few months time, if we haven’t found it, then we’ll have to be contemplating that one of the much less likely scenarios ends up being more prominent. Which is that there were control inputs into that aircraft at the end of its flight.”
To be clear, Dolan wasn’t saying that they’ve ruled out the ghost ship yet, but seems to be preparing the public for this eventuality when the search runs out of money and time this June. But the fact that he said it all suggests that he views it as quite a likely outcome.
The only “much less likely” scenario that Dolan pointed to was the idea that a suicidal pilot might have flown to seventh arc within the current search area, then held the plane in a glide after it ran out of fuel so that it wound up some distance beyond. If such was indeed the case, then the area to be searched would be too large to be economically viable. This led to some catastrophic headlines, such as Bloomberg‘s “Missing Malaysia Jet MH370 Weeks Away From Keeping Secrets Forever.” But this is a tad presumptious, in my opinion.
Though Dolan didn’t ennumerate them, there now three scenarios that could match the data we have in hand.
1) The one Dolan described, which we might call “straight and fast.”
2) Another controlled-flight-into-the-southern-ocean scenario, which I’ll call “slow and curvy.” This would result in the plane ending up further to the northeast, and would necessitate an even larger search area.
3) A “spoof” scenario, in which sophisticated hijackers tampered with the satellite communications system and hijacked the plane to the north.
While some at the ATSB (and maybe within the IG, too) might be wearing long faces over Dolan’s admission, in my estimation it marks the most hopeful turn in the case in a very long time. As David Gallo recently pointed out on Twitter, the ATSB search hasn’t failed to locate the plane; it’s succeeded in proving where the plane isn’t. The most likely scenario — the scenario that we’ve been told is the only reasonable one — the scenario that we’ve been told will imminently be proven correct — has been falsified. And that brings us one very big step closer to finding the truth.
The illusory “sure thing” is over. (The wonderful film The Big Short, which I saw over the weekend and which I think any MH370 obsessive will find very entertaining, at one point quotes Mark Twain: ‘It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.’) It may make some people uncomfortable, but we now know that whatever happened to MH370, it was weird and unprecedented.
Now we can get down to work. I hope that now that the broad community of MH370 researchers, and especially the hardworking and intelligent folks at the ATSB, can embrace a new spirit of enthusiastic skepticism and turn their attention to fully evaluating all of the possibilities.
There is some important information coming down the pike that will be very illuminating, and I am very excited about pressing this story forward in the weeks and months ahead.