Ed Dentzel is the host of the missing persons program, Unfound. He’s covered over 120 disappearances including Flight 370. However, before devoting his life to helping missing persons families, he was the Stage Manager for “The World’s Greatest Magic Show” at the Greek Isles in Las Vegas from 2005 to 2008. While there he worked with more than 50 magicians, helping them create and hone new tricks.
“Magicians don’t go on stage with a new trick until it’s flawless,” he told me. “Sometimes it means months and months of choreography, lighting changes, equipment changes, costume changes, all in an effort to make sure the audience can’t figure out how the trick works. I got paid lots of overtime while helping them find perfection.”
I asked him: given his experience in devising magic tricks, what does he think of the idea I laid out in The Taking of MH370 that the disappearance could best be thought of a stage magic–does the disappearance match with the way a magic trick would be crafted? This is an edited version of the reply he sent me.
I do see a lot of similarities. And I think you’ve touched upon a few of those qualities without possibly knowing it.
First, every magic trick is tailored to the environment in which it will take place. In other words, there’s a reason at a child’s birthday party you don’t see a magician cutting a woman in half. Why? Because to do that trick, the audience can’t be “on top of” the magician. If the audience is too close, then the trick is exposed. Also in other words, the simpler the trick, the more it can travel from a stage, to a convention room, to a home. Card tricks are probably the best known of this kind.
How does that relate to Flight 370? Well, if things happened the way you’ve written, the “trick” couldn’t have been performed over the USA at noon on a Wednesday. Why? Other jets would see Flight 370 leaving its path. People on the ground would see it. Military and civilian radar would see it. Instead, these hijackers picked the correct venue for their trick: Southeast Asia, where things are a little lax, especially at night.
Second, every trick has a tell. Not because the magician wants it that way. But because there is no easy way to make things seem possible that are truly physically impossible. What do I mean? Well, a magician can’t make birds appear out of nowhere if he is naked on stage. So, her costume/his suit/those pants are not something you’d pick up at the Men’s Warehouse. Those are specially designed clothes for that bird trick. Likewise, in almost every levitation trick out there, there’s a reason the magician drapes a piece of cloth over the entire assistant before she is suspended in the air. Why? Because that’s to cover the woman sliding into the table she is lying on, and what the cloth is really covering as it goes into the air is a wire frame suspended by wires. But, to the audience–the magician’s clothes, the draping of the assistant, etc. appears to be very natural and unassociated with the trick itself, even though it is. Maybe the best example is when David Copperfield walked through the Great Wall of China. Great trick. Yet, the tell was right in front of everyone the whole time . . . why exactly did he use the same platform and shrouding on one side of the Wall, then the other? You mean a rich guy like that couldn’t afford platforms for both sides. Well . . . it was because he was hiding in the platform and thus got carried by his assistants from one side of the Wall to the other.
How does that relate to Flight 370? Well, it may be that the SDU cutting out and coming back on is that “tell.” And you’ve kind of explained it as such. To seemingly everyone else in aviation, this is just some natural thing that occurred. To you, it’s the “tell” that a “trick” was taking place. And like the magic tricks which need the special costume or the draping of the assistant, the taking of Flight 370 couldn’t have happened without the SDU going off then on again.
Third, magicians never reveal their secrets. Yes, once in a while a TV show comes out, “The World’s Greatest Magic Tricks Exposed.” But I can tell you, in my four years of working with magicians, not one ever complained about a show like that. In fact, all of them know the Masked Magician who was in those shows–his identity is not a secret. Why? Because most of the tricks featured on those shows were old–they’d already been outdone or revamped. Why? Because magicians love to one up each other. They are very competitive. So, even when it seems a magician is showing the world the secrets, he really isn’t.
How does that relate to Flight 370? Well, nobody has taken credit yet. Yes, you suspect Russia–but nobody has come out and said, “We did it. And here’s how we did it.” True, it may be because the repercussions of doing that would be severe, especially if all of the passengers are dead. However, if the taking of Flight 370 was a more, uh, private operation, then the culprits are behaving exactly like magicians, not even going to some place like 4chan or Reddit anonymously to say how they did it. Yet, what this also means, distressingly, is someone or a group could right now be planning to outdo what happened to Flight 370. Maybe the next time will be a flight over the USA. Or over Europe. Some “magicians” will figure out how to make a plane vanish without the help of a wobbly satellite and the SDU.
So, I see a lot of similarities.
However, I see some dissimilarities as well.
1. The hardest thing to make disappear is an inanimate object. Why? Because they can’t be trained–they have no intelligence. A human, a tiger, a rabbit–they can all be trained to slip into this table, crawl into this hat, jump through this hoop of fire at the appropriate time. But an inanimate object will just sit there until acted upon by the magician herself. What does this mean? Most inanimate objects you see disappear during a magic act are not real–they are all magic props. That bird cage–not something you’d pick up at PetSmart. That bottle–not something you’d drink Coke out of. That 15lb. oak wood table that is being levitated–it’s really made out of balsa wood and weighs 2oz. Well . . . Flight 370 was a real plane and a large inanimate object.
2. Magicians and the stage personnel always have outs if something goes wrong. If that drape that’s on the wire frame gets snagged when the magician tries to rip it away, we pull the curtain so as to protect the trick and the magician’s reputation. If a gadget, a little machine that is being used during a trick doesn’t work–the batteries have worn out,say–we’re prepared to give signals to the magician that she is going to have to skip that part. If an animal is just in a bad mood that day and it could be a danger to the crew, the audience or the magician himself, we nix that trick for that day and work around it. Well, with Flight 370 we still don’t know what the “out” was if their trick didn’t work. In fact, I’m not sure anybody has thought about that. Or . . . was this “success or suicide”?
3. No magician would ever craft a trick that had the possibility of being solved just through logical reasoning. As much as Vincent Gambini from My Cousin Vinny might’ve been able to solve any trick in seconds, in real life that is not how it works. In fact, if you’re a magician and all of your tricks can easily be figured out just by people thinking about it for a few minutes, you don’t have a job. Well, what I’m saying is it seems you’ve figured out this trick through logical means–crunching the data and the facts. Now, it may be that the hijackers didn’t know about the BTO. And because of that you’ve kinda worked your way “behind the curtain” of the trick. But surely a bunch of “magicians” who could figure out they could use a wobbly satellite to take a passenger jet, would find out, even by accident, that there was another way to track Flight 370 besides the established procedures. Keep in mind, the people at Immarsat said they’d never tracked a plane using the BFO or BTO before. Well, that doesn’t mean somebody else hadn’t figure out how to do that years before and kept it himself. Which is also a common thing in magic–sometimes it takes years for a trick to come fruition, and all that time the magician keeps it to himself till he can figure out the particulars because he doesn’t want anyone ripping his revolutionary new trick off.
I do have something for you to think about: How truly convenient is it that the opposite path of the one that leads down into the Indian Ocean, happens to lead to a remote airfield in a country that is friendly to Putin?
What I’m saying is imagine a different scenario. Imagine that the alleged path still led to the southern Indian Ocean but the opposite one led to, say, Switzerland. Well, the path to Switzerland could easily be dismissed and the Indian Ocean path would have to be accepted despite the jet not being found there yet.
Likewise, let’s say the alleged path of 370 led to the center of Australia (and not the Indian Ocean) and the opposite led to Kazakhstan, which of course it does in reality. Well, as soon as the center of Australia would be checked and there was nothing there, everybody would know that the jet went to Kazakhstan.
What I’m saying is under those alternate scenarios, the hijackers plan doesn’t work — the trick is exposed. And I think you know this but I don’t think it’s been obvious in your writing to this point.
My main point: Flight 370 DID NOT reverse course and fly up the Malacca Strait, etc. because it was afraid of radar or any particular country. It reversed course and flew up the Malacca Strait BECAUSE if the hijackers had immediately flown toward Kazakhstan when they were near Vietnam, the accepted path (the one opposite the path to K-stan)–the one we know as the one that leads to the southern Indian Ocean using the satellite data–WOULDN’T have led to the Indian Ocean at all. In fact, it might’ve led to the middle of a shipping lane. OR to the middle of a major airway where other jets would’ve seen Flight 370. OR or the middle of a country like Australia. It would’ve led to a place where a search would’ve been much easier and it would’ve been much easier to say, “Hey, the plane is 100% not here.”
Let me try to explain it another way. The reason YOU personally believe that the plane went to Kazakhstan is NOT because of your beliefs regarding Putin–although those are well-warranted. The reason YOU believe it is because Kazakhstan is on the opposite end of the arc from where the Southern Indian Ocean is–and you know that from the data you have personally crunched. You DID NOT just haphazardly pick Kazakhstan out of the air.
Well, we must look at this from the hijackers POV. Nothing would’ve been stupider for them than if they flew to Kazakhstan, did all this stuff with the SDU, BUT . . . the path shows that instead of crashing into the southern Indian Ocean in the middle of nowhere, that 370 actually crash landed in the center of Tokyo. You know what I mean?
So, the hijackers needed to get 370 to a point on the globe–the end of the Malacca Strait–where the opposite route to Kazakhstan would lead investigators to the most desolate part of the earth where the searching would be the hardest. Meaning, the southern Indian Ocean path was not accidental—it was built into the trick. It’s not a coincidence that it looks like 370 went into the Indian Ocean—that is EXACTLY what the hijackers wanted everyone to think. Well, to do that, they needed to get to a particular point on the globe to make it work.