OneZero: The Mystery Behind the Missing Malaysia Airlines Flight Isn’t Solved Yet

William Langewiesche is a titan among aviation journalists. He has covered, in depth, some of the most important air disasters of our time for outlets such as the Atlantic and Vanity Fair. He also has extensive experience as a professional pilot. His credibility on the subject of aviation is, in a word, unmatched. So when he turned his hand to the greatest aviation mystery of our time — the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 — there was every reason to hope that he would bring some clarity, at last, to a story fogbound in confusion.

The 10,000 word Atlantic cover story posted on June 17, however, did not accomplish that. Langewiesche writes evocatively, and he wrangles a mountain of information, but he falls victim to a siren temptress: the yearning for a concise and reasonable solution to a deep mystery.

“The simple story is usually the right one,” Langewiesche told me, during one of the many conversations we had while he researched the project. Having immersed myself in the technical arcana of this story for more than five years — first as a CNN contributor, then as a freelancer for New York, Popular Mechanics, and other outlets — I tried to show him that no simple answer can be made to fit the thicket of contradictory evidence that has grown since MH370 vanished on March 8, 2014 while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. As the saying goes, “everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” In the case of MH370, Langewiesche arrives at a solution that requires ignoring or dismissing whole categories of evidence.

It’s not a new solution. Langewiesche hitches his wagon to what has become the default, commonsense explanation, the one which the international authorities responsible for the search have implicitly held — the captain did it. This is a reasonable first pass at a theory of MH370. Since the plane was clearly taken by someone who knew what they were doing, and the only other person locked in the cockpit was the inexperienced first officer Fariq Abdul Hamid, then it must have been Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah who purposefully turned the plane around and flew it off into the darkness until it ran out of fuel and crashed in the remote ocean. Case closed.

Ah, but already we run into problems. Why would Zaharie, a financially comfortable suburban dad whose hobbies included making instructional home-repair videos, spontaneously decide to kill not just himself but all 238 other crew and passengers on the plane? Langewiesche acknowledges that there is no clear evidence Zaharie was psychologically capable of such an act, but then gets around this by invoking malevolent forces that must have hushed such evidence up. Langewiesche declares that the Malaysian government was “the most corrupt in the region” and “furtive, fearful, and unreliable in its investigation of the flight.” In his telling, the absence of evidence is taken as proof of a massive cover-up.

To be sure, Malaysia is not Switzerland. It is a still-developing country where overall levels of professionalism and competence can leave something to be desired — a fact that colored the country’s response to the airplane’s disappearance. In particular, the Malaysian military has been only intermittently forthcoming about its radar detection of MH370, and to this day has not revealed all its data. But there is no evidence that the authorities carried out a deliberate whitewash of the overall investigation.

Langewiesche says of the 495-page final Malaysian report that “nothing in the report was of technical value” and that it “was stuffed with boilerplate descriptions of 777 systems.” This is flatly untrue. The report contains a great deal of previously unreleased technical information, including detailed descriptions and analysis of recovered debris, revelatory information about the plane’s cargo, and an exhaustive examination of the plane’s divergence from its planned flight path.

True, this particular report does not go into great detail about the captain’s background, but we know from a leaked report that the police did spend considerable effort looking for any evidence of guilt. According to an internal document not intended to be seen by the public, they were unable to find any.

There are other, more technical, reasons to doubt that Zaharie was the perpetrator. A whole subset of them hinge around the fact that after someone on MH370 turned all the electronic communications devices off, they turned one back on — an obscure piece of equipment called the Satellite Data Unit, or SDU. After the role of this device came to light, I asked several experienced 777 pilots if they knew how to turn an SDU off and on again. They all responded with variations of: “What on earth is an SDU?”

Langewiesche speculates that perhaps the reboot happened because Zaharie turned off all the plane’s electronics, including the circuit the SDU was on, in order to reduce the electrical load on the engines and thereby hasten his getaway. I find this a very hard idea to swallow, and I doubt that any pilot has ever deliberately done such a thing. Doing so would improve one’s performance by a miniscule amount, at the expense of crippling the aircraft in multiple ways. A rough terrestrial analogy would be turning off your headlights on a dark highway to make your car go faster.

Though technically arcane, the SDU reboot is a crucial part of the MH370 mystery, because it was the reboot that led to the six hours of electronic pings that for the first year after the disappearance were the only clues investigators had as to where the plane had gone. Occurring a mere three minutes after the plane flitted out of Malaysian military radar coverage, the reboot put the plane in a bizarre, perhaps unprecedented, electrical configuration. This configuration resulted, by astonishing coincidence, in signals that encoded in a clear but unverifiable way just where the plane was going. (Unverifiable, in the sense that the data did not encode GPS data or other clues that could confirm the validity of the clue.) No plane has ever left this particular kind of electronic breadcrumb trail before, and none ever will again.

Yet investigators accepted the data unquestioningly. They discerned quickly that it fell into two main types. The first, which Langewiesche called “distance value,” allowed them to reconstruct the route that the plane must have followed — or rather, a pair of equally valid solutions, one leading off to the southern ocean, the other Kazakhstan. The second, dubbed by Langewiesche “Doppler value,” indicated that the southern route was the correct one. Hence, investigators had a route and an endpoint. They knew where to find the plane.

One problem: When they looked there, they didn’t find the plane. So they doubled the search area. No dice. They doubled it again, to an area the size of Great Britain. Still nothing. Langewiesche dismisses this failure as inconsequential, saying that “even a narrow swath of the ocean is a big place.” This misses the point. While the ocean is indeed a big place, far too big to probe in its entirety, the data pointed towards a portion of the ocean that was indeed searchable. Electronic signals are mathematical entities which can be analytically deciphered to a calculable degree of precision. Those sent from MH370 indicated that it was in a certain, searchable area of the ocean. It was not. The signals lied.

But how can signals lie?

The fact that the signals contained erroneous information leads, as I see it, to only one possible explanation: it was deliberately corrupted by someone. As it turns out, only planes of a particular type, carrying a particular kind of SDU, on a particular kind of flight path, flying under a particular kind of satellite, and subscribing to a particular level of Inmarsat service, would have been vulnerable to this kind of tampering. MH370 met all these criteria. It’s impossible to say what percentage of planes share the vulnerability, but it can only be a small number. This should have been a red flag for investigators.

As a journalist following the case from the beginning, this certainly was a major red flag for me. It spurred me to consult with technical experts, who said that while part of the signal data could readily be hacked from aboard the plane, other parts could not. This remaining data was enough to generate an approximate flight track indicating that the plane would have traveled north and wound up in Kazakhstan, a Central Asian autocracy that functions as a client state of Russia.

As it happened, just before the disappearance Russia had staged a “hybrid war” invasion of Ukraine that combined standard military assault with information warfare overseen by the GRU (Russian military intelligence). Four months later, the GRU shot down MH370’s sister airplane, MH17, over Eastern Ukraine. The fact that only 15 planes out of the 15,000 or so commercially registered around the world were Malaysia Airlines 777–200s, and that two of them had come to grief in such a short span of time, seemed too unlikely to be mere coincidence. Digging deeper, I found that there had been three Russians onboard MH370, including one whose daughter later wrote on social media that her father was “alive and well.” As I later would write in my book, The Taking of MH370, the mass of evidence taken together strongly suggested that the plane had been hijacked by Russia.

To be sure, this proposition raises the inevitable question: Why? The unsatisfying answer is, we just don’t know. But the evidence that Russia was heavily involved in the destruction MH17 is all but ironclad, and no other definitive explanation for MH370 has yet emerged. The best guess I can come up with is that Russia had decided to embark on a broad, aggressive attack against the West, and these two actions fit into an overall plan that included subverting the Brexit vote, tampering with the U.S. presidential election, poisoning the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Britain, and much else.

I explained this all to Langewiesche in the course of our many discussions. He rejected it out of hand. One of his objections was that if the plane went north instead of south, then the debris later pulled from the ocean must have been placed there deliberately. That sounds like conspiracy talk — but there is substantial overlapping evidence that this was actually the case. Despite supposedly drifting in the ocean for years, for instance, none of the recovered debris pieces had marine life more than a month or two old. But Langewiesche finds the idea of planting evidence inconceivable — mainly, it seems, because a large proportion of the debris was found by an American named Blaine Alan Gibson. And here, I think, is where his story really goes off the rails.

Gibson is an odd bird, even in Langewiesche’s generous telling. A man with no visible means of support, he travels the world dressed like Indiana Jones, pursuing ancient mysteries and receiving signs from dolphins. Yet for some reason he turns out to be the only human on Earth able to go looking for pieces of MH370 and find them. Indeed, more than half of the recovered debris pieces that have been gathered have been collected by him, personally. Twice, he has performed the feat — a feat that no one on Earth has been able to pull off, no matter how long they’ve been looking (and many people have been looking) — while TV cameras were rolling. I don’t think there’s even a word for how unlikely that is.

Gibson loves to spin yarns about his past adventures, but he is guarded about his particulars. He claims, without evidence, that people have threatened to kill him for his debris-collecting. But if you care to dig there is a lot that you can learn about him — none of it included in Langewiesche’s story. Most interesting to me, given that the multiple neon arrows pointing at Russia, is that Gibson is a fluent Russian speaker who for three decades was the owner of a company called Siberia Pacific, which he founded, with two Russians from Kemerovo Oblast, in 1992.

Langewiesche spends an enormous chunk of his piece talking about Gibson, but doesn’t mention his Russia connections at all. He restricts himself to an uncritical telling of Gibson’s version of events, and that, more than anything else in the Atlantic story, is frustrating to me. Langewiesche first got involved in the topic because I reached out to him in 2017 hoping he’d help me get to the bottom of some curious claims that Gibson had made about a particular piece of debris. In a Facebook post, Gibson had said that locals had handed a piece to him after he visited a village and asked if they had anything that looked like wreckage. Later, he told an independent researcher that he had been visiting the village and saw a 7-year-old girl fanning a cooking fire with it. Then, he told someone else that he had spotted it while having breakfast at his pension; the owner’s daughter had opened a drawstring toy bag, and there it was.

Why was he telling contradictory stories? I wanted to find out, but knew that someone else would have to do the asking. I had been in text communication with Gibson for a long time, and interviewed him over the phone for a New York story in 2016, but he stopped communicating with me after I voiced some of my suspicions about his discoveries on my blog. I figured that given his insatiable appetite for media attention it would be impossible for him to turn down Langewiesche. And so it proved .(Gibson did not respond to a request for comment.)

Many twists and turns later, Langewiesche flew to Malaysia and spent several days hanging out with Gibson. Instead of sorting out his tangled past, Langewiesche fell under Gibson’s spell. The two had long, free-flowing chats. Langewiesche came away convinced that Gibson was an earnest soul.

In the end, of course, if Gibson really is an innocent free spirit who has dedicated his whole adult life, as Langewiesche apparently believes, to the cause of visiting as many countries as he can and “forgoing any chance of a sustained career and subsisting on a modest inheritance,” then his story has really no material bearing on the mystery of MH370 at all. He’s just a lucky eccentric who found a bunch of pieces that don’t really tell us much about what happened to the plane.

If, on the other hand, Gibson made his money as a legal consultant in Russia, as he told a journalist a few years ago, and if his area of professional expertise was the legal restrictions surrounding “secret cities” (i.e. those with nuclear power plants like Chernobyl), as a National Academies document indicates, then maybe he plays an important part in the story after all.

An advantage to being a literary lion is that your authority does a lot of your work for you. You don’t have to detail; you can assert. Langewiesche declares, for example, that “despite theories to the contrary, control of the plane was not seized remotely from within the electrical-equipment bay, a space under the forward galley. Pages could be spent explaining why.” And that’s the end of it. One wonders: if pages could be spent explaining, could not a sentence or two in a 10,000-word story?

There is no doubt that Langewiesche is a great magazine writer who has produced classic works of journalism, but there is something inherently “small-c” conservative about people who have won renown for their sagacity. They need to believe that the world as it exists is the same one in which they earned their laurels. Complicating evidence can be overlooked or ignored. Everything, in the end, must be simple. They shall declare it so.

Note: This story originally appeared on June 28, 2019 in OneZero.

173 thoughts on “OneZero: The Mystery Behind the Missing Malaysia Airlines Flight Isn’t Solved Yet”

  1. @DG, No, he hasn’t responded, and from my conversations with him my understanding is that once this article was published he intended to move on and never look back. He was not interested in investigating further evidence.


    Government intervenes in Inmarsat deal on national security grounds

    Inmarsat, Britain’s biggest satellite company, agreed in March to be bought by an international group including buyout firms Apax and Warburg Pincus in a $3.4bn (£2.7bn) deal that would take it private 15 years after it floated.

    But culture secretary Jeremy Wright today instructed the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to investigate the national security implications of the deal.

    As is common with large deals, the CMA had already launched a merger inquiry to ensure it complied with competition laws, but the watchdog’s investigation has now been expanded.

    “The CMA has until midnight on 17 September 2019 to complete and submit this report to the secretary of state,” a government statement said.

    If completed, the takeover of the British satellite operator would be the second largest public-to-private deal ever in the UK.

    A person with knowledge of the deal said the government’s decision was not a surprise given the size of Inmarsat and its role in developing military technology, and should not disrupt the timeline for the deal.

    Today’s announcement came a week after the group of buyers made a number of commitments, unconnected to the CMA investigation, in what was seen as an attempt to appease the government.

    The consortium said it will guarantee that the majority of key strategic decisions will be taken in the UK and will keep key parts of Inmarsat’s global operations in the country.

    The private equity offer, with amounts to $7.21 per share, comes after a series of takeover bids fell through during a time when Inmarsat under-performed.

  3. @Gysbreght – if my holding the controls nose down will the B777 take actions to pull out of that situation?

  4. @MH, If you hold down the controls, and keep doing so, the plane will keep diving. If you let go, the plane will enter a phugoid, in which it will pitch up, gain altitude and lose speed, then once it’s lost enough speed, dive again and gain speed, in a repeating cycle.

    This is assuming the autopilot is turned off, of course.

  5. @JeffWise; it is possible to maintain holding down the controls with the forces working against the person? other senario is to run out of fuel completely.

  6. @MH, Investigators believe that the plane ran out of fuel completely because this would explain the SDU rebooting the second time. So that’s already baked into the default scenario. No fuel means that the only source of power is the RAT, so non-essential systems like autopilot will be inoperative.

    I’m not sure if this is what you’re asking, but I don’t think the control forces necessary to hold the plane in a dive would be particularly large.

  7. The 747 crash in Japan in 1985 involved loss of control and phugoid movements before it crashed.

  8. I’ve long been a proponent of the idea Zaharie Shah carried out the hijacking. I think it is unlikely Russia attempted a hijack of the plane. If there is a Russian connection, it may be connected to online propaganda via Russia about Anwar Ibrahim which could have radicalized Shah and inspired him to carry out what can be seen as a ‘nationalistic’ political attack on both the Malaysian government as well as China. Excellent observation about Gibson… one may wonder if he’s actually hawking pieces of MH17 – which would have been easy to come by with his connections and the dubious quality of his background.

  9. @because. Everybody knows Larry Vance told us the truth on 60minutes Australia. Take that Harvard education you got Big Jeff and realize that Blaine Gibson and Professor Larry Vance are right

  10. Lmao…The only thing 60 minutes is good at is editing to fit THEIR agenda!

    I keep mulling over the pilot suicide theory (only because Shah kinda gained from it from a political view). The side he supported got into power.
    However there were so many obstacles in his way, that he would have to overcome to hide a plane. Was he aware that his own countries border security was that lax? I doubt it. Same as I doubt that the Australian border security missed it.

    Please keep digging Jeff, and thanks for the forum 🙂

  11. @Laura
    Epic is what Langewiesche is implying his final sentence: Malaysia has the answers, perhaps not too hard to dig up if we had a Gibsonian equivalent sleuth.

  12. In the days after MH370 went missing the Malaysian transport minister was saying that “if this was America, they would have shot down the plane”.
    The time it took for Malaysia to report MH370 missing (some 6-7 hrs).
    Personally, I think that MH370 got into trouble and turned back without comms, and got shot down. Malaysia and co. tried to cover it up. Insurance maybe.

    @Jeff from a forensic point of view, “if some data has been messed with, it’s all out”.

  13. @Laura, You write, “from a forensic point of view, ‘if some data has been messed with, it’s all out’.” Respectfully, I don’t agree at all. The data was generated by a piece of equipment with known parameters. If it was altered, it was altered through physical actions carried out in specific ways.

    A conspiracy theory, like the one Langewiesche proposes, is just a lazy way to get around doing the hard work of investigation, by waving one’s hands and saying, “the truth is unknowable because of shadowy forces.”

  14. I am in NO way an expert on anything regarding aircrafts and how they work etc. But from a layman’s point of view it appears that there is a cover up of some kind (I think most here agree with that). Does Russia ever really cover anything up? They seem to just get away with whatever they do. (Brexit, Trump, MH17).
    I don’t believe that MH370 came anywhere near Australian air space, I’m also unaware of any kind of agreement where Australia would hide (or make up) anything to help Malaysia.
    @Jeff If the Inmarsat data was tampered with, surely all of it could be false? Wasn’t it the very first time data of this kind was ever analysed? So want can it be judged against?
    @Tbill I definitely agree that Malaysia have the answers, perhaps Gibson is being paid by Malaysia? Seems highly unlikely that bits of a 737 keep finding him.

    I apologise if my comments are uneducated ramblings 🙂

  15. @Laura
    Let’s stick with Malaysia may have the answers. As far as cover-up, I do not know if the politically unpopular Razak was a genious (for avoiding direct blaming any Malaysians for the accident) or that he simply got backed into that corner by default. In any case, the approach worked as far as keeping power 4 more years, and it kept the lid on MH370 truths.

  16. @Laura, If, as I suspect, the Russians took MH370, I wouldn’t characterize any misdirection on their part as a “cover up,” but rather a necessary feature of a covert operation.

    I would agree with you that they are extremely good at getting away with things! Part of their advantage, I think, is that they are professional spooks (I’m speaking of the GRU here) who are up against a motley gang of amateurs, namely aircraft accident investigators and journalists who mostly know very little about either planes or intelligence operations.

    As to your question about the alteration of data, yes, it was an unprecedented analysis. Indeed, it should have given investigators pause that the plane was generating data in a way no plane ever had before or since. But the scientists were able to compare the planes data against portions of data generated by other planes and published what seemed to me an impressively thorough set of conclusions.

  17. @TBill, One answer they definitely have is: what did Malaysia primary radar see after 18:02? It’s really inexcusable that this is still shrouded in mystery.

  18. A thousand thanks to Mr. Wise for his continued coverage on the major mystery of those deceased aboard MH370!

    His one sentence nails it perfectly:

    “Yet investigators accepted the data unquestioningly.”

    Although I may not be in full agreement with Mr. Wise on all the details as far as the Russians/motive, etc., his targeting the SDU is the absolute crux of the matter, which is the monumental mistake of Langewiesche and too many others: it is so very obvious that the (SATCOM) SDU was subverted, compromised and taken control of by a third party — too obvious to anyone with an IT background, and especially so to anyone who has any experience with automated avionics — and that is what is lacking among most of those so-called “aviation experts”!

    As Clive Irving said in his critique of Langewiesche’s article in The Atlantic:

    “After reading Langewiesche’s report, I am inclined to believe that there are few things more monstrous than blaming the pilot on the basis of what amounts to little more than hearsay. ”

    Mr. Wise’s consistent tracking of the SDU issue (and some, such as Ruben Santamarta and several others, have proven it can be hacked into) should expose the crux of this mystery to any truly concerned and curious reader!

    To ignore this, while promoting nothing more than hearsay, plus lacking the evidence for his claims, exposes the fallacies.

    In his article, Langewiesche states:

    “Three minutes later, at 2:25, the airplane’s satellite box suddenly returned to life. It is likely that this occurred when the full electrical system was brought back up . . . ”

    This is absolute supposition, that a loss of electrical power happened which is why the SDU reestablished contact with the Inmarsat satellite, only one of several possibilities which derives from the report from the Australian Transportation Safety Board — the other, and far more likely, was interruption with the software of the SDU — WHICH WOULD HAVE OCCURRED had it been hacked into. As Mr. Wise and several others have mentioned, that SDU is connected to quite a range of systems, not the least is the cockpit audio/communications, etc.

    Had the SDU, and by extension, MH370, been hacked into, the external party may logically have wanted to confirm they had the right and proper target, and established contact with Capt. Zaharie, which explains his inexplicable mention of his altitude the first time, and repeating it again inexplicably the second time.

    What we don’t have information on, but would establish a serious motive, is the backgrounds of some of those wealthier Chinese passengers aboard (since about two-thirds of the pax were Chinese nationals) as well as any high-level Chinese corporate types. (Also, since this occurred after the Chinese Communist Party established and militarized that Nine-Dash Line (or Cow’s Tongue) of artificial islands in the South China Sea, and they have some extremely powerful ground transmitters there.

    The most advanced countries today in satellite technology are: China, USA, Japan, etc.

    Thanks again, Mr. Wise, for your continued focus on this topic.

  19. Also, the idea that it was a suicide flight simply doesn’t fit any known patterns, plus when anyone is making a political statement — especially coupled with the act of suicide — they normally don’t go about it such a cryptic manner, instead try to garner as much publicity as possible.

    Nothing about Langewiesche’s article makes any cogent sense!

    (Thanks for /.’s mjwx for this line of reasoning.)

  20. @Laura
    @Tbill. All of this. I mean all of this was cleared up by Larry Vance. I suggest every one just take a deep breath and understand Larry Vance is actually an expert. He is Hamlet while Jeff and Richard Quest are Guilderstein and Rosencranzt. Larry told us the deal on 60 minutes Australia.

  21. @sgt_doom, Thanks for your kind words. I’m curious, if you think that China is a more likely perpetrator than Russia, what do you make of the fact that the person who found most of the debris has deep ties to Russia? Just coincidence?

  22. @Erik westberg, Did you know that Larry Vance lied about his credentials? And that he is claims are built upon his opinion of a piece of debris that he has never seen in person? And that his claim does nothing to resolve the numerous inconsistencies in the pilot-suicide scenario?

    I don’t know where you get your sense of confidence, but I fear it is misplaced.

  23. @Jeff I fully enjoyed you on CNN during the mh370 coverage. You come off as an intelligent,affable ,and genuinely likeable. I’m not sure if you are like that in real life but I suspect you are. But I’m not sure he actually lied about his credentials.

  24. @Erik, Vance claimed that he led the investigation into Swissair 111. I contacted the Transport Board of Canada and they informed me that this was not the case. He was an investigator on it, but did not lead it. This kind of misrepresentation should be a huge red flag, coming from an investigator! It is also shocking to me that 60 Minutes Australia could build two hour-long documentaries around him with verifying his bona fides.

  25. Jeff Wise,

    You state: “Vance claimed that he led the investigation into Swissair 111.”

    I tried to find a reference to where he actually made such a claim (either in writing or verbally) and failed. Yes, various reporters and editors have attributed to him the “lead investigator” role, but are said reporters and editors reliable and accurate?

    Having said that, w.r.t MH370, Vance has always come across as a charlatan. I think he was a deputy lead investigator or some such title on 111 – is that correct? Maybe I am being cynical, but how he attained that position is the real mystery.

  26. SDU + MH17 should be enough to convince any rational person that the Russians took 9M-MRO

    I’ve been all over the place on MH370 over the last 5.5 years but keep coming back to siding with most of Jeff’s theory because nothing else fits.

    And like JW, I’m not a conspiratorial lunatic. I’m a lawyer with 2 Ivy League degrees and practiced legal technology at a Fortune 100 global corporation.

  27. @Erik westberg
    Larry Vance *might* be partially correct about active pilot to the end. But he insists slow flaps down Sully-style ditch is hard to reconcile with debris evidence. I notice Langewiesche largely “ducked” for cover on the flaperon, accepting nose dive crash scenario without mentioning the water damage the French claim on the flaperon. Seems to me when Langewiesche came to a fork in the road, he took it. Which I think was effective for The Atlantic readership but those of us closer to the details know where he made assumptions when reality was more complex options. But I do not have a problem with Langewiesche from an FL400 view.

  28. @Laura
    One point I would like to make, believe or not, America *might* have its own MH370 on a smaller scale- it was cargo aircraft Atlas Air B767…we are waiting now a long time for NTSB to make a statement. Should NTSB even slightly insinuate pilot suicide, the boxing gloves of denial will come on for a full out fight for the public’s heart and minds. If there is 100.000% proof by admission then OK, but otherwise…

  29. @Jeff Wise,

    My response: It does lend a credence to your position/suspicion, I only posit the China connection for the following reasons of simplest hypothesis:


    (2) The companies which should have systems engineers which understand how the systems interact with one another (I say should, but am uncertain on this point) are Boeing and Airbus, but also Honeywell in America, which manufactures the SDU (I somewhat discount Thales as they are the reseller) and Huawei in China, which has extracted and copied their tech data.

    (3) The opacity of the Chinese nationals aboard: some were wealthy, an certain parties stood to gain by their demise, and some were high-level corporate types and again some one or ones stood to gain by their demise — mass murder to murder just one or several isn’t really all that uncommon.

    But you may be right, of course, this is pure supposition on my part.

  30. @Jeff Wise, addenda:

    Also, pertain to the Langewiesche article, the Factual Information report, when read closely of course, really refutes his entire article.

    At several points it mentions that had the SATCOM (SDU) been logged off, it would have sent a message to the satellite which would have bounced it to the GES station, but no such transmission was logged. (I believe this is also the case when a power down — or loss of power — occurs, but the report writers missed this.)

    The claim that the relog was due to loss of power is really lacking since interruption or interference with the SDU software would have the same effect, which indicates a hacking penetration of the SDU.

    Thanks again, sir, for all your effort on this matter and mystery!

  31. @sgt_doom, Langewiesche wasn’t claiming that the SDU was logged off, rather he suggests that the SDU was rebooted when Zaharie shut off and then restored the entire aircraft electrical system, which I find to be a more preposterious idea than anything I’ve suggested.

  32. @sgt_doom
    You make a controversial but important point.
    Apparently many people (eg; China NoK) mistakenly believe that it is impossible for a pilot to cut communications and go off grid without a trace. Advocates of this theory believe it is impossible for a pilot manually cut communications without a logoff command being recorded. Therefore advocates of this logic believe the MH370 accident must have been a fire or mechanical issue that cut the communications.

    However, the experts tell us that the above theory is false. The MH370 pilots could indeed intentionally cut off power without a logoff signal being transmitted. Malaysia also apparently accepts that in their final SIR report.

  33. @Jeff Wise — Am in full agreement with you, but to clarify, I was repeating the item from the report, and also to indicate that a message should be transmitted due to nonvolatile memory structure of SDU, etc., when there’s a loss of power, much the way a computer systems crash generates a message, even though it has gone down. Unless there’s an avionics expert who cares to differ, I believe this is part of the specs.

    And to repeat, when there’s an interruption in the SDU software operation, this is also cause for a “reboot,” although it wasn’t proven, but surmised, that a reboot took place. In the case of external hacking, once the process was over and the aircraft navigation system was under external control, an automatic reboot may have taken place.

    And agree that everything Langewiesche offers in support of his specious, “may” have been depressurized, and “probably” climbed to 40,000 feet WITHOUT any supporting evidence!

  34. @TBill:

    “However, the experts tell us that the above theory is false. The MH370 pilots could indeed intentionally cut off power without a logoff signal being transmitted.”

    Have yet to seen this? Do you have any reference on this?


  35. I believe anyone with any background in avionics, satellite technology and IT, having read the Factual Information report has to conclude what appears to be blatantly obvious: that the SATCOM/SDU was subverted, compromised and taken control of by an external party of some sort — it was hacked!

    As there are a number of ways this could be done, both physically (via the Field Loadable Software port on the SDU) or by the satellite link, or a combination of the two, I won’t speculate on this as we have no way of knowing how it was specifically done yet, but the importance and value of that Factual Information report on MH370 should not be trivialized.

  36. @sgt_doom:

    You wrote: “Although I may not be in full agreement with Mr. Wise on all the details as far as the Russians/motive, etc., …”

    What was the motive ?

  37. @sgt_doom
    Jeff Wise as our host and a well known aviation author would be the first person to ask about the pilot’s ability to cut communication. What I like to say is pilot can indeed cut communications, quickly and secretly without any outgoing alert message. That would actually be a “design” change I would like to see.

  38. @sgt_doom: I was asking for a motive for diverting the plane and apparently crashing it. Hacking the SDU doesn’t do that. It requires a person on board the plane.

  39. @Scott O, thanks for this, extremely interesting. Boeing says that its engineers couldn’t stage an attack, but that’s far from saying an attack is impossible. Unfortunately the layers of (justifiable) secrecy make the issue impossible to resolve.

    I’m reminded, of course, of Langewiesche’s claim that “control of the plane was not seized remotely from within the electrical-equipment bay, a space under the forward galley. Pages could be spent explaining why.” This is disingenuous, at best; given Boeing’s secrecy, there is no way Langewiesche or anyone else could prove this point one way or the other.

  40. @Jeff, Indeed Langewiesche could not know, and, really, I’m not sure that Boeing even does. While the exploit discussed in the Wired article above may have proved to be a dead end when Boeing engineers examined it, it represents just one avenue of attack.

    The book Civil Avionics Systems claims that the 777 has more than 4 million lines of code running across 50 hardware platforms–with additional code for other systems.

    That suggests a significant number of potential access points for someone who is determined and skilled and possess the right information.

    Keep in mind that in a little noticed story Avionics Today reported that in 2016 a cyber team from the Department of Homeland Security required only two days to remotely access a 757 as it sat on the tarmac at the Atlantic City airport. The exact quote from the head of the team Robert Hickey was this:

    “We got the airplane on September 19, 2016. Two days later, I was successful in accomplishing a remote, noncooperative, penetration. Which means I didn’t have anybody touching the airplane, I didn’t have an insider threat. I stood off using typical stuff that could get through security and we were able to establish a presence on the systems of the aircraft.”

    If a DHS team could accomplish that, so could another team of state-level hackers, through similar remote methods and certainly through direct access. I highly recommend the article (apologies if it has been mentioned and discussed here before), in which Hickey goes on to say newly designed aircraft like the 787 are well-protected from hacking but legacy aircraft are not.

    By the way, Boeing began delivering 777s to Aeroflot in early 2013.

    Langewiesche would do well to remember the oft repeated wisdom of cyber security experts who say that the only way to make a system hack proof is to unplug it, encase it in concrete and bury it in the ground.

  41. @ sunken deal

    “SDU + MH17 should be enough to convince any rational person that the Russians took 9M-MRO”

    Then why did they do it? And why mh17? Nothing makes any sense to me as to why the two should be connected. Ive asked jeff and his response has been that it might reveal itself in time. I dont think thats good enough really.

    So you are an attorney and should make this case, and I bet you can do it better than just telling us to trust you because you are an attorney that went to ivy league schools. ( i do bet you’re a pretty good one, not mocking you). So convince the jury . Ive got an open mind (really!), lets have it. Convince me and 11 others.

  42. @sunken deal:

    “SDU + MH17 should be enough to convince any rational person that the Russians took 9M-MRO”

    I would delete the word “the”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.