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.

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

  1. Taking as a given that Russians brought down MH17, is it clear that they were specifically targeting MH17, or still a real possibility that they were trying to target one or more Ukrainian military or civilian flights passing overhead at the time and messed up?

  2. @DG, I would say that the consensus view is that the Buk operators believed that they were firing at a Ukrainian military transport. However, I don’t find this plausible. The launch vehicle had been parked under a busy flight route for hours; numerous commercial jets had passed directly overhead every few minutes. What’s more, a anti-aircraft missile crew is taught not only how to fire, but that they should do so only upon direct orders from a superior officer. In this case, the superior officers were the Russian army chain of command, which certainly had access to a comprehensive surveillance data.

    @Billy, Your “motive first” approach to understanding what happened is one of the main reasons, I think, that the consensus view persists, despite the fact that it fits poorly with the evidence. To unravel a mystery, however, we must carefully examine the evidence at hand, and draw conclusions from that, rather than try to imagine what the motives of various suspects might be.
    To understand the event, it’s important to remember the context: Russia had just launched a massive, multi-front hybrid warfare attack against the West–an attack that was highly successful and is ongoing, with negligable resistance on the part of its opponents. If you want to grapple with Russia’s motives regarding MH17 and MH370, I would suggest you delve into the extensive literature on Russia’s hybrid war.

  3. @Billy, per @Jeff’s suggestion that you delve into information on Russia’s hybrid warfare, I find this well-researched and sourced story, a quite useful primer.

    I think it most accurately depicts an evolving philosophy of how Russia believes it can remain relevant in a world in which NATO spends, literally, more than 20 times what Moscow does on military defense. It does not dismiss Russia’s ability or will to engage in battle–and as we have seen, it has increased its spending on hardware–but properly places it and what we now call hybrid operations in a broader if sometimes opaque strategy, one that includes confounding the Western public to such an extent that it loses the will or ability to coherently battle back. These paragraphs in particular are worth paying attention to:

    “[I]t is not simply that Moscow chooses to ignore those boundaries that we are used to in the West between state and private, military and civilian, legal and illegal. It is that those boundaries are much less meaningful in Russian terms….

    “[I]t also means that it is much easier for the Kremlin to instrumentalize all kinds of other actors, from the Russian Orthodox Church and organized crime to businesspeople. Millionaire Konstantin Malofeev, for example, played a crucial role in the seizure of Crimea and destabilization of the Donbas. Since then, he has been an active agent of Russian influence in the Balkans. [See also the meetings oligarchs have had with officials and associates of the current U.S. administration]

    “From the tsars through the Bolsheviks, the Russians have long been accustomed to a style of warfare that refuses to acknowledge any hard and fast distinctions between overt and covert, kinetic and political, and embraces much more eagerly the irregular and the criminal, the spook and the provocateur, the activist and the fellow-traveller. Sometimes, this has been out of choice or convenience, but often it has been a response to the time-honoured challenge of seeking to play as powerful an imperial role as possible with only limited resources.

    “When they did, they were also able to draw on an especially rich experience of information operations, in which many have seen the roots of today’s activities…enriched by the opportunities in the new, diffuse and lightning-speed media age.”

  4. I appreciate the reply Scott O. That really doesn’t change much though, but I read it and it was a good read, thanks. What is discussed in that article is something I already thought of Russia more or less anyway. The fact that they ‘could’ do it has never been an issue for me. It’s just that I don’t see nearly enough evidence connecting the two nor do I see anything as to why MH 370 in the first place. That remains the problem for me.

  5. @billy, I know that some people have a hard time believing that Russia could/would took the plane, and indeed have a hard time that the plane was the subject of a high-tech hijacking at all. It just seems too sci-fi/Tom Clancy-esque.

    Here’s something I’ve been thinking about lately, though. There are basically two important things to know about MH370: 1) It was taken 2) It disappeared. Number one is easily explained by the pilot stealing the plane for a murder/suicide run. What the mainstream discussion of the case has failed to grapple with is that that scenario really falls down at explaining the second part. If anyone took the plane and flew it into the ocean without being expressly aware that Inmarsat was being generated, it’s highly highly highly unlikely that they would have flown it in such a way that it would have wound up outside the vast subsea search area.

  6. @Jeff Wise: “If anyone took the plane and flew it into the ocean without being expressly aware that Inmarsat was being generated, it’s highly highly highly unlikely that they would have flown it in such a way that it would have wound up outside the vast subsea search area.”

    Perhaps the person who flew the plane outside the subsea search area and the person who took the plane at IGARI were not the same persons?

  7. @Gysbreght, Even if they were different people, the point remains the same: it is one thing for a plane to disappear; it is another for it disappear while leaving a set of clues that turn out to have been misleading.

    To put it another way, the question that keeps popping up on Quora and similar sites is: “How, in this day and age, can a plane simply disappear?” The answer is: not easily, and not by accident.

  8. @Jeff Wise: “If anyone took the plane and flew it into the ocean without being expressly aware that Inmarsat was being generated, …”
    he wouldn’t be aware of
    “leaving a set of clues that turn out to have been misleading. “

  9. @jeff
    1) It was taken – it was? I know you hate this idea but it is true that there were lethally dangerous lithium ion batteries on that plane, a lot of them. I’ve read you admit a fire and crash is unlikely, but not impossible. Others say similar. Seems like a reasonable possiblity to me and checks off a lot of boxes. So ‘maybe it was taken’ I think is better.

    2) It disappeared. – only most of it disappeared. Part of it is in sitting in a room somewhere in France.

    As for what you and Gysbreght are discussing, I don’t see it that way at all. I just think the math used to determine the location of the arc and the plane is bad. Of course I could be wrong about that as I am wholly and completely unqualified to judge. Except for the fact that the plane wasn’t where they said it should be.

  10. @Billy, 1) It is impossible, literally impossible. Burning batteries can’t steer a plane. 2) The math is not bad. I understand if you don’t want to take the time to get into it, but it is graspable by the human intellect, and only those who have made the effort have opinions worth sharing. That may sound harsh but too much of the discussion of this topic is taken up by people who feel their uninformed opinions deserve to be aired.

  11. Has anyone ever delved into scenarios that could have conceivably caused the plane to essentially vaporize when it crashed?

    To me it would be useful to hear descriptions of crash scenarios that would have not only rendered the plane into pieces so small that only a few have been found (of course not where/when you would have anticipated finding them) but also caused those pieces to be immediately lost – to sink to the bottom of the sea, or to spread out so they werent recognizable as plane debris, etc.

    If not a crash into water, what would it take to do such a thing? Is there a possibility of a bomb exploding with such force that it looks like a TIE fighter blowing up into particles and gas in Star Wars?

    While I definitely lean towards Jeff’s overall theory of, shall we say, nogoodniks at the root of this, I think it would be useful for the skeptics and true believers among us to understand just what kind of force would be needed to obliterate a plane in such a way.

    I suspect these scenarios are as, if not more, unlikely than Jeff’s scenario.

  12. @Paul, a vaporizing crash seems to be unlikely in two ways.

    That is to say in one scenario we have recovered wreckage such as in the case of AF447, which shows us that a plane at altitude can plunge into the sea and still leave large pieces of wreckage. In the case of Swissair 111, ultimately 98 percent of the aircraft was recovered.

    In the second, a vaporized aircraft, whether by impact or explosion, does not leave behind large pieces such as a flaperon or a right outboard flap, which the MH370 crash is presumed to have produced. Or did not produce, depending on your point of view.

  13. I give a lot of credit to the writer of this blog for the efforts and research. I do not know about avionics and I have no idea if Mr. Wise theory is the right one. But this is, without question, the only theory supported by researched data/answers/ explanations.
    My doubts about the Russian involvement possibility were due to “motive”. It is difficult to believe that
    a plane is made to dissapear because
    it distracts from the Crimea Annexation crisis. However when I realize that I am neither Russian nor the Russian government it makes sense to me that I can not understand how they feel about Crimea or how important Crimea may be for them.
    Also, and in support of Mr. Wise’ theory/narrative, had the plane or its remains been found right away, the attention of the world news would have returned to the Crimea crisis after a few days. The annexation crisis lasted 1 or 2 months if I remember right thus only a missing plane (once the plane was the chosen screen) could fit in this scenario. A plane accident, where the plane was located or found serves no purpose in this type of scenario.
    A question for the writer and the readers, any idea how MH17 is linked to this. Isn’t it too much coincidence what happened to two Malaysia Airlines flights within such a short period of time? Thank you.

  14. @ JeffWise, ScottO
    According to REUTERS, the main purpose for China’s construction of military facilities on land reclaimed from reefs in the S.China sea is to conduct surveillance of foreign military aircraft, ships and submarines that attempt to ‘shadow’ China’s own nuclear-armed submarines that leave Hainan.
    These nuclear-armed subs provide China with a nuclear ‘second strike’ capability in case land based nuclear sites are taken out by a first strike.
    A US Navy P-8 Poseidon aircraft may have intended to fly alongside MH370 in order to spy on Chinese military activity near Hainan or South China sea. This plan was exposed when MH370 was diverted from it’s planned route by Russians.
    This event, unexpected by the Chinese, has now compelled the Chinese to accelerate their island building efforts in the S. China Sea.
    In Russian intelligence circles, the ‘Reflexive Control’ theory held sway during much of the Cold War.
    ‘Reflexive control is defined as a means of conveying to a partner or an opponent specially prepared information to incline him to voluntarily make the predetermined decision desired by the initiator of the action.

  15. @JeffW
    …the question that keeps popping up on Quora and similar sites is: “How, in this day and age, can a plane simply disappear?”

    Re: MH370, the first and foremost reason is because many aircraft systems including communications could be turned off in the cockpit, by a hijacker or rogue pilot.

    The base case question becomes, how do we ever find an aircraft that flew off into the middle of the ocean with GPS tracking disabled?

    Optionally, of course the hijacker might have employed additional tactics to profoundly hide the aircraft. But it’s problematic if we could ever find an aircraft in the base case of no GPS.

  16. @Cliff, if I’m following you correctly, in the scenario you describe you are suggesting that a hijacking was initiated by the Russians to expose American spying to the Chinese so that the Chinese would accelerate island building in international waters.

    Two questions.

    One, would there not be a simpler way to provoke island building than a hijacking–sharing intelligence on America spying, for example?

    And two, how does the ultimate goal of island building–increased Chinese surveillance, in this case–benefit the Russians?

    If I’m misunderstanding, I apologize and would appreciate redirection.

  17. ScottO,
    You have understood my point perfectly. Let me answer the 2nd Q. first.
    China shares a long border with Russia, so I’m guessing the biggest threat to Russia from China would be air and surface launched tactical & strategic nuclear weapons . By enabling China to have submarine launched nuclear weapons capabilities, Russia is not significantly increasing the threat of nuclear retaliation from current levels. It is also doubtful they are going to expend efforts tracking Chinese submarines.
    On the other hand if the Americans are forced to reckon with both Chinese and Russian SSBN’s, it will be very costly for the US and its allies.
    China aspires to great power status so it seeks to acquire SSBN’s as part of its normal evolution to that stage.
    The buildup of militarized outposts in the S. China sea will make it very difficult for the US to conduct covert surveillance of Chinese SSBN’s as they breakout of Hainan towards the S.China sea, and onwards to the Pacific ocean threatening the US. Despite the annexation of Crimea, post-Maidan Ukraine was a net loss to Russia. It inflicted the same to the US in the S.China sea.

    Answering your first question…
    Pre-Crimea, the Chinese had adopted a cautious, incremental approach to the island building efforts. Almost certainly they would have been aware of covert surveillance flights that shadowed commercial aircraft prior to MH370. However, turning off the transponder essentially makes the commercial aircraft a ‘rogue’ aircraft, at risk of being mistakenly shot down. It’s impossible to predict when and which aircraft would turn off it’s transponders. The hijackers did them the favour, nevermind who the hijackers were. Now they have the perfect excuse to take control of the ‘security’ of S.China sea, and airspace.
    The mass murder of Chinese civilians on board MH370 could be considered as sunk costs by China because Malaysia aided a US Navy surveillance operation by turning off the transponders and jeopardizing the safety of the Chinese passengers. Hence, the accelerated Chinese island building efforts was a retaliation of sorts as well.

  18. Hi Jeff, I admire your efforts greatly in trying to solve this sad event. I have consumed huge amounts of information regarding all aspects of the disappearance and I have concluded that there really is no rational or likely explanation other than 1 of the crew locked the others out the cockpit and crashed the plane into the SI Ocean. My reasons for reaching that conclusion are:
    1. The transponder and communications were turned off in a radar blackspot as the plane turned at Igari.
    2. The plane then flew along the borders of Thai and Malaysian radar coverage to avoid detection then unusually fast as it flew up the Malacca Strait.
    3. The Captio analysis evidences the plane came off N571, dropped altitude and flew under it to avoid an Air India plane coming towards it, then flew under and over other busy routes on it’s way south. Clearly someone was at the controls and flying cleverly to avoid detection.
    4. French magistrates have now stated that engine data from BOEING lends weight to the likelihood that….. ‘someone was at the controls to the end’. This is because turns were made towards the end of the flight which could not have been made on auto-pilot and I assume there were significant changes in engine speeds.
    5. The failure of the searches to find any debris is not that surprising in such a huge area with depths of over 25,000 feet. It may also mean that the plane flew longer than the ATSB thought as their calculations were based on the flight being a ghost flight. As it now appears someone was in control until the end, the range could have been extended easily by whoever was flying it.
    6. The lack of debris found at the time could well be due to the fact 2 cyclones were in that region in the week prior to the search beginning in the SI Ocean and also because they were looking in the wrong place if someone was at the controls.
    7. I was never convinced about the theory of Larry Vance, but I have to say I now feel he was probably correct apart maybe from the part about a controlled ditching. Whether it crashed at high speed or under control doesn’t really alter his basic theory. Someone clearly controlled this plane for the full flight from Malaysia to the SI Ocean and either ditched it or let it crash due to fuel exhaustion. Larry Vance is convinced for various credible reasons that the person most likely to have been able to carry this out was the Captain and not the 1st officer. Obviously nobody can say who was actually at the controls, but to me it now looks like one of the crew did this deliberately and I think it’s very difficult to credibly argue against this based on what’s known from the Inmarsat and Boeing data.

  19. @Peter Swan, I don’t know where you get your information but it’s of inconsistent quality. If you’d like an accurate accounting, I suggest that you read my book.

    Since 2014, we’ve seen steadily worsening trend in which both the official response to chaos agents, and the public discussion of their activities, bear little resemblance to what’s actually going on. I think your confusion is very much of a piece with the public confusion surrounding the ongoing destruction of democracy in the United States, Britain, and around the world. Clearly, it isn’t enough to engage in accurate journalism, as waves of inaccurate information just overwhelms ones efforts. In short, your question fills me with despair.

  20. @Peter Swan
    Larry Vance is controversial because his controlled dicthing scenario is not well supported by the evidence. Many others (but not everyone) believe it could have been active pilot to the end, so that part of Larry Vance’s opinion is good, but not unique to him. I do appreciate his attempt to try to tell the public what probably happened.

    Captio has a well-thought out speculation about flight path between 18:22 and 19:41, but that is an unknown period where nobody knowns what really happended (no radar). So you really cannot assert pilot intent from the portion of the flight that is strictly speculation. It is the known flight path before N571 that suggests pilot intent.

    We think MH370 might have been as high as 40000-ft between Thailand and Malalysia, so that is not a radar avoidance path. It might however be confusing to both the Thais and Malays who might assume the flight was the other guys responsibility.

    But on the whole excepting for details, I agree with you, and Larry Vance.

  21. Great news for those of us who never mastered French 🙂

    HarperCollins Publishers has snapped up award-winning journalist Florence de Changy’s investigation into the disappearance of flight MH370.

    Mudlark publishing director Jack Fogg acquired world all language rights (excluding French and Chinese) for The Disappearing Act from Marysia Juszczakiewicz at Peony Literary Agency in association with Jo Lusby at Pixie B. The book will publish on the Mudlark list in May 2020.

    On 8th March 2014, 239 passengers boarded the scheduled international passenger flight from Kuala Lumpur to Bejing, MH370, only for the plane to vanish into thin air 38 minutes after take-off.

    “This fascinating and deeply unnerving study closely documents the chaotic investigation that followed the aircraft’s disappearance,” reads the synopsis. “The result is an exhaustive, gripping account and a much-needed rejoinder to the untruths and misdirection that have plagued the search for MH370.”

    De Changy is an award-winning journalist and has been Le Monde’s South East Asian correspondent since 1995. During her investigation, she has seen materials concealed from the public, met individuals who haven’t talked to anyone else and been in touch with many people too scared to go on the record.

    She said: “From the outset, the idea that in this day and age a B-777 – one of the most trusted long-haul carriers in civil aviation history, boasting an immaculate safety record – could simply vanish into thin air seemed like an affront to our collective human intelligence, not least because it did so in one of the most monitored areas of the planet. It seemed essential to shed light on this enshrouded enigma, not just as a journalist’s duty but also for the families of the 239 passengers on board the MH-370, and the hundreds of thousands of people who fly commercially every year.”

    Fogg added: “The Disappearing Act is an extraordinary piece of investigative reporting that aims to decipher on one of the darkest mysteries of the 21st century. The book is shocking, thrilling and masterfully told, and leaves the reader with very little room for doubt as to what may have happened.”

  22. @Will

    The irony is not lost on me that Mudlark publishing director Jack FOGG made this announcement. A detailed understanding of the concept of the “Fog of War” would help to decipher the MH370 mystery. Thank you to Carl von Clausewitz.

    Also with regards to the statement “chaotic investigation” yes to chaotic but no to investigation.

  23. @JeffW: I don’t see what’s inconsistent about any of what I wrote apart from not mentioning the CAPTIO analysis was not fact but assumed as possible. The plane did turn at Igari, it did fly to avoid detection, it did speed up going up the Malacca Strait, it could be further south if there was someone in control, and the engine data released to France recently (May 19) led to a statement saying….’it lends weight to someone being in control until the end’. The wreckage analysis described in Larry Vance’s book compiled by 3 people with 100 years aviation experience between them shows conclusively that virtually all 30 parts found show evidence and markings which are consistent with a controlled ditching and not a high speed impact. These are almost all external debris. As Vance says, if a plane breaks up into hundreds or thousands of pieces, what are the chances that the only 30 pieces found are external. The answer to that is zero.

  24. Thanks, @SteveBarrat. I don’t know if it’s necessarily nefarious, but they seem to be acting as though the investigation is still ongoing. Here’s the text:

    Laws shield ATSB while we’re in hell, say MH370 families

    Jeanette Maguire, who lost her sister Cathy and brother-in-law Rob Lawton on MH370, in Brisbane. Picture: Lyndon Mechielsen

    12:00AM OCTOBER 26, 2019

    Five years after Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared, Aust­ralian authorities are still suppressing information desperately sought by bereaved families and refusing to answer claims their search strategy was wrong.
    The Australian Transport Safety Bureau has employed lawyers from the big end of town to threaten editors of the free press in a failed bid to suppress expert critic­ism of their actions, and has banned private-sector contractors from speaking to the media.
    The ATSB’s denial of the public’s right to know outrages relatives of the disappeared to this day.
    “To only be told part of a story that has changed our lives, and not for the better, is gut-wrenching and unacceptable,” said Brisbane woman Jeanette Maguire, who lost her sister Cathy and brother-in-law Rob Lawton on MH370.

    This week the nation’s media outlets united to launch the Your Right to Know campaign, calling for greater press freedom following a sustained attack on the rights of journalists.

    On Monday, The Australian, along with newspapers around the country, blacked out sections of their front pages in a mock demonstr­ation of the constraints restrictive laws place on their ability to publish the truth.

    With the Malaysian government having completed its invest­igation into MH370 more than a year ago, Ms Maguire said it was time for the ATSB to come clean.

    “If a mistake was made, then so be it, but to redeem themselves, fix it,” she told The Weekend Australian this week. “We need all of the information so the search can continue — find our families.”

    MH370 disappeared on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, 2014, with 239 people on board. Radio contact ended 40 minutes into the flight with a routine­ transmission. The Boeing 777 disappeared from radar screens soon after as its secondary radar transponder was turned off.

    A replay of military primary radar, and automatic satellite “handshakes’’, later showed the aircraft reversed course back over Malaysia, and headed up the Straits of Malacca before turning south on a long track to the southern Indian Ocean.

    While under international law Malaysia held responsibility for the overall investigation, at its government’s request Australia led the $200m underwater search for the aircraft, but failed to find any trace of it.

    The ATSB had worked on a search strategy based on an assump­tion that MH370 was a “ghost flight” with “unresponsive” pilots at the end of the flight, and crashed down rapidly after running­ out of fuel on autopilot.

    Many leading aviation experts believe the facts indicate otherwise, particularly the pattern of damage on wing parts of the aircraft that washed up on the other side of the Indian Ocean.
    Those experts believe Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah hijacked his own aircraft and flew it to the end, ditching it, a scenario that would dictate a different search strategy.

    The ATSB has refused repeated­ Freedom of Information requests to release this evidence, including the advice the ATSB received­ from French authorities concluding that a flaperon had been lowered, and international expert opinions on the satellite data the bureau claims support its “death dive” theory.

    In one FOI refusal, ATSB senior­ officer Colin McNamara said to release the information could damage international ties; while in another, ATSB chief commissioner Greg Hood invoked laws under which bureau officials can be jailed for two years if they provide information to the media.

    Danica Weeks, whose husband Paul died on MH370, said she found “the ATSB silence” to be “frustrating and distressing”.

    “How can the ATSB continue to use their draconian laws to ­refuse FOI requests and why does Greg Hood continue to shield the ATSB by using them?” she said this week. “We continue to suffer and those in power, those with the information, continue to keep us in this jailed hell.”
    When The Australian published analysis from a team led by senior Canadian air crash investigator Larry Vance concluding that the aircraft had been ditched by a pilot, the ATSB hired law firm Minter Ellison to write to the editor­s in a threatening tone asking­ that they “refrain” from publishing that style of article.

    The ATSB banned the leader of the search conducted by Dutch underwater survey firm Fugro, Paul Kennedy, from speaking, and ATSB spokesman Paul Sadler would not say why.
    Mr Sadler has repeatedly refused­ to answer questions, including­ this week when he did not respond to an inquiry as to whether the ATSB still believed in its “ghost flight/death dive” theory or now accepted the aircraft was flown to the end by a pilot.

    Businessman and former Civil Aviation Safety Authority chairman Dick Smith has said such ATSB actions were “outrageous”, and called on Transport Minister Michael McCormack to demand that Mr Hood run the bureau in a manner consistent with a democracy that believed in freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

  25. Wonder if I’m still banned here?

    I’m sure I’ve said before… Many times that private communications between myself & AMSA & the AAIB have demonstrated that from a personal perspective there is major doubt within both organizations that the aircraft could even have gotten as far as the SIO although publicly they have had no choice but to back the official claim that Mh370 crashed in the SIO as per the ISAT data. Which leads me to understand full well why organizations whether government or private are reluctant to divulge any information that works against the official narrative. I personally believe & I mean personally believe that there is more suppressed evidence out there that doesn’t support an end point in the SIO than there is evidence to say the aircraft did crash there. Why else would there be any need to suppress information?

  26. Ajai, Thanks for this. For years now we’ve gradually getting more and more clarifying detail on the underlying reality of MH17, namely that Russian intelligence was responsible for its destruction.

  27. Nope. It was a murder suicide related to the pilot’s anger with the Malaysian government’s jailing of Anwar Ibrahim, and also his forthcoming divorce. Keep saving face for Malaysia. The Silk Air pilot (Sumatra crash) didn’t get away it, but that’s Singapore, right?

  28. I have always felt The MH17 downing was in retaliation to the MH370 downing. Yes, I know, “a feeling”. I do find this interesting though as the mystery resurfaces in current news.

  29. David:

    On the odd chance that you are still keeping an eye on this blog – I’ve just read your paper “On whether the final transmissions were APU powered or not” dated 20th november.

    You will be aware that Boeing did simulations of uncontrolled end-of-flight scenarios in 2016, including four simulations in an abnormal electrical configuration where the right engine carried the entire electrical load. Can you explain that in those simulations, after the right engine failure, the left engine continued to operate and increased power to max CLB?

  30. CORRECTION: In my last comment, last line, ignore ” and increased power to max CLB”. In the abnormal electrican configuration the remaining engine did not increase thrust but continued with the thrust unchanged.

  31. @Gysbreght. Hello again. The Boeing engineering simulator apparently sees replacement of the pressurised fuel supply by the gravity supply as reliable, since no relights were replicated.

    The simulator could take account of some of the variables influencing vapour lock possibilities in that assessment, such as specific fuel characteristics (including temperature), tank vent pressure, pressure losses associated with fuel flow rate and fuel depth in the left tank.

    However I doubt it would allow for entrained air quantity in the fuel, that depending on how much it had at aircraft fuelling, tank air pressure, temperature change, time and any sloshing since. Yet air entrainment has been given as a reason for a pressurised supply at altitude in the first place.

    Should the simulations indeed take no account of that, then it would appear that flame out at altitude, fuel remaining is not much of a risk after all, even with the autopilot disengaged.

    I would like to see confirmation that the left engine could be relied on to continue to develop thrust as per those abnormal electrical simulations.

  32. @David: Thanks for your reply. Thanks also for posting the link to Andrew’s paper. On reading it, I wondered what system provides the power to the igniter plugs for a relight after both engines have failed. Would you know?

  33. @David:

    If all generated electrical power is lost 10 seconds after the right engine flame-out, and that loss of electrical power causes the flame-out of the left engine, then perhaps you don’t need a relight of the left engine to explain that the rate of descent increased by 10,000 ft/min in 8 seconds without pilot inputs. During the 10 seconds rundown of the right engine the TAC would trim the airplane for the one-engine-inoperative thrust asymmetry. Since the loss of electrical power renders the TAC inoperative, that trim would remain if the left engine flamed-out 10 seconds after the right engine.

    That condition possibly existed in the Boeing simulations in abnormal electrical configuration, some 1, 3 or 4 minutes after the first engine flame-out.

  34. @Gysbreght. For the GE 90 the manuals say the normal ignition power supply is 115V ac from the left and right main AC buses.
    Alternative power is 115 V from the AC standby bus.
    The AC standby bus is powered by the left transfer bus or, by an inverter powered by, a right transfer bus TRU, the RAT, or battery.
    The last is probably what you were looking for. I expect the RR engine would have battery backup to its ignition system also.

    Re your 8:28, I follow. I will refresh myself on those simulations, the ‘abnormal’ being on A/P disengagement for instance: loss of the main buses I think. Also what background info the ATSB provided later…

  35. @Gysbreght. Re your Nov 22, 8:28 AM, are you saying that in the abnormal electrical configuration the Boeing simulations likely included left engine flame outs prompted by the right’s?

    About your Nov 24, 6:31 AM, I see that in late 2015 the ATSB said that at 1˚ pitch there would be about 30 lbs of fuel available to the APU due to the difference in location of left engine and APU fuel inlets. In late 2017(Search and debris examination update) their description differed from that somewhat. They said then that ‘various attitudes’ may result in unusable fuel becoming available to the APU, adding that the unusable fuel is ‘usually’ below the APU inlet, leaving open how ‘various attitudes’, when the APU inlet would be submerged in this fuel, differ from usual attitudes. I assume the aircraft needs to be pitched up beyond the ‘usual’, but am not clear by how much and how the fuel amount variation can be ascertained.

    So about your question, “Why does everyone discussing 30 lbs residual fuel available at the APU fuel pump inlet forget that it has been determined for an attitude of 1 degree nose-up, when the actual attitude at MEFE is 6.2 degrees nose-up?”, do you have an opinion on the amount available then?

    However whatever was the amount available during single-engined deceleration, unpiloted, residual fuel would need to cover the APU fuel inlet continuously during the subsequent nose drop and dive, were there to be a pressurised fuel supply to the APU through to log-on acceptance – and the simulations were at 35,000 and 40,000 ft.

    A pilot could have maintained speed without that supply, the 7th arc transmissions being powered by usable fuel instead.

  36. @David: Thanks for replying. The 30 lbs is irrelevant because we don’t know the quantity available to the APU at main engine fuel exhaustion.

    Re Nov 22, 8:28 AM, some time ago i provided a graph of the thrust minus drag versus time for Case 06, one of the ‘abnormal’ simulations:

    The graph shows that the left engine continued to operate after the failure of the first engine during about 3 minutes, then the trust-minus-drag dropped sharply. The other abnormal Cases 03, 04, and 10 are similar but timing is different.

  37. Jeff – I’ve been reading the book “Sandworm: A New Era of Cyberwar and the Hunt for the Kremlin’s Most Dangerous Hackers” by Andy Greenberg. I highly recommend it as it delves into the GRU. There are bits there on MH17 as well. The more I read and read back to pieces of your book on the Russian and Ukrainians on MH370, the more MH370 feels like a GRU operation.

  38. Hi Jeff! The Podcast “Stuff You Should Know” just did part 1 of a 2 part series on MH370, which led me to investigate myself, which led me here! Your theory is a breath of fresh air to me because at least it follows the data and makes sense.

    What I’m struggling to understand is, why would the Russians want a 737 Max, specifically? Like what could they do with an empty plane that would make this worthwhile to them? Is it because this particular plane is very large and also able to avoid detection, making it helpful in committing an act of terrorism with it in the future? If they just needed an empty passenger jet there are clearly tons of those sitting around Russia. Thanks! I hope this isn’t a stupid question.

    Also, I’ll add to Sunken Deal’s curiosity about the Tehran plane crash of the Ukrainian too.

  39. @coffee cups, Thanks for your kind words! I didn’t know they were doing an episode on MH370. It was a 777, not a 737, by the way–much bigger plane. I can’t say for sure why the Russians would want to take it, but I think part of the motivation might have been distraction from their ongoing (at the time) annexation of Crimea and invasion of Eastern Ukraine. If you’d like to know more I heartily recommend my book.

  40. Thank you! Def getting your book now! You should check out the SYSK podcast – they have a pretty large following so it’s possible more people will be tuned into this mystery in the coming weeks. I think their part 2 comes out in a couple days. I, like many others in the world, had almost completely forgotten about it until the episode aired.

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.